Nearly half of young adults with ties to Christianity say church can’t answer their questions: survey

New Barna Research: "Forty-seven percent of respondents with some connection to Christianity say they feel the Church 'cannot answer their questions' or spiritual doubts. According to the study, one in three young adults (32 percent) said 'hypocrisy of religious people' causes them to doubt things of a spiritual dimension. Almost half of the young adults who have left Christianity see the religion as 'hypocritical.'" - Christian Post

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TylerR's picture

Editor

There are three ways to take this data:

  • Churches don't teach substantive things
  • People never ask questions ... so they'll never receive answers
  • A little of both

It's probably the third. Example:

“It’s always the question of why God allows suffering; this is the biggest objection to Christianity. And there is no easy answer to it,” Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London and pioneer of the Alpha Course, wrote in an essay published with the research report.

Read Job. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our own stupidity. Other times God allows (with some compatibalist caveats) us to suffer at other people's hands. He is good and holy, so He has a reason. The problem is our own hubris; we aren't satisfied with acknowledging we're infants who can't understand the bigger picture. We want to know the bigger picture. But, we can't. That's not good enough for some people. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

In a nutshell, you are correct. Keep in mind, the survey is a global one, so who knows who these people talked to or grew up under.

We need to get off the "pizza party" train with our youth and start teaching substantively.

Bert Perry's picture

What flies out at me is that young people are not feeling connected with the church, and they are at least claiming not to be getting answers about things that matter to them--but they are getting "stock answers" straight from what people would have believed and done 40 years back.  Along those lines, I had an interesting conversation with a young lady who dearly misses the close personal connections she had at her former church--we might infer that if we were to handle that better--give opportunities to mingle/talk/etc..--we would reach a lot of people we're missing now.  

Also worth noting is something that should be obvious, but may not be--sometimes the stock answers of 40 years back, along with the failure to explain them, are as relevant as snow to Bedouins.  Sometimes that cannot be avoided, but sometimes a "look in the mirror" can make all the difference.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Paul Henebury's picture

....but they'd leave!  Ot their parents would take them to another church with better programs.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

dgszweda's picture

TylerR wrote:

There are three ways to take this data:

  • Churches don't teach substantive things
  • People never ask questions ... so they'll never receive answers
  • A little of both

It's probably the third. Example:

“It’s always the question of why God allows suffering; this is the biggest objection to Christianity. And there is no easy answer to it,” Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London and pioneer of the Alpha Course, wrote in an essay published with the research report.

Read Job. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our own stupidity. Other times God allows (with some compatibalist caveats) us to suffer at other people's hands. He is good and holy, so He has a reason. The problem is our own hubris; we aren't satisfied with acknowledging we're infants who can't understand the bigger picture. We want to know the bigger picture. But, we can't. That's not good enough for some people. 

I would offer a 4th choice, a lack of spiritual pathway.  Only going to church on Sunday morning and expecting answers is not sufficient.  It also requires a life that is immersed in prayer, reading of God's Word and fellowship with other members. 

Bert Perry's picture

I re-read my earlier comment and realized that I hadn't really fleshed out what I meant earlier.  To that, the thought is that more or less, before there will be a theological/truth connection, there often must be a personal connection.  To draw a picture, that's why so many people nap through their church's sermons, but listen intently to Beth Moore.  Yes, it's unfair, but it's the real world.

Along those lines, I've noted for years that a lot of times, I've heard from pastors pretty much only when they needed something from me.  The ordinary social graces were not quite there, and sometimes it's emphasized in the very architecture of our churches--how the pews are laid out, etc..  It seemed to work until the 1990s, where you could quite frankly count on a lot of men who'd served in the military to understand "that's simply the way it was" and put up with it.  They and their families were in church until recently.

That noted, the draft ended in 1973 or so, and hence most men don't serve, not even for ROTC in college.  Along the same lines, manufacturing has been in steep decline since about that time, and hence men don't understand or accept the kind of command structure of a factory anymore, either.  Hence church structures designed after the "factory" model will fail today; they simply don't speak to peoples' need for community.  

