A story in Christianity Today looks at recent research that suggests a larger proportion of Christian emerging adults are leaving the church compared to previous generations. On top of some questions about whether these numbers are a big change or not, there is another question: why is this happening? The author suggests more emerging adults are leaving because of reasons related to the church rather than due to outside pressures:
In my interviews, I was struck by the diversity of the stories—one can hardly lump them together and chalk up all departures to “youthful rebellion.” Yet there were commonalities. Many de-conversions were precipitated by what happened inside rather than outside the church. Even those who adopted materialist worldviews or voguish spiritualities traced their departures back to what happened in church.
What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are “good, nice, and fair.” Its central goal is to help believers “be happy and feel good about oneself.”
Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it’s one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It’s in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of any age walk away.
An interesting argument. But it would be helpful to know the converse – why do some emerging adults stay? What keeps them linked to churches while others head elsewhere?
Any sociological studies about moral therapeutic deism within evangelical churches and evangelical theology?