Friday, July 13, 2012

Which Religious Group Best Retains Their Youth?

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Working off data from a recent PEW Report, Dr. Mark Gray has done some follow up and found some interesting and concerning trends.

Gray's work is focused on social scientific studies relating to the Catholic Church, but look what he discovered.

Interestingly, atheists do not successfully pass their beliefs, or lack there of, along to their children. Only about 30% of kids who grow up in an atheist household remain so when they become adults. Apparently people are converted to atheism as adults, not as children.

This is the lowest retention of any group studied.

Of those raised in atheist households, 30% are now affiliated with a Protestant denomination, 10% are Catholic, 2% are Jewish, 1% are Mormon and 1% are Pagan.

Gray found that 38% of those who grew up with no particular religious faith or belief system remains that way into adult life.

Here's the "Retention Rate" for youth in all religious groups:

Hindus 84%

Jews 76%

Muslims 76%

Greek Orthodox 73%

Mormons 70%

Catholics 68%

Protestant churches don't do so well retaining their youth.

Baptists 60%

Lutheran 59%

Pentecostal 50%

A number of conclusions can be drawn from these findings, but think about this:

Regarding Protestants. Could it be that in our "rush to relevance" we are putting more emphasis on style than substance------trying to be cool more than trying to be biblically correct?

We are losing 1 of every 2 kids that grows up in our Protestant churches.

Other studies have shown that even when our kids sort of know what they believe, many have no idea why.

Are we so consumed with being culturally relevant, trying to "identify," that our kids are not even learning the most fundamental evangelical biblical truths, biblical values and principles, that they simply leave when it isn't fun anymore? Or when some other religion appears to be more cool?

You probably won't hear this discussed at church this Sunday, but it is something we better start thinking about. And taking constructive action.

I never knew Henrietta Mears personally, but during my years at First Assembly of God in North Hollywood, we had a close relationship with First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, or Hollywood Pres., as they were known, and I saw the direct results of someone who, in her time, felt it was important to educate the kids. And she did. The education classes grew from 450 people to 6500 under her leadership. She was considered by many to be the mother of modern Sunday School. Her many accomplishments are listed in the link above.

One thing stuck in the minds of many who had known her.

She often said regarding a local church or denomination, "Every church is one generation away from extinction."

I would add, our local churches are only as important as the message they communicate. When the Message is gone, the church is gone.

Be Discerning. Be Vigilant. Be Prayerful. Be Active. Be Blessed.


  1. Gary, thanks for your article. It reminded me of this old quotation.

    “Brethren, our preaching will bear its legitimate fruits. If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree. If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the Church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it. Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation.”

    Charles G. Finney, Power From On High, Chapter 11 (c. 1871-1874)

  2. Very true on the "rush to be relevant" and emergent churhc influence. I am a young adult with affliations with several churches in my area, as I am a mmber at one church, but my family goes to another (so I attend often), and I have attended Bible studies at other churches during the week at other chuches over the years.

    What has surprised me most is the questioning, doubt, and lack of general Bible knowledge in the college and young adults at churches who lean to the emergent side. The more the church tries to bring kids by entertainment and adapt to culture, the more youth that end up walking out the door struggling.

    Most of them have questions, complex questions (like what is the nature of evil, or what evidences in scripture and outside of scripture does God give for his existence, or how can I share with my friends? or how do I deal with hurt feelings and still forgive?) - But those questions are not answered in class. Furthermore, many teachers even go so far as to discourage them finding out answers from the Bible or from mentoring. They have this idea that just sitting back and believing in Jesus will build a relationship with Jesus - as just sitting back and 'believing' the guy sitting across the room from you existed would help you get to know him any better.
    The Bible is treated as second class, while wordly entertainment and culture is elevated and encouraged.

    The idea that the Bible must be deconstructed and reconstructed in a new way that culture will accept is not one found in the Bible. In fact, Jesus warned do *not* remove the offense of the gospel.

