Setting: senior high Sunday school, year 2005 or 2006.
Characters: I can distinctly recall only three other girls who were in class that one day, but there were probably more. Our usual teacher wasn't there, but we had a sub.
Discussion topic: the amount of young people that fall away from their faith and walk away from church.
I remember the sub sighed, looked at us all sadly and said that very few of his peers that were raised in church with him were still in church. He said that that a large number of us wouldn't still be Christian by the time we were his age. What a downer. I didn't really believe him, but prayed that day we would prove him wrong and that in thirty years we would all be even stronger in our faith than we were that day.
Of the three girls that were definitely in class that day, I know that one of them has fallen away, suspect that another probably has, and don't know about the third. And it's only been what, five years? How bleak.
One of my peers, who still attends the church and is more in-touch with what has happened to the rest of our former classmates, wrote an article in the monthly church journal. He said that he can remember 18 regular attendees from our age group, and of those, he knows of at least eight that have stopped attending church altogether.
The really sad part? Our church is actually doing pretty well in the area of young-people retention. If you google the stats, you'll get a variety of numbers, ranging from about 61% to an 88% church drop-out rate for young adults. Some eventually come back, and not all of them actually lose their faith, but these numbers are appalling. Granted, I haven't looked at the studies, so I'm not sure of their methodologies. Also, the studies are American, which may or may not mean much for us in Canada. But one thing the studies all agree on is that my peers and I still have to survive another year or two before we've made it past the prime weeding years.
When I was in senior high, the girls' Bible study group was extremely small. There were only two regular attendees, including myself. Last year, we were happy if we got even two girls. This year, however, it's a small night if we've got less than seven girls. Yay!
On Sunday nights, I help lead their Bible study. This last Sunday, we discussed the issue (one of the girls had asked to talk about it). I split the girls into groups to demonstrate what the statistics said about them and reminisced briefly about my former classmates. We discussed why we thought the numbers were so high.
-People disagree with what the church teaches
-People feel judged and not accepted by the church
-The church doesn't teach people how to live - it's irrelevant
-The church is a social group and not terribly worthwhile
We discussed what could stave off the drop-outs.
-Be welcoming and nonjudgmental
-Teach and model practical application
-Engage in deep study of the Bible
So we agreed to call each other out if any of that isn't happening. Who knows? There's always hope. Maybe this time we'll beat the odds. In ten years, I hope to see all the girls still living strong.
"If you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?" C. S. Lewis
"Most people already know what they're doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change." Joel Osteen