A LOST Generation?

For the audio/video of this teaching, click here
Jo Ann and I were at TCU in Fort Worth, TX last week to see Cayla and her UCONN Huskies Volleyball team’s first tournament of the year.  Frankly, I love being around college students- I see their potential, their creative and entrepreneurial spirit, their communal instinct, their optimism, and their lostness…
  • Consider: Students are now partaking in “de-baptisms” on college campuses, where they denounce their Christian faith as another student blows a hair dryer in their face…
  • Only 4% of emerging adults will be evangelical, which means, they have made a profession of faith in Christ, a confession of personal sins, and have embraced core orthodox beliefs.[i]  If this is true, then at the combined four campuses of the University of Colorado, with an enrollment of 55,000, only 2,200 students will be a Jesus follower; more specifically on my daughter’s VB team, with 15 members, only 1 will be evangelical (0.6 actually)!
  • Regarding “religion and spirituality” most emerging adults simply don’t spend much time at all on the topic of religion.  They tend to be indifferent about it, believe that the shared principles of religions are good, that religious particularities are peripheral, and that religion is simply about making people “good.”[ii]
  • Emerging adults experience religion by way of a “take or leave what you want” philosophy.  Evidence and proof trump “blind faith” and religion is personal, not social or institutional.  In the end, emerging adults basically believe there is no way to really know what is true![iii]
  • In their world, religious faith and practice is minimized, irrelevantized, moralized, simplified, homogenized, de-particularized, individualized, privatized, and de-authorized!  They see the church as “an elementary school for morals” and NOT as a place for community or relational connectivity!

Spiritually, there has never been a more lost generation!  Unless you consider the possibility as to why they are so lost??  My question however is this, Which generation is LOST- a generation that doesn’t know God or a generation that doesn’t make God known?  Judges 2:10 puts it into perspective: “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done…

The “generation that died” was A Generation that LOST its Children…  This was the generation that God choose to enter the Promised Land- they saw their parents “die off” in the wilderness.  The generation that was tasked with conquering the “enemies” in the land.  The generation that experienced many mighty acts of God.  The generation that failed to carry out its mission.  The generation that disobeyed God and compromised God’s purpose.  The generation that was irresponsible; they did not spiritually parent their children to acknowledge God!  Like my generation, the Boomers, they essentially allowed their children to raise themselves, to make their own “spiritual” choices, and it back-fired big time; just as it has today!  The generation that “grew up”, and the 17-23 year olds of today, have had no spiritual example or biblical pattern of discipleship to follow!

What we’ve LOST is the intergenerational dynamic of spiritual parenting and discipleship!  Let’s put that into perspective for today…

  • We have a “declining” church and an “aging” generation of leaders and church goers- from 80,000 churches in the 1950’s to 70,000 today; from 1998 to 2008 membership declined by 25%; only 15% of adults associate with “church” today; between one-third and one-half of attendees are age 60 and above; only 2% of attendees are “young adults”; 10 years ago the average age of a senior pastor was 48, it is now 55![iv]   Apparently a “succession plan” is a glaring weakness in our churches.  A generation of church leaders and attendees will soon “die off”- then what?
  • We haven’t exactly “conquered the land!”  In regard to religious affiliation, the fastest growing group of the American population are the “Nones”- 37% who claim “no religious affiliation!”[vi]  The most “unchurched” region of the US is now the Northeast- 7 of the top 10 states- The top ten least religious states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island, Nevada, and Connecticut![vii]  For every twenty American churches, only three are growing, and only one of those is growing by conversion growth. In the Assemblies of God, only six out of every twenty churches are growing while fourteen are plateaued or declining.[viii] 

Whether you agree with it or not, in America, we are A Church that has LOST its Credibility… and we are at a major crossroads!  Do we continue down the path of consumer “Christianity” or do we make the choice to change the way we think about and live out our responsibility to raise, resource, and release the emerging generation to build the kingdom?  Only one of two futures lies on the horizon: the church in American will all but cease to exist, or there will be an exponential explosion of church planting like we see in the New Testament!  Which will it be?  Here’s a few more things to consider…

  • Even if emerging adults have a desire to follow Jesus, they are nearly 70% more likely than older adults to strongly assert that if they “cannot find a local church that will help them become more like Christ, then they will find people and groups that will, and connect with them instead of a local church.” They are also significantly less likely to believe that “a person’s faith in God is meant to be developed by involvement in a local church.[ix]”  They view religious beliefs as cognitive assents, not as life drivers.  “What seems right to me” is what is authoritative.[x]
  • Further, the National Survey on Youth and Religion, 2009 states, Communities of faith face major challenges in connecting to, engaging, and retaining today’s emerging adults: basically emerging adults have other places to be and things to think about, many communities of faith don’t even understand the facts of emerging adults, nor thought about possible faithful responses, and most congregations simply cater primarily to “settled,” traditional nuclear families with children[xi].
  • This has resulted in an emerging generation of young adults who are amorphous, complex, self-focused, transient, confused, disjointed, unstable, exploratory, and anxious.[xii]
  • Most churches obviously aren’t doing a very good job of relational discipleship, let alone spiritually developing the emerging generation!  Only a few factors during these years tend to strengthen religious faith and practice- the primary one being the spiritual influence of parents and/or spiritual mentors in the life of a young adult.[xiii]

So again, I ask the question, Which Generation is Most LOST?  An emerging generation that “doesn’t know God relationally nor have a pattern of following Jesus to follow”  OR “an aging generation of spiritual parents and leaders in the church who have not made God known through a relational example, nor have we provided a true pattern of biblical discipleship” ??? 

