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 Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Correction Appended

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

“I’m looking at the data,” said Ron Luce, who organized the meetings and founded Teen Mania, a 20-year-old youth ministry, “and we’ve become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”

The board of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group representing 60 denominations and dozens of ministries, passed a resolution this year deploring “the epidemic of young people leaving the evangelical church.”

Among the leaders speaking at the meetings are Ted Haggard, president of the evangelical association; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; and nationally known preachers like Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett.

Genuine alarm can be heard from Christian teenagers and youth pastors, who say they cannot compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion, and the casual “hooking up” approach to sex so pervasive on MTV, on Web sites for teenagers and in hip-hop, rap and rock music. Divorced parents and dysfunctional families also lead some teenagers to avoid church entirely or to drift away.

Over and over in interviews, evangelical teenagers said they felt like a tiny, beleaguered minority in their schools and neighborhoods. They said they often felt alone in their struggles to live by their “Biblical values” by avoiding casual sex, risqué music and videos, Internet pornography, alcohol and drugs.

When Eric Soto, 18, transferred from a small charter school to a large public high school in Chicago, he said he was disappointed to find that an extracurricular Bible study attracted only five to eight students. “When we brought food, we thought we could get a better turnout,” he said. They got 12.

Chelsea Dunford, a 17-year old from Canton, Conn., said, “At school I don’t have a lot of friends who are Christians.”

Ms. Dunford spoke late last month as she and her small church youth group were about to join more than 3,400 teenagers in a sports arena at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for a Christian youth extravaganza and rock concert called Acquire the Fire.

“A lot of my friends are self-proclaimed agnostics or atheists,” said Ms. Dunford, who wears a bracelet with a heart-shaped charm engraved with “tlw,” for “true love waits,” to remind herself of her pledge not to have premarital sex.

She said her friends were more prone to use profanity and party than she was, and added: “It’s scary sometimes. You get made fun of.”

To break the isolation and bolster the teenagers’ commitment to a conservative lifestyle, Mr. Luce has been organizing these stadium extravaganzas for 15 years. The event in Amherst was the first of 40 that Teen Mania is putting on between now and May, on a breakneck schedule that resembles a road trip for a major touring band. The “roadies” are 700 teenagers who have interned for a year at Teen Mania’s “Honor Academy” in Garden Valley, Tex.

More than two million teenagers have attended in the last 15 years, said Mr. Luce, a 45-year-old, mop-headed father of three with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard and the star power of an aging rock guitarist.

“That’s more than Paul McCartney has pulled in,” Mr. Luce asserted, before bounding onstage for the opening pyrotechnics and a prayer.

For the next two days, the teenagers in the arena pogoed to Christian bands, pledged to lead their friends to Christ and sang an anthem with the chorus, “We won’t be silent.” Hundreds streamed down the aisles for the altar call and knelt in front of the stage, some weeping openly as they prayed to give their lives to God.

The next morning, Mr. Luce led the crowd in an exercise in which they wrote on scraps of paper all the negative cultural influences, brand names, products and television shows that they planned to excise from their lives. Again they streamed down the aisles, this time to throw away the “cultural garbage.”

Trash cans filled with folded pieces of paper on which the teenagers had scribbled things like Ryan Seacrest, Louis Vuitton, “Gilmore Girls,” “Days of Our Lives,” Iron Maiden, Harry Potter, “need for a boyfriend” and “my perfect teeth obsession.” One had written in tiny letters: “fornication.”

Some teenagers threw away cigarette lighters, brand-name sweatshirts, Mardi Gras beads and CD’s — one titled “I’m a Hustla.”

“Lord Jesus,” Mr. Luce prayed into the microphone as the teenagers dropped their notes into the trash, “I strip off the identity of the world, and this morning I clothe myself with Christ, with his lifestyle. That’s what I want to be known for.”

Evangelical adults, like believers of every faith, fret about losing the next generation, said the Rev. David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology of Emory University, in Atlanta.

“The uniqueness of the evangelical situation is the fact that during the 80’s and 90’s you had the Reagan revolution that was growing the evangelical churches,” Mr. Key said.

Today, he said, the culture trivializes religion and normalizes secularism and liberal sexual mores.

The phenomenon may not be that young evangelicals are abandoning their faith, but that they are abandoning the institutional church, said Lauren Sandler, author of “Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement” (Viking, 2006). Ms. Sandler, who calls herself a secular liberal, said she found the movement frighteningly robust.

“This generation is not about church,” said Ms. Sandler, an editor at Salon.com. “They always say, ‘We take our faith outside the four walls.’ For a lot of young evangelicals, church is a rock festival, or a skate park or hanging out in someone’s basement.”

Contradicting the sense of isolation expressed by some evangelical teenagers, Ms. Sandler said, “I met plenty of kids who told me over and over that if you’re not Christian in your high school, you’re not cool — kids with Mohawks, with indie rock bands who feel peer pressure to be Christian.”

The reality is, when it comes to organizing youth, evangelical Christians are the envy of Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews, said Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, who specializes in the study of American evangelicals and surveyed teens for his book “Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual lives of American Teenagers” (Oxford, 2005).

