[to the Christian faith] in this country, particularly among young generations, are actually dechurched individuals." Kinnaman says 65 percent of all American young people report having made a commitment to Jesus Christ at some point. The problem here is not simply reaching non-Christians but what to do with a whole generation of ex-Christians, most of whom already tried evangelical religion in some form.
A handful of researchers insist that the dramatic drop-off in 20-something spirituality is no real cause for alarm. They view the exodus from the church as a hiatus, a matter of many post-collegiate Americans "slapping the snooze" on Sunday mornings.
Sociologist Bradley Wright, whose book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You've Been Told was given to me a few weeks ago by a friend Wright says this trend of young people leaving the faith is "one of the myths" of contemporary Christianity. Wright adds that older generations have always pushed the alarm button when it comes to the younger generation coming behind them. (I find this to self-evident, but not persuasive.) Wright describes himself as a youth sporting "longish hair and a disco-print shirt," and asks, "Do you think the adults of that generation had any faith in the future based on teens like us?" Though he acknowledges that "we can't know for sure what will happen," he believes the best bet is that history will repeat itself: "… young people commonly leave organized religion as they separate from their families, but then rejoin when they start families of their own." I see much more in this leaving trend than Wright does and find little to be assured of by in his positive spin.
Rodney Stark, a Baylor University scholar that I have immense respect for personally, urges calm about this present trend. He concedes that data from his school's research mirror that of the above studies, but insists: "Young people have always been less likely to attend [church] than older people. A bit later in life when they have married, and especially after children arrive, they become more regular [church] attendees. This happens in every generation." Again, I agree with Stark in a broad sense but something about this generation, and the lack of so much that is essentially Christian in their personal formation, alarms me very deeply.
These more positive scholars remind us that bleak and dire predictions have failed in the past. But they also offer us profoundly little spiritual reason as to why it might happen again. The facts are plain to see, “Young people are leaving at five to six times the historic rate," say Putnam and Campbell.
Dyck opined that the life-phase argument may no longer pertain in this instance. I could not agree more. “Young adulthood is not what it used to be. For one, it's much longer. Marriage, career, children—the primary sociological forces that drive adults back to religious commitment—are now delayed until the late 20s, even into the 30s. Returning to the fold after a two- or three-year hiatus is one thing. Coming back after more than a decade is considerably more unlikely.”
Past generations may have rebelled for a season of life, and then come back to church. But remember, they inhabited a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture. For those reared in scientific naturalism, pluralism and post-Christian America, the cultural concerns that have brought previous generations back to the faith have been weakened beyond recognition. I believe we must begin to re-evangelize and this will require an entirely new approach to reaching those who have de-converted in significant numbers.