Statistics aren’t everything, but they can be helpful in trying to assess what’s happening in our world at a given point in time. They can also alert us to blind spots and things we might never have otherwise noticed. Between 2001 and 2015, the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted one of the largest surveys of its kind. The results were both encouraging and disturbing.
They found for instance that 80% of teens surveyed pray and 40% of them pray daily (see: findings on prayer). They also found that 70% of Grade 12 students who attend religious services weekly agreed with the statement, “It feels good to be alive,” while just 49% of those who don’t attend religious services were able to say the same thing (see: glad to be alive). But other figures were more alarming. For example, 20% of those who attended religious services weekly had gotten drunk by Grade 9. And 40% of Grade 12 students who attend services weekly had used illegal drugs in the past year (see: risk behaviours). Clearly, if a parent thinks that showing up at church is all that’s needed to reach their child, they’re wrong.
Perhaps one of the most helpful findings in the study was the identification of three factors that have the biggest impact on whether a youth will maintain their faith into adulthood. Seraphim Danckaert summarized the factors; I’ve added the commentary on each:
1. The young person's parents practiced the faith in the home and in daily life, not just in public, church settings. It’s easy for all of us to focus on the externals. Making church a priority as a family is incredibly important but hypocrisy kills any inklings toward faith. Talk with your teens about what you’re learning and how your faith is helping you. Help them see how you’re growing in your faith and how Jesus makes you more patient, kind and forgiving toward them.
2. The young person had at least one significant adult mentor or friend, other than parents, who practiced the faith seriously. If we needed another reminder that individualistic, lone-ranger faith doesn’t work, here it is! Our faith is important to our teens, but it isn’t enough. They need to see faith lived out in the lives of peers and adults they trust and respect. Going ‘all-in’ with church involvement and service increases the potential for this exponentially. Our youth group at Grace is a place where teens can form these relationships and see faith lived out in the lives of other believers. Helping your teen find a place to serve at church is another important way to help them develop connections with others who live out what they believe.
3. The young person had at least one significant spiritual experience before the age of 17. Dead religion doesn’t travel well. While young people in previous generations may have been asking, “Is it true?” the focus of this generation is, “Does it work?” We need to help teens not only understand faith in Jesus but also experience it. Helping our teens to seek God and make bold faith decisions is the goal and modeling the same in our lives helps to encourage them.
A person’s salvation, whether as a child, teen or adult, is a mysterious work of God. There is no formula and so the three factors listed above neither guarantee a teen’s faith nor explain their lack of it. But to the extent that the statistics can help point out aspects of our parenting and discipleship we may have otherwise overlooked, let’s ask for God’s help in growing in these areas.
In awe of Him,