Now read through the article again in that light, especially paragraph 5 and paragraphs 8-16.  See the pattern?  It's like the old proverb; they won't care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Even the comments about whether the church loves, and whether people agree with doctrine, flow from this.  And along the same lines, a lot of people are saying that people don't necessarily go to a church with which they agree doctrinally, but rather one with which they connect personally.

Now this doesn't mean that doctrine and instruction don't matter, but it does mean that it matters even more whether we're living out John 13:34-5 in our interpersonal relationships. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

....but they'd leave!  Ot their parents would take them to another church with better programs.

I know brother! Pizza and theology?

Or you could have the cool youth pastor hanging all over the girls in his program (see here)

Mark_Smith's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 

TylerR wrote:

 

There are three ways to take this data:

  • Churches don't teach substantive things
  • People never ask questions ... so they'll never receive answers
  • A little of both

It's probably the third. Example:

“It’s always the question of why God allows suffering; this is the biggest objection to Christianity. And there is no easy answer to it,” Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London and pioneer of the Alpha Course, wrote in an essay published with the research report.

Read Job. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our own stupidity. Other times God allows (with some compatibalist caveats) us to suffer at other people's hands. He is good and holy, so He has a reason. The problem is our own hubris; we aren't satisfied with acknowledging we're infants who can't understand the bigger picture. We want to know the bigger picture. But, we can't. That's not good enough for some people. 

 

 

I would offer a 4th choice, a lack of spiritual pathway.  Only going to church on Sunday morning and expecting answers is not sufficient.  It also requires a life that is immersed in prayer, reading of God's Word and fellowship with other members. 

Also people confuse the word "love" and ""good. If God loves us and is good, then everything should be perfect. That's the argument. But real life is nowhere near perfect. So they begin doubting God's existence.

pvawter's picture

Tyler,

Another option is that the church is teaching on these issues and the youthful congregants are either not paying attention or simply don't like the answers they're being given. It's certainly not a one-dimensional problem.

jonrgrover's picture

I can only speak for myself. As a former church member who is on the spectrum, my largest problem has been that church members do not know how to engage in fellowship with someone on the spectrum. So relationships either don't happen or rarely happen and are not sustained. 1-2% of people are on the spectrum, and for most of us, I suspect that we do not have fellowship with other members of the church.

A “resilient disciple” is someone who attends church regularly, engages with the faith community beyond just attending worship services, trusts firmly in the authority of the Bible, is committed to Jesus personally, and expresses a desire for their faith to impact their actions.

As a disciple, I do not do the first two items, yet I have the last three. Without a church that can interact with people on the spectrum and love them, I don't see an easy way to become a resilient disciple.

For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth. - Psalm 33:4

Paul Henebury's picture

Great comment Jon.  My oldest son has recently been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, and we have learned a lot from reading (Temple Grandin of course) and from counselors.  I think one of the major problems here is that many Christians just aren't hospitable.  If you don't have folks over you don't commit to getting to know them.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Bert Perry's picture

Jon, Paul, I get the opportunity from time to time to interact with people on the autism (?) spectrum, and while I think I've done "OK", I'd love it if either of you shared a couple more things (if possible) about how you perceive a lot of churches (most, almost all, ??) and people mess up with those with autism, that would be greatly appreciated.  Or, alternatively, what can we do right? 

(and promise; I'll do a touch myself as well)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

jonrgrover's picture

Thank you Paul, Bert for your responses. Sorry in advance for such a long reply, yet the subject is so far from many people's radar that a long reply is needed.

Why to love autistic people:
In the business world it has been noticed that if a manager learns how to manage a high functioning autistic well, that they will be able to manage their other employees better. Perhaps similarly, if a church body learns how to love its autistic members, it will be able to love others better also.

I can think of three things that may help:

1. Small talk kills, passion and passion for ministry brings life.
It is said that 80-90% of communication is non-verbal, so the way a normal person establishes a relationship with another normal person is to engage in smalltalk while their non-verbal communication does the heavy lifting. This does not work for people on the spectrum. What happens when a neurotypical person tries to establish a relationship with an autistic person, is that the normal person does not receive the queues they need from the autistic to build the relationship as the normal person usually would. And the autistic person is blind to the non-verbal communication that the normal person is sending. The autistic person feels that the normal person is hiding themselves behind useless small talk. To relate to an autistic person, church members need to talk about their passion, their ministry or something substantive about themselves.

