Youth ministers, here’s a stat with which you are probably already aware: 70-80% (depending on the study) of youth who are Christian in high school are no longer Christian by the time they graduate college. In other words, our youth are leaving the faith in droves.
Why? The answers are many, but the most common answer might surprise you. In the most comprehensive study ever done on the spiritual lives of American teenagers, sociologist Christian Smith found that the most common answer given as to why youth leave the faith is some variance of “it didn’t make sense to me anymore.”
This is not a lack of fun, nor a lack of relevance, nor a lack of relationship or moral leadership, although the Lord literally knows many of our youth programs could use more of all that. Rather, this is lack of preparation. Though there are some bright spots in the Church currently, overall our youth are not being trained and prepared to think through the many challenges to their faith that they are bombarded with on an almost daily basis. From evolution to relativism to the hook up culture to attacks on the Bible, numerous challenges chip away at our ill-prepared youth until “it doesn’t make sense to me anymore.”
The thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Christianity has awesome and satisfying answers to all these challenges and more. The Christian worldview can beat the pants off of any other worldview out there in terms of logical consistency, relevance, amount of evidence in its favor, etc. It’s just that our youth are typically not exposed to those things for one reason or another.
Enter Brett Kunkle. It’s Brett’s job to train up youth in just that way. From time to time I highlight him on this blog; that’s because I’m a huge fan…huge fan. The Church needs guys like Brett at this stage.
I just received a newsletter in the mail from him. In the letter was a testimony by 17-year old Capistrano Valley Christian School student that Brett had been working with. Rather than blather on about it myself, I’m just gonna quote the letter verbatim. It’s pure gold:
It’s a beautiful thing when two high school clubs of opposing viewpoints can come together and debate issues in a public setting and in a friendly manner. It is also quite rare. However, this is exactly what happened just three and a half weeks ago at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools. It all started with a trip to U.C Berkeley.
In the fall of 2008, twenty-four students from Capistrano Valley Christian Schools began training with CVCS’s Sean McDowell and STR’s Brett Kunkle. These training sessions were vigorous and challenging but worth more in each of our lives than any words could express. On March 10, 2009, we embarked on an intellectual and spiritual journey that totally “rocked our worlds.” After debating atheists and interviewing Berkeley students on topics all over the board, we returned as different people. This spiritual and intellectual roller coaster was the best time of my life, as it was for many other students. I saw my friends gain confidence and stability in their faith but most importantly, I saw high school kids gain a passion for what they believed.
After Berkeley many kids wanted to keep making a difference in the world. I began a club that was simply known as the “Berkeley Group,” for anyone who had attended the trip and wanted to keep being involved in apologetics. One night I was on the phone with another club member, Suzie, attempting to plan things for our group to do. We wanted to put on an event to get high school kids excited about apologetics. We decided that a student debate would be an amazing draw for a young audience. We partnered with the Free-thinking Atheist and Agnostic Kinship (FAAK) student club from Capistrano Valley High School and decided to charge admission for the event, which we would donate to charity. We began to plan.
After many meetings with Mr. McDowell and much communication with FAAK, we decided to discuss three topics related to God’s existence: intelligent design, morality, and the resurrection of Jesus. With the stage set for an intense spectacle, publicizing began in earnest.
From our Berkeley club, Steve took Intelligent Design, I took morality and Christie took the resurrection of Jesus. After a few weeks of additional preparation for each category, we were ready for the debate! The format of the debate was a five-minute opening statement for each side, a five-minute cross examination and 20 minutes of question and answer time with the audience. Lastly, there was a final three-minute closing statement from each side. The auditorium was packed as more than 300 students and adults attended the event. The feedback from the debate was overwhelmingly good and our Apologetics Club is looking forward to similar events next year! I guess the final point I can make on this subject is that Berkeley prepared us and began a movement in our school’s students that will last for years to come. As Brett told us on the trip: “The Berkeley Mission is normal Christianity.”
My heart warmed when I read this letter. Notice a few things. First, as a result of the trip, the students became interested participants in their faith. Look at the language the student uses to describe his experience: they returned “different people.” The journey “rocked (their) worlds.” The students “gained a passion” for what they believed. They “gained confidence and stability in their faith.” These are things every youth leader longs for in his/her students, yet so many strive so hard only to see a lack of depth in the youth. Maybe brief results, but far too often they are not long lasting.
I am not trying to knock the job youth workers do…far from it. They work so hard and put up with so much. This is an experience that a wide swath of youth leaders have in common. If not, the stats I cited above still speak for themselves.
Also notice the interest in the debate: 300 plus packed an auditorium. In my experience, every time something like this comes up, the interest is incredibly, off the charts high. It is totally false that apologetics and philosophy (the more intellectual pursuits of the faith, in other words) are irrelevant and that people just aren’t interested anymore. Quite to the contrary.
My point is that the training guys like Brett offers tends to get a bum rap, but it should not be so. What youth leader doesn’t want highly engaged students of the faith? These are not a bunch of brains-in-a-vat that are ready to shoot you with their moral argument bazooka. These students are alive lovers of Jesus–body, mind and soul.
We need more of this, not less. You can support Brett by going here.
**I changed the names of the students…just in case.