Mr. Smith said he was skeptical about the 4 percent statistic. He said the figure was from a footnote in a book and was inconsistent with research he had conducted and reviewed, which has found that evangelical teenagers are more likely to remain involved with their faith than are mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and teenagers of almost every other religion.

“A lot of the goals I’m very supportive of,” Mr. Smith said of the new evangelical youth campaign, “but it just kills me that it’s framed in such apocalyptic terms that couldn’t possibly hold up under half a second of scrutiny. It’s just self-defeating.”

The 4 percent is cited in the book “The Bridger Generation” by Thom S. Rainer, a Southern Baptist and a former professor of ministry. Mr. Rainer said in an interview that it came from a poll he had commissioned, and that while he thought the methodology was reliable, the poll was 10 years old.

“I would have to, with integrity, say there has been no significant follow-up to see if the numbers are still valid,” Mr. Rainer said.

Mr. Luce seems weary of criticism that his message is overly alarmist. He said that a current poll by the well-known evangelical pollster George Barna found that 5 percent of teenagers were Bible-believing Christians. Some criticize Mr. Barna’s methodology, however, for defining “Bible-believing” so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.

Mr. Luce responded: “If the 4 percent is true, or even the 5 percent, it’s an indictment of youth ministry. So certainly they’re going to want different data.”

Outside the arena in Amherst, the teenagers at Mr. Luce’s Acquire the Fire extravaganza mobbed the tables hawking T-shirts and CD’s stamped: “Branded by God.” Mr. Luce’s strategy is to replace MTV’s wares with those of an alternative Christian culture, so teenagers will link their identity to Christ and not to the latest flesh-baring pop star.

Apparently, the strategy can show results. In Chicago, Eric Soto said he returned from a stadium event in Detroit in the spring to find that other teenagers in the hallways were also wearing “Acquire the Fire” T-shirts.

“You were there? You’re a Christian?” he said the young people would say to one another. “The fire doesn’t die once you leave the stadium. But it’s a challenge to keep it burning.”


Correction: Oct. 7, 2006

A front-page article yesterday about evangelical Christian teenagers gave an incorrect academic credential for Ron Luce, the founder of Teen Mania, a youth ministry that organizes “Acquire the Fire” stadium events. He is a graduate of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, where he received a certificate from the Owner President Management program. He did not earn a master’s degree from the school.

 2006/10/7 14:08
ginnyrose
Member



Joined: 2004/7/7
Posts: 7497
Mississippi

 Re: Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

This does not surprise me one bit. The modern church has a pick-and -choice mentality towards obedience to God which is fueled by the OSAS doctrine. Many in this camp will tell you once they have been saved there is no chance of falling away. (I know there is a wide variation of what being 'saved' means within this group.) So what is the motivation of walking close with God if there is no chance of falling away? From my conversations with these youth their concept of goodness/righteousness is so childish it would be laughable if it were not so serious. (I have worked as a volunteer at a CPC for 15 years, hence my exposure to modern youth.)

Sad, very sad and tragic.

ginnyrose


_________________
Sandra Miller

 2006/10/10 17:10Profile
IWantAnguish
Member



Joined: 2006/6/15
Posts: 343


 Re:

people using devices such as food, stamped cds / t-shirts, bracelets, to keep christians in the faith...

Why is the death of Jesus Christ no longer sufficient to draw people to Christianity?

Has America lost all sense of awe at the sacred?

The actual Son of God, creator of the universe, donning flesh to die on our behalf...

That is not enough?

God has done all on His part.


_________________
Sba

 2006/10/10 18:06Profile
JoeA
Member



Joined: 2004/11/29
Posts: 364
Decatur, Illinois

 Re: Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

Quote:
"We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”



Maybe that's why we're losing. All work and no pray makes a dull Christian. Lord, teach us to pray.


_________________
Joe Auvil

 2006/10/10 19:37Profile
Josiah777
Member



Joined: 2004/2/17
Posts: 99
Sterling, VA

 Re:

Boy, there is nothing new under the sun! This article reminded me a lot of the condition of the youth on the Isle of Lewis over 50 years ago. The ministers there, too, tried working hard with all kinds of programs to attract the youth into the churches but nothing was availing. It was only through that powerful move of the Holy Spirit through believing, earnest prayer and the gift in Duncan Campbell changed that generation of young people. If you haven't listened to Revival on the Isle of Lewis by Duncan Campbell, it'll really encourage your heart and look to the One who can solve every problem. The God who was and who is to come is the same 'I AM' of today.


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Ken Marino

 2006/10/10 21:48Profile









 Re: Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

has anyone considered that the youth are pulling away because they dont see the Walk walked?

hmmmm?

what the kids might be drawing back from is pro forma "churchianity"? a religious charade that they can discern and repells them....did you consider that?

Did anyone ever consider that they might be repelled by the trojan horse dragged into the pulpit called the "culture wars", and its stepbrother "the religious right", with its politcal agenda might be turning the youth off?


Did anyone consider the the leading luminaries and "christian superstars" of the American "church", might not be relevant to kids, simply because the kids can see right thru the hairdo's and the polyester, and the scandals and the self-righteousness and SEE that these leaders lack the Power and the Humility and the Love and the Grace of Christ?