Let me give you an example:
I was shocked once to discover that one of the women in the church whom I had talked to previously was a poet and a writer of children's stories. Poetry and writing children's stories are wonderful. It is something we could have talked about. It is her passion and something she cares about. But she tried to get to know me using smalltalk, instead of talking about her passion and her ministry. I Felt Betrayed. I felt that here was someone who hid herself from me, who did not love or care about me enough to go beyond hello, how's the weather and other useless unproductive small talk.

2. Home Bible study works because it includes substantive discussion.
The second thing follows on from the first and relates to what Paul said about hospitality. It is important to involve autistics in Bible studies in people's houses. It has been years since someone in the church invited me to a Bible study in their home. Autistics thrive on regularity, so a regularly meeting Bible study is a perfect way to involve us. But don't just do a Bible study by reading through some book. An autistic can spot a lack of passion from a mile away. If all the study leader did to prepare was read some book, they they probably don't care enough about the subject matter to study it, know it, and care about it. During a 'real' Bible study, no specific book is used, rather a subject area is addressed Biblically, and substantive things get discussed. It is real engagement. This is what an autistic wants.

3. Teach church members to love those with mental illness.
Give the congregation some insight as to how to love people with mental illness. Various forms of mental illness tend to be co-morbid with autism. A major part of the reason for this is that people in an autistic's childhood do not know how relate to a person on the spectru, so autistics often grow up abused, rejected, unloved, or isolated. This damages a person's mental health.

I personally have serious problems with anxiety (without worry). And I have insomnia because interacting with people during the day is so difficult that I tend to want to stay up until everyone has gone to bed in order to be able to relax and be myself for a while. Both of these things make it very difficult to get to church in the morning. (Holding events in the morning feels like another way the church does not love me, but that's a subject for a different thread).

Finally,
Autistics are involved in many unreached or barely reached communities in America. Autistics make up large numbers of gamers, science fiction fans, scientists, artists and technologists, communities in which Christians are often few and far between. What if we could leaven these groups with autistics we have drawn to the churches, who we have loved, engaged, and built fellowship with? It would be an effective outreach to these usually unreached communities.

For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth. - Psalm 33:4

Paul Henebury's picture

Very sorry I missed this.  I confess that I don't have anything like the answer.  However, I would list several things (along with hospitality):

1. Many with autism get overwhelmed in crowds.  They will communicate better (and feel better) in one on one situations.

2. They should be treated like everyone else (but with the knowledge that they face some special "struggles")

3.  Those on the spectrum can hyper-focus on things.  It helps to divert the conversation to another topic if this occurs.

4.  Many on the spectrum are helped when communications are written or pictured. It is well to include these into our conversations where appropriate (especially when the person seems to be "in a rut")

5.  Finally, there are some excellent resources available.  Bro Glover might help here, but I like Temple Grandin's stuff.  It's realistic, direct, and hopeful.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

josh p's picture

My son also has high functioning autism. He is not a believer but when he was younger and attending church, it was very tiring for him. Staying after for added activities was pretty overwhelming unless he had a friend there to talk with away from the crowd.

Bert Perry's picture

I also must confess that, as a working engineer, a certain part of the symptoms look very familiar. It's almost as if (and I concede this grossly oversimplifies things) it's akin to an extreme introversion, and I can "get" why those on the spectrum don't do well in churches designed for extroverts.   Prefer 1:1 to group interactions?  I'm there.  Get disgusted with superficial small talk?  You bet.  Hyper-focus?  Amen!

(a lot of the other symptoms don't sound familiar, but some of them...)

I remember reading about Dr. Grandin back when I was in grad school.....just blew my mind that she'd figured out that she, and many other autistic people, got comfort in effect from being in a well designed livestock chute.  (I was in Boulder at the time, so Ft. Collins and her research was local)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.