Why our children are disappearing from our churches
by Bryan Osborne
“Mr. Osborne, where is Genesis at? Where is Revelation? How do you find verses in the Bible? What does the Bible say about homosexuality? What exactly is sin and why do people go to hell?” These are just a few of the questions that are becoming more and more frequent in my thirteenth year of teaching Bible History in a public high school.
I’ve had a front row seat to the dramatic decline of basic biblical understanding in progressive groups of teenagers for the last 13 years. This tremendous reduction of biblical literacy seems to correspond directly to the decline of the Christian worldview, not only in America, but all across the western world.
Rarely, if ever, have we seen such a dynamic and rapid shift in perspective and morality as has taken place in the West these past few decades.
Do you realize that the average weekly church attendance in England has dropped to around 6 percent? Since 1969, many churches in England have shut their doors and been converted into things like clothing stores, museums, theaters, liquor stores, night clubs, and tattoo and piercing studios. This trend is not restricted to England; it’s happening all across the United Kingdom and Europe. Not to be outdone, Canada is also apparently shedding its Christianity. A news source documented the steady decline of weekly church attendance over the past 30 years and it predicts it will soon reach the levels of Europe where it’s well below 10 percent.
What of the United States? This most “Christianized” nation, how are we fairing? It is probably safe to say that the US has more Christian resources (churches, Bible colleges, books, music options, and TV stations) than any other country has ever had throughout all of history. Yet, for all of our Christian resources, America is seemingly becoming less Christian every day.
Understanding the Times
As an educator in the buckle of the Bible belt, I have noticed distinct and rapidly increasing changes in the worldview and morality of my students. Even just 10 years ago students adhering to a biblical worldview about things like homosexuality, evolution, and abortion, would have been in the majority in my classes. Now, I see quite the opposite. Although a large percentage of my students would still claim to be Christians they have adopted the secular worldview on many key issues of today. They’re having a type of moral schizophrenia, where out one side of their mouth they claim the Bible to be true and out the other profess beliefs in ideas that are clearly anti-biblical.
In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read, “… the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do …” and the question I want to put forward is: Do we have understanding of the times? Do Christians understand what is happening in America, all across the western world? Do Christians grasp the response that is needed?
I believe the reason we’re seeing the collapse of the Christian worldview today is because the culture has actually invaded the church. What has taken place has been a stealth attack by the enemy on the foundation of Scripture, to undermine the authority of God’s Word, in order to undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Big Walkout
George Barna conducted research in 2002 and 2006 that showed approximately two-thirds of the young people in our churches will walk away from the church by the time they reach college age. Think about the implications of this study. For a family with three children, an average of two will walk away by the time they reach college. Grandparents, if you have nine grandchildren, six will walk away, on average.
That is why Answers in Genesis commissioned a major nationwide research project with Britt Beamer and America’s Research Group to find out why and when our children are leaving. The astounding results of the research were published in the book Already Gone. Beamer’s group interviewed 1,000 people in their twenties, male and female, who grew up in conservative churches but have since walked away. From the plethora of data he acquired, let us look at two of the major findings.
First, much to our surprise it was not in college when students were first having major doubts related to the Bible and Christianity, but mostly in middle and high school. In the survey, participants were asked, “If you don’t believe all the accounts/stories in the Bible are true/accurate, when did you first have doubts?” The response was that 39.77 percent started having doubts in middle school, 43.68 percent in high school, and only 10.57 percent said college. What we learned from the research is that most of our kids who walked away left in their hearts and minds long before they ever left physically for college. That’s why to Christians it is such a shock that our kids seem to disappear from church. To us, it seems like an instantaneous change, but to them it has been a gradual foundational shift that oftentimes only bares its fruit once the kids reach college age.
Secondly, when asked why they were leaving, one of the major reasons was hypocrisy. When asked what they meant by hypocrisy, the majority responded, “We went to church and were told the Bible was true, trust in Jesus,” but then later were told, “… but we don’t necessarily believe this part of the Bible,” particularly when it came to the book of Genesis and the history found in Genesis 1-11. They heard their Sunday school teachers and pastors say basically, “You can forget about what Genesis says about creation. Believe evolution and millions of years, and reinterpret what Genesis says. That really does not matter. But be sure to trust in Jesus anyway.” They see this as hypocrisy and are walking away from the church, and why not! If the Bible can’t be trusted when it talks about the beginning, why should we trust what it says about the end? It has no authority.
Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Today the foundation of God’s Word is under attack in the culture and within the church. When we say it’s okay to believe what the secular scientists believe about millions of years and evolution and reinterpret what God’s Word clearly says in Genesis, we undermine the history that is foundational to all of the Bible’s doctrine, and we undermine the authority of God’s Word.
If we cannot trust the earthly things of the Bible—the clear history of the Word of God—then how can we trust the heavenly things (John 3:12), the message of salvation that is based in that history (1 Cor. 15:22) starting in Genesis?
So What is the Solution?
If we’re going to truly value our children and youth and strengthen Christian families, we need to be teaching them to stand on the authority of God’s Word … to be able to answer the skeptical questions of this age. We must teach them to defend their faith where the world is attacking today.
Of course, to give them the tools they need, we must first have them ourselves. I Peter 3:15 tells us, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
In order to be obedient to God’s Word, to be ready to give an answer for the faith, we must become intentional about our programming within the church. We need solid biblical curriculum that incorporates strong apologetic teaching based on the foundation of God’s Word. We need to show our children and youth how the Bible connects to the real world. We need to show them that the creation account is foundational to biology, the flood is foundational to earth’s geology, the tower of Babel is foundational to anthropology, and the fall of man explains death and tragedy.
When we connect the Bible to the tangible world, it becomes alive in the hearts of our youth. It is impossible for me to recount the many times I have seen students have a perception-changing “A-ha” moment when they realize the Bible is real history and can be trusted. For the believer it is major affirmation of their faith; and for the unbeliever it is a challenge to their skepticism and a seed that has been sown. This Anglican hymn writer summarizes the issue well when she says,
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.” (Elizabeth Rundle Charles)
Bryan Osborne graduated from Bryan College with a BA in Biblical Studies and later received his graduate degree in teaching from Lee University. He is a speaker with Answers in Genesis and has been a Bible history teacher for a public school system in Tennessee for 13 years. Bryan has been married to his wife Marla for 15 years. answersingenesis.org