In Canada in 2002, 34% of 15-29 year olds said religion was important to them. Seven years later it had dropped to 22% and continues to decline (Statistics Canada General Social Survey). This isn’t something new – faith in Canada and the USA has been on a significant downturn since the early seventies. In fact disaffiliation by generation continues to rise exponentially. The painful reality: 29% of Canadians born in 1987-1995 say they have “no religion” compared to 4% of Canadians born in 1946 or earlier (cf. Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Centre).
I wish the news was different. For decades I’ve prayed for a revival of faith. My heart yearns for the salvation of the lost. But as the years march on the ranks of secularism swell.
So for those of us who long for a resurgence of faith, is there something we can do? Well that depends on when you ask me! On my down days I tell God it’s not my problem, it’s His! He’s sovereign. He’s the only One who can incline people to know and love Him. But there’s more to it than that. There’s the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). I have a part to play. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 (NIV).
“Someone preaching to them”. We rarely do this outside our church buildings and sometimes don’t do it inside! Alarmingly, evangelism seems to have fallen on hard times. Our churches elevate preachers and teachers, but where are the evangelists? We say the Gospel is important, but who are we evangelizing? We have marriage seminars, pot-luck suppers and fun events for youth, but to whom are we proclaiming the Good News of salvation?
Questions are vital precursors to dealing with problems. Why is it that only one in three young people, who attended church as children, still do so today? (cf. Hemorrhaging Faith Report, 2012). Ed Stetzer says, “The young adults who do drop out of church often lack a firsthand faith – a faith of their own – and a relationship with Christ that matters deeply in their own personal life apart from their parents’ pressure.” (cf. The Real Reason Young Adults Drop Out of Church, LifeWay Research)
A “firsthand faith”. While there are other reasons for young adults leaving church, this must surely be the one that demands our immediate attention.
So how do we help children and youth take ownership of a “firsthand faith”? If I understand the essence of Douglas Hall’s theology (cf. Thinking the Faith), faith isn’t faith unless it’s an informed faith. Faith that is Christian must begin in, live with, and be nurtured by the Scriptures. In order for children and youth to take God seriously, to own their faith, they must connect with the Word.
The biblical mandate is explicit: “Impress them (the Scriptures) on your children” Deuteronomy 6:7 (NIV). Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it: “Get them (the Scriptures) inside of you and then get them inside of your children” (Msg).
Whatever way we look at it, Bible engagement is integral to evangelism and evangelism is integral to Bible engagement. To embrace a relationship with Christ that matters deeply requires a deep commitment to the Scriptures. Simply stated, if children and youth are going to develop a faith of their own, we must do everything we can to help them listen to and submit themselves to the Scriptures.
© Scripture Union Canada 2015