Sunday, September 19, 2010

Which teens grow up and stick with their faith?

Other notes/reactions from this lecture series ⇐click

What is the fastest-growing religious preference among Americans? According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), it's "None" or "No religion", which went from about 7% in 1980 to about 15% in 2008. This year, the Southern Baptists are probably smaller than the "None"s.

Of the "None"s, about half had no religious initiation in childhood. Of the married "None"s, 65% (nearly two-thirds) had no religious ceremony. 86% of "None"s don't anticipate a religious funeral.

What about young people?

Souls in Transition described six religious types among young people:
  1. Committed traditionalists: 15%. These had consistent practice, focused on inner piety, etc.
  2. Selective adherents: 30%. These folks don't consistently practice what they say they believe, and feel some guilt.
  3. Spiritually open: 15%. They feel there's probably something more out there, and religion is something for "recovery and comfort"
  4. Religiously indifferent: 25%
  5. Apathetic (not even opposed): 5%
  6. Irreligious/rejecting: 10%. These are skeptical; some are angry and some mystified. Religion "makes no sense" to them.

How can I get my teenager to be a committed traditionalist, or at least a selective adherent?

That's the question burning in many parents' minds.

Of course no parent can make their teen-ager do anything; that said, there are several factors that seem to correlate with teens growing up into #1 or #2:

  1. High parental religious service attendance and importance of faith.
    In other words, Dad and Mom go to church consistently; faith is very important to them.
  2. High teen importance of faith
    If it's not important to them as teenagers, it may not be important to them as adults.
  3. Teen had many personal religious experiences.
    Camp, for example, or mission experiences
  4. Teen had few doubts about religious beliefs.
    Surprise: If we nurture doubt, they may drift away. We like to think we should celebrate it, etc., but abstract thought probably isn't developed until the later teen years; don't celebrate doubt at 14. Teens may think "I don't know if there is a God, but I believe this community will help me find out, and I want to be part of it." We should not tell them, "Here's one option of many" or "Here's this but...." They need to hear what we believe, and that we believe it firmly.
  5. Teen frequently prayed and read scripture
  6. Teen had many adults in congregation to turn to for support and help
If a teen had four or more of these (A-F), they were more likely to end up as a 1-2 (committed traditionalist or selective adherent).

These factors (A-F) matter a lot! But is this causative or just correlated? We don't really know, and of course parents have little influence on some (like B); parents do influence A and F, and they have input into D. They can encourage C and E.

Bottom line: if you want your teens to be committed traditionalists or at least selective adherents, you need to show them that your faith is important to you! Consistent prayer, worship, fellowship, service would be ways of showing that. Talk about tithing; what is your family giving up in order to give to the church, to relief and development, to missions? Encourage Christian experiences -- mission trips, conferences/camps. Express your faith firmly -- not jam-it-down-their-throats firmly, but this-is-what-I-believe firmly. Talk about your faith, and how it plays out in real life, with your kids and other kids -- and listen to them too! Be that adult that another teen can ask about things.

The Problem of Quantity

In the state of Georgia, it takes 1100 classroom hours to make a school year. Suppose a child goes to church three hours a week every week, and suppose that you can count all of those hours as classroom hours. From kindergarten through 12th grade, if we include summers, that's about 2000 hours.

A graduating high school senior therefore has, in the best case, not quite a 2nd grade education in faith matters, if that instruction comes only from church attendance. I don't write this to discourage parents, but rather to show the need for us to be involved in our kids' faith journeys. There just aren't enough hours in the year(s) for the "professionals" to do it all.

No comments: