If you’ve been paying attention to the recent books, listening to the big-conference speakers, or keeping an eye on your own church, than you already know about this problem. Youth are leaving the church. The statistics prove it. Our own experience confirms it. Now, what are we going to do about it?
The Christian Vaccine: Are We Immunizing Our Youth Against Christianity?
There are many reasons why young people leave the church. It is a complex answer that defies simple explanation. There is, however, one cause that we should take a look at.
The youth who are leaving the church are obviously youth who are brought up in the church. These are kids who have been going to church their entire lives. All that church-going, and Sunday-school teaching, and hours of preaching is not lost on them.
But it could be acting like a vaccine.
A vaccine is a substance that mimics, in a small way, the behavior of the disease that it is supposed to protect against. When someone is immunized with the vaccine, their body reacts to the tiny amount of disease-like substance, creates defenses, and thereby makes the body immune to the disease in the future.
In the case of Christianity, we may be delivering a Christian vaccine. It’s enough Christianity that makes it seem like the real thing. But it has a reverse effect. Instead of growing up to be authentic Christians, the children grow up to turn against the Christianity we’ve tried to instill in them. They’ve become immunized, thus failing to live out the truth that we want them to have as their own.
In this case, we have to look at the form of Christianity that we’re delivering to them. Is it a synthetic substitute for Christianity? Is it potent? Is it real? Or is it hip, relevant, trendy, and superficial?
It’s time we take a good hard look at the form of Christianity that we’re serving up to our youth. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Is Sunday School a time where kids hear solid truth, or are they simply watching cartoons of vegetables impersonating Bible characters?
- Do youth groups consist of a series of pizza nights and paintball competitions, or is there practical, boots-on-the-ground ministry opportunity? Do church staff seek out the youngest and hippest to lead the youth group, or do they look for a leader with integrity, experience, and authenticity?
- Are the parents themselves living out the truth they teach, or are they simply putting a Christian spin on their worldly lives, and hoping their kids come along?
When someone complains that the church “isn’t meeting their needs,” it may be that they haven’t been challenged to see their real need. It may be that the Christianity that they’re seeing in the church is anemic. It may be that the church is more interested in a comfortable worship setting than in a real outreach effort. It may be that they are immunized. They have enough of our form of Christianity to make them not want any more.
The solution is not an easy one. By God’s grace, it is a time to teach what the Bible really says. It is a time to live out the confrontational and sometimes uncomfortable truth of Scripture. It is a time to face up to the commands of God, rest in His grace, and live in faith. Perhaps then, we’ll see real Christianity take root in young people, go deep, and stay there for the long haul.