Reading Reflections:

Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is telling the American Church, by Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press, 2010)

We are so concerned with facilitating a cool atmosphere for the youth at church.  The trend has been to convince our kids that church can be cool and we won’t cramp their style.  We try to accommodate to the shorter attention spans and make the message entertaining.  We have youth groups meet in their own lounging wing, separating them from their un-cool parents & Co.  Is this really helpful to our children?  Not according to the recent National Study of Youth and Religion…

Sociologists consider a young person’s sense of belonging in a religious community to be a more accurate predictor of his or her adult religious involvement than regular church attendance.  Caring congregations help teenagers develop what social scientists call “connectedness,” a developmental asset accrued from participating in the relational matrix of authoritative communities—communities that provide young people with available adults, mutual regard, boundaries, and shared long term objectives.  Highly devoted teenagers readily defend Christianity’s communal aspects.  Aaron, the sixteen-year-old black Protestant we met earlier said bluntly: “Christianity…is not something you just live.  You have to practice.  You can’t live it all by yourself, you need to go to church.”

Congregations are important sources for both interpersonal and spiritual support for highly devoted Christian teenagers.  Peer relationships matter.  Religious teenagers’ closest friends tend to be other religious teenagers (nonreligious teenagers’ closest friends are usually other nonreligious teenagers, suggesting that peers reinforce religious identity in both directions).  Yet equally important are adults who befriend teenagers.  Compared to their peers, young church-attenders are far more likely to have adults in their lives with whom they enjoy talking, and who give them lots of encouragement…Highly devoted Christian teenagers mentioned pastoral friendships with affection.  While most teenagers in the NSYR (81%) told us they have never talked to a pastor or youth pastor about a personal issue or problem, most highly devoted teenagers did so frequently. (p. 72, 73)

They might be intimidating with their funny jeans and texting madness, but our youth need us!  There are plenty of avenues outside of the church that can entertain and keep the kids separated from the adults.  Church is a place where we come together united in Word and sacrament.  If we are united in Christ, why are we dividing ourselves by demographic interests?  People leave churches these days over a lack of youth programs.  Is that biblical? Is it more important for my kids to have a mountain top experience at some Christian concert or Hershey Park trip, or to be faithfully nurtured, discipled, and connected within the whole congregation of Christ’s followers?