But all is not lost… Like David, we must choose to “build” the generation that will “build” the church (see 2 Samuel 7), which will require church leaders and churches to change the way we think about ministry; especially as it relates to reaching, raising, resourcing, and releasing youth and emerging adults to be true followers of Jesus Christ.  I certainly don’t profess to have the solution to this challenge.  However, I am convinced we must acknowledge that the church youth ministry of the last several decades, although successful is some respects, has done little to truly impact a generation and a culture for Christ.  Perhaps the better answer is a return to the biblical pattern of spiritual parenting; which all the recent data indicates is the one significant factor that strengthens and sustains faith in the life of an emerging adult.


[i] Dr. Michael England cited in the presentation, “The Mosaic Generation”  http://www.slideshow.com

[ii] Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition”, Oxford University Press, 2009

[iii] Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition”, Oxford University Press, 2009

[v] Potomac District Planning Team Report, March 2010

[vi] American Religious Identification Survey, (ARIS) 2008, March 2009 Summary Report, http://www.americanreligious survey-aris.org

[vii] American Religious Identification Survey, (ARIS) 2008, March 2009 Summary Report, http://www.americanreligious survey-aris.org

[viii] LDR Cohort Report, 2009

[ix] 2007, The Barna Group: “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritual Active Teen Years” article

[x] Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition”, Oxford University Press, 2009

[xi] Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition”, Oxford University Press, 2009

[xii] Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition”, Oxford University Press, 2009

[xiii] Christian Smith, “Souls in Transition”, Oxford University Press, 2009

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2 responses to “A LOST Generation?

  1. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU GIVING YOUR KIDS?

    Spiritual parenting is not easy, and requires sacrifice. It seems easy to expect children and teens to sacrifice some of their time to “church activities”, or “bible reading”, or other activities that are easy to pile onto an already overloaded young person’s life. This puts the burden on the young person, and alleviates guilt of the parents.

    But is not easy for parents to really be parents: To get involved, volunteer, lead, give up some of their own time and attention and gas money, in order to raise disciples.

    If a parent has their life messed up because they must drive their teen to a student group at church instead of watching TV, going out for coffee, hanging around the house, etc., WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DOES THAT GIVE THEIR KIDS? That they are worth it. That they are more valuable than gas money or free time or even relaxation.

    I was one of five kids, each born about one year or less apart from each other. The teen years were hectic. Like many others, I worked for McDonald’s from age 16 to 18. I had no car, but I often worked until 2 am. Even though Dad was tired enough, and had to get up before 5 am to run for his daily Marine Corps training, then work all day as a Marine officer, he would be there out in the parking lot to take me home. My manager would try to send a cup of coffee out to him if I wasn’t done with the garbage cans or mopping the floors, but he politely refused, so he could get some sleep when we gat home. My friends would call my family weird and poke fun at me while looking out the restaurant windows at my patient Dad, but I could tell they were watching love in action, and kind of longed for that themselves. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DID THAT GIVE ME? That I was worth it. That I was more valuable than even a full night’s sleep. That I was learning the value of loyalty, work, and servanthood.

    Kids grow up. The sacrifices are for a season. Circumstances change. But the message parents give their kids lasts forever.

    -Doug

    P.S. Dad died two years ago, but he still sends me this message, because I became a disciple of his.

  2. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU GIVING YOUR KIDS?

    Spiritual parenting is not easy, and requires sacrifice. Training up a child does not mean piling onto the already loaded young person’s life expectations of “church activities”, or “Bible reading” without hard work also by parents. Any burden added to the child requires sacrifice of the parents.

    But is not easy for parents to really be parents: To get involved, volunteer, lead, give up some of their own time and attention and gas money, in order to raise disciples.

    If a parent has their own schedule messed up and complicated because they must drive their teen to a student group at church, or get involved in a youth activity, instead of watching TV, going out for coffee, hanging around the house, etc., WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DOES THAT GIVE THEIR KIDS? That they are worth it. That they are more valuable than gas money or free time or relaxation.

    I was one of five kids, each born about one year or less apart from each other. The teen years were hectic. I worked for McDonald’s from age 16 to 18. I had no car, but I often worked until 2 am. Even though Dad was tired enough, and had to get up before 5 am to run for his daily Marine Corps training, then work all day as a Marine officer, he would be there out in the parking lot to take me home. My manager would try to send a cup of coffee out to him if I wasn’t done with the garbage cans or mopping the floors, but he politely refused, so he could get at least some sleep when we get home. My friends would call my family weird and poke fun at me while looking out the restaurant windows at my patient Dad. But I could tell they were watching love in action, and kind of longed for that themselves. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DID THAT GIVE ME? That I was worth it. That I was more valuable than even a full night’s sleep. That there was something valuable to be gained through loyalty, hard work, and servanthood.

    And Mom and Dad did this for my brother and three sisters, too.

    Kids grow up. The sacrifices are for a season. Circumstances change. But the message parents give their kids lasts forever.

    -Doug

    P.S. Dad died two years ago, but he still sends me this message, because I became a disciple of his.

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