Not only have I gone to church my entire life, my entire education was spent in religious schools. Every aspect of my childhood and early adulthood was affected in one way or another by my church. I never knew or hung out with anybody who was not a Christian. In reality, it’s kind of impressive the structure my denomination has established so as to provide a mostly normal upbringing. I say mostly normal because it is clear that my growing up is exponentially different than any person’s I know that is not a Seventh-day Adventist. However, I am very content with my young life. It wove spirituality with every other aspect of my life, it established habits that, though they really were just habits for several years, kept me preserved, sort of, until I was ready to analyze and test my own reasons for being a Christian.
So when I consider the number ten reason for young adults leaving the church, I have to think of what kind of religion people are growing up in. This is a difficult task, to be sure. For me, my church did a pretty good job, I think, of keeping things relevant. There are two reasons for this: first, my youth groups were always quite small, and second, my church never asked me to take what it said at face value.
The smallness of my youth group is a double-edged sword.* It is clear to me that many churches struggle because they have a very small, not-diverse group of people that are being raised in the faith. When there are almost no kids growing up in the church, the relevancy question soon becomes a there’s-nothing-there-for-me problem. It was easy to be bored because there are so few people to connect to. I remember visiting relatives that went to even smaller churches than mine and being in a Sabbath School class with one other kid and an adult that tried his or her darnedest to keep us engaged. However, the small size of my youth group was also very beneficial. I knew my teachers, adults who were dedicating their Saturday mornings to guide us in spiritual ways. We had the option of really connecting and understanding each other. This is very different than youth groups in bigger mega-churches, really any church that has probably 30 or more kids in a youth group. Though I would envy these larger groups from time to time–they had full praise bands, dynamic speakers, and more people to interact with–but it can be so easy to get lost in those groups. As a teacher, I know how easy it can be to lose track of a kid from day to day or week to week. It’s hard in large room full of people to connect with people and know their needs.
So relevancy was built for me because groups were small and easy to talk to my teachers. And even after I started attending a boarding school for high school, I had the benefit of time and opportunity. If I didn’t talk to a teacher on the weekend, then I probably would later during the week because we all live on the same campus. It was also at this school that the second key to relevancy was developed. I attended Bible classes every year of my educational career, but in high school, I was told to not accept what I was told without studying it for myself. Honestly, they only kind of meant it. They still drilled us on Daniel and Revelation prophecy, and we took copious notes various doctrines. But the idea was still there. “Don’t take our word for it.” “Your parents’ religion isn’t your religion.” This in itself didn’t ensure my continued interest in religion, of course, but it impresses me still that they would introduce the concept that their theology was only good if you honestly studied it yourself. This became a challenge to see if what I believed is really what my family believed and what my church believed. As it turns out, we’re not 100% the same, and that’s not only ok, it beautiful.
How a church stays relevant after adulthood may be the trickier part of the equation. As it has been pointed out, people leave churches in droves after high school and after college. But I don’t know if that’s a relevancy issue. It may be something else, and I’m sure I’ll address that in a later post.
* A double-edged sword really is no big deal unless you are holding the wrong end (credit to Nathaniel Salzman from some Twitter post a long time ago).