USA Today is out with a cover story this morning on the changing religious attitudes and behaviors of young adults in America, Survey: 72% of Millennials 'more spiritual than religious'. The story starts out with this summary:
Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.
There is nothing really new here. I don’t think it is surprising that young people are less and less religious. If you are exposed at all to people under 30, it is perfectly clear that they see the world in a dramatically different way than the preceding generation. That has been true to some extent for every generation, at least in America. What is more troubling to those who love the church is that so many people identify themselves as Christians without the vaguest inkling of being a follower of Christ means.
Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, "many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only," Rainer says. "Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."
Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:
•65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.
•65% rarely or never attend worship services.
•67% don't read the Bible or sacred texts.
Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.
"We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church," Rainer says.
I would ask if those three elements are the most accurate identifiers of a genuine, committed Christianity. By this all people will know you are my disciples if you: read the Bible daily, attend church and pray with others? I think it is invaluable to be in the Word daily, to pray with other believers and to gather with the church but I am not sure if those are accurate measures of how “Christian” a person is.
If I can go on a soapbox here (and it is my blog, so yes I can). I am not surprised by this at all. The problem in the church is not that there is not enough expository preaching or not enough liturgy or not using catechisms. This is not caused because prayer is banned in schools or Ten Commandment monuments have been removed from government property. The problem at its core is that we have failed to recapture what it means to be the church and I trace this back 1700 years. For centuries we have tried to build something that only Christ can build, we have tried to create the church in our image instead of the what is reflected in Scripture.
Our goal is not to raise young people to adulthood who can better articulate doctrines or who will answer yes to the right poll questions. Our goal is to preach Christ and see people transformed. It is easy to make religious people and that is a task that can be accomplished by men. Making a Christian is something that only the Holy Spirit can do. In spite of the evidence that this is something that is impossible for men and possible only through God, we have been trying to “help” God out for centuries. Matthew 19:26 is clear on this but we have abandoned the essence of what Christ was saying there and turned it into a rah-rah song for whatever we have decided we want to accomplish. Instead of trying to get more people “in church” we need to figure out what the church really is. As long as we replace community and transformation with superficial actions and religious observance, we will continue to see organized religion die out. That might just be the best thing to happen to the church since Pentecost.