Recently while listening to the radio I heard a saddening statistic about youth leaving the church. Since I know several young adults who have disconnected from their Christian faith, I decided to do some investigating. I asked my younger friends, “What drove you to leave? Why did you stop attending?
I received a variety of answers with one common theme: The scriptures, beliefs, and traditions of the Christian Faith are not meaningful or interesting to them.
There were two reasons. Firstly, I found that they misunderstood the meaning Christian terminology, