Every year I have the honor of speaking to students and youth pastors at the RETHINK Apologetics Conferences. Brett Kunkle at Stand to Reason has been hosting these conferences for several years now; they provide us with the opportunity to reach hundreds of young people in a single setting. When I speak to youth leaders at these events, I am struck by the fact that these pastors and ministers are doing the most important work in the church. As Christian case makers, we ought to join them and realize that young people are our most critical and important audience.
Young People Are the Most Culturally Engaged
If you’re reading this and you’re a parent over 35, I bet I can ask you a number of questions related to the culture that will challenge you. What’s the most popular video on YouTube? What’s the most popular set of lyrics on the iTunes Top 20? What’s the most popular series on HULU or Netflix? More importantly, what are the messages that these media sources are conveying to the culture? While adults are often too consumed by their responsibilities and the steady rhythm of their lives to pay attention to the daily twists and turns of the culture, young people are listening. They get it, even when we don’t. To make matters worse, they’re using technology to consume this steady cultural smorgasbord. I bet you’re not texting, Snapchatting, or Instagramming at the rate your kids are. While older folks are just getting comfortable with Facebook, young people are already moving on to the next greatest technological phenomena. The culture targets young people like no other group, and young Christians are technologically savvy enough to devour what is being offered.
Young People Are the Most Challenged
As a result, young Christians are more likely to be challenged when it comes to their worldview, particularly when the Christian worldview under attack asks them to deny themselves, resist the hedonistic influences of the world, and take the higher, more difficult road. The university experience only exacerbates this challenge. Adults typically start careers and align themselves with like-minded social groups. After a few years, we find ourselves in a place where our worldview is largely unchallenged. Young Christians, on the other hand, enter into a university environment where they are far more likely to be surrounded my differing worldviews and challenged aggressively. While parents are home in the safety of the communities they’ve created for themselves, young people are struggling in communities created by people who largely reject our values. We’re safe while our kids are at risk.
Young People Are the Most Likely to Leave
The statistics demonstrate the consequence of this challenge. Young people are leaving the Church. Regardless of survey or source organization, the statistics are troubling. 60-80% of college freshman who claim to be Christian will walk away from Christianity by the time they are college seniors. No other age group within the Church is more likely to leave. People my age aren’t leaving; young people are leaving. And when surveyed, most young ex-Christians report the primary reason they rejected Christianity was simply because they no longer believed it to be true. They had intellectual doubt that could not be resolved by the Christians in their lives. They found better answers elsewhere.
In light of this situation, I often wonder why we, as Christian case makers (apologists) haven’t made young people our primary audience. In fact, if you look at all the “apologetics” ministries operating in the country, few are designed to target young people specifically. At best, each organization offers some limited, selected materials, “dumbed down” for young people. Really? We can do better. In fact, we need to do better and we need to start sooner. That’s why Susie and I wrote Cold-Case Christianity for Kids. Our own experience as youth leaders and pastors taught us that young people begin to question their faith in junior high. We wanted to provide a resource that would answer critical questions kids might have before they even begin to ask them. We need to RETHINK the audience we are trying to reach and recalibrate our efforts. We need to stop tailoring the case for older folks (with an occasional modification for young people), and start making the case for young people (with an occasional modification for older folks). I know that sounds drastic, but we are at a critical juncture in the history of the Church in America. All of us need to become Christian case makers and young people ought to be our jury.