I'm not talking seeker sensitive, or power point presentations, I'm talking revolution. Face it, Jesus stared down the religious establishment of His day and called them "white washed hypocrites", the pharisee's of His day were observant Jews, the neo-pharisees of our day are "evangelicals" ranting and moaning about the "culture wars" over the airwaves on these right wing stations that dare call themselves "christian talk radio", (can you say Salem communications)

Its a joke without a punchline, these kids are bombarded with the filthy rags of our day, whether they be phony puffed up neo-pharisees, or "American Idols.

some of them are so disillusioned with "doing church", they need to shown what it means to be the Body of Christ, the "Son of Man doesnt have a place to lay His head".....

When the Third Awakening comes, it gonna cruise right past both the mainline "evangelical" denominations and right past the apostate backsliden denom's like the ECUSA, (episcopal)the PCUSA, (presbyterian) and the UMC (United methodist)

it'll be like Azusa, born in a dirty old warehouse...or maaaaybe, in a manger, where its only fit for animals to stay, just to confound the proud.

Watch.

 2006/10/10 21:53









 or............

it'll be born in an off the way place like the Hebrides.....

but it will be different than the revival past.

Josh...here's a love touch for ya...listen to this, you might like it>>>>>>[url=http://www.fireonthealtar.com/compilations/neil%20g/Young%20Donald%20MacPhail%20Prays%202.mp3]Young Donald McPhail Prays[/url]

 2006/10/10 21:57
IRONMAN
Member



Joined: 2004/6/15
Posts: 1924
IN HEAVENLY PLACES WITH JESUS

 Re:

bro Bartle
i think you're onto something here:

Quote:
what the kids might be drawing back from is pro forma "churchianity"? a religious charade that they can discern and repells them....did you consider that?



the children and the heathen both are not fooled by churchianity and the fallacy of it is being exposed.

our Lord is about to once again undo the wisdom of men with His madness: the weak undoing the strong, the base undoing the esteemed and the foolish to undo the wise...


_________________
Farai Bamu

 2006/10/10 23:15Profile









 Re: Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

IRONMAN said:

Quote:
the children and the heathen both are not fooled by churchianity and the fallacy of it is being exposed.

Well, bros, I used to be deceiving myself about my condition before God, but one 'dig' too many from the enemy's accomplice where I worshipped (and I did worship...) and it pushed me to challenge God to undo all my religiosity and make me real.

That was over 21 years ago and I remember the moment clearly.... I felt as if a claustrophobic atmosphere was closing around me as I contemplated 'where' I had come to; I was angry; I felt inwardly restless to be free from [i]all[/i] my bondages..... and I had no idea what to 'do' to obtain it. (Up till then I'd done a lot of 'doing' of church activities - which were not altogether useless, because I [i]did[/i] do them unto the Lord, but, I certainly didn't [i]know[/i] the liberty in the Spirit which I desired.)

So I kicked the heavy oak and glass coffee table in our lounge... so hard it actually lifted off the ground (though I don't remember any pain) and clattered back down without the glass breaking.... as I prayed silently (and explosively...) [i]But[/i], that was a very real moment with God. He heard my prayer, and He's been answering ever since. :-D Amen and praise His Name.

In other words, being a 'churchian' is not necessarily [i]all[/i] wrong, but, it offers a fertile platform for self-deception, especially if the preaching and teaching is devoid of spiritual truth and the Holy Spirit is discouraged from attending.

 2006/10/11 10:56
IRONMAN
Member



Joined: 2004/6/15
Posts: 1924
IN HEAVENLY PLACES WITH JESUS

 Re:

sis Dorcas

Quote:
That was over 21 years ago and I remember the moment clearly.... I felt as if a claustrophobic atmosphere was closing around me as I contemplated 'where' I had come to; I was angry; I felt inwardly restless to be free from all my bondages..... and I had no idea what to 'do' to obtain it. (Up till then I'd done a lot of 'doing' of church activities - which were not altogether useless, because I did do them unto the Lord, but, I certainly didn't know the liberty in the Spirit which I desired.)



this is a most interesting testimony here which brings up a good point in that if we are ignorant but work as unto the Lord, God can do some things through us. however the bigger thing perhaps is that most people don't know that these programs and such are trying to fill in where Holy Spirit is supposed to be. perhaps those of us in the know ought to be making more noise about it or more diligently seeking HOly Spirit to come anew?

sis Dorcas you also said this

Quote:
In other words, being a 'churchian' is not necessarily all wrong, but, it offers a fertile platform for self-deception, especially if the preaching and teaching is devoid of spiritual truth and the Holy Spirit is discouraged from attending.



indeed if one becomes settled into it all then one can quickly become deceived. also the thing is there is often very little spiritual truth in some of what is preached and done and Holy Spirit is very often discouraged. for those of us in the know, the latter makes fellowship rather excruciating. however as our Lord leads and gives us strength, we ought to speak and do as we ought to His glory so that the scales can begin to fall off.


_________________
Farai Bamu

 2006/10/11 11:22Profile





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