Kenda’s final chapter and conclusion is called, “Make No Small Plans: A Case for Hope,” and in it she attempts to find the good news in the otherwise rather dreary conclusions of the NSYR and the finding that most American teens practice a version of Christianity called, “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.”
She recounts the five years of reflecting on the findings as full of sleepless nights. And she told CNN that her time on the NSYR interview team was “one of the most depressing summers of her life.” Five years later, she has drawn two conclusions:
- When it comes to vapid Christianity, teenagers are not the problem — the church is.
- The church is also the solution.
Kenda is tough on the church in this chapter, and throughout the book, arguing that “the contemporary church has strayed, often badly, from the course set before us by the earliest followers of Jesus…” But, she hasn’t lost hope, and she round out the book with these five encouragements/challenges:
- It can be done (as proven by some in the study, including Mormons).
- Religious formation is not an accident (the teenagers who showed strong religious commitment in the study did not come upon their faith by accident, or on their own).
- Every faith community has the tools available to inculcate strong faith in teens (but those who tell a “peculiar God-story” seem to have better tools, e.g., Mormons, fundamentalists).
- Consequential faith has risks (kids want to believe in something worth living and dying for, the subject of Kenda’s last book, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church).
- We are called to participate in the imagination of a sending God (not to re-invent the church).
I love Kenda’s hope. And, knowing her as I do, I know that her hope is genuine. No one could be involved in denominational Christianity and teach at a place like Princeton Seminary without a few iotas of cynicism, but Kenda has not allowed the discouragements of her ministry and vocation to sully her bright outlook. She really, really does think that the church is the hope of teenagers (and the world!).
My question: Is she right, or is Kenda placing too much hope in the church?