    There is a class I have sat in on a couple times that purports to answer questions for unbelievers who want to find out more about the church. Yet, table leaders are specifically instructed *not* to answer questions, just to let the incomers talk, and to focus 'just on building relationships'. It's not that relationships are unimportant - in fact, they are essential.
    But, when someone asks a question or is struggling with a deep issue - it is fair to give them an answer. What happens in that class is that people who come looking for a social club or a blace to feel like they belong end up staying in the church, and those who wanted to find truth end up leaving - because no one would give a defense for the faith they held!
    Fellowship, bearing each others burderns, the relational aspect of the church - it is a big part of christianity - but it isn't the main reason one becomes a christian nor is it the most important thing.

    If a church does not stand firm and present the gospel (and not some commentators "reconstructed" version of the gospel to appeal to culture), and stop teaching faith and scripture and all the evidences of faith, but replace them with ice cream socials - then it is a church that will not have children that rise up and proclaim the name of Jesus, because it won't matter to them whether the "ice cream" came in the name of Jesus or the name of Michael Jackson.

  3. Pointed article. I have found many High school kids, coming out of the local secular schools around us, have a strong interest in spiritual things. They just don't have an access point to learn and not get harassed for their ignorance. One student said it this way, I am not an atheist or agnostic, I just don't know anything. I am an ignostic. If someone would tell me what is out there, I might even believe it. Several of us have tried to help them learn in a way that was acceptable. If they show interest in spiritual things, then we read the book, BY THIS NAME – put out by, an overview of the Bible, to them. Doing these one on one bible studies with the students at Starbucks, reading the book out-loud across the table, enjoying a coffee, the kid gets to know for them self what the bible says. They are able to make up their own mind when they hear the whole story in context. Many have placed faith in Christ as a result. Some have even repeated the process of reading the book over coffee with their friends. Foundations to belief systems do matter. Otherwise we have too many holes and questions and the spiritual logic of it all doesn’t add up. We somehow hope it all works out in the end but cannot enforce it when challenged by others.

  4. It seems to me that the statistics are a little misleading, in that the groups with the highest retention also tend to be cultural. In other words, people still consider themselves Catholic or Mormon long after they've stopped participating actively, because it's an identity as well as a theology. In contrast, nobody describes himself as an Evangelical Protestant when he hasn't been to church in ten years and the closest he's gotten to reading the Bible is watching "The Da Vinci Code." If they're not practicing their faith, they don't identify with it.

    There is another factor, though, which is that Evangelical churches offer very little in the way of tradition. (Let's face it, the whole point of the reformation was to reject tradition.) The Catholic and Orthodox churches offer a continuity with the apostles that you simply don't find in Protestant churches. We don't DO church so much as ARE the church, if that makes sense. Atheism goes even farther, as it rejects everything beyond the material. There's only so much to hold a person in a belief system founded entirely on a negative.

  5. Conspicuously missing is the category "open-minded agnostic or None". He mentions it in passing, but it's not reported like the others.

    Logic would indicate that this is actually the fastest growing category since overall belief in religion as a whole is shrinking.

  6. Faith and Freedom staff5:20 PM, July 13, 2012

    This is the most comprehensive study of religion and demographics available. You can follow this link if you are interested.

  7. I lived in India for 7 years as my parents were medical missionaries with The Evangelical Alliance Mission. One reason why people don't depart from Hindu and Muslim faiths is because if they leave they are banned from their families, communities and they are even killed for leaving to this day. They are schooled from an early age in a very rigid manner in their faith and in the denouncement of other faiths. Tighty controled thinking, hundreds of years of maintaining their traditions, fear of their gods and of the repercussions of leaving their faith are a factor in the statistics you have mentioned. I personally agree with some of your observations but there is a lot more behind these statistics than our youth group being culturally relevant. Christian parents need to get with it and teach and model Biblical truths. Many Christians who know the Bible backwards and forwards are hypocrites saying one thing and doing another. No wonder so many kids depart from the faith. Christians have become lazy in their spiritual disciplines. Christians need to be taught in a relevant, consistent, systematic fashion to be sure but we do not threaten or shun our kids when they don't follow the faith as other faiths do. True Christianity is not a fear based religion and therefore will never have that to keep its followers in line. Obviously there are other factors but my comment is too long already.Thank you Gary, so much, for all you do to keep the faith strong in our homes and society.

  8. Leave religion and suffer hell. Sounds fear based to me.

    Leave religion and family shuns you. Sounds fear based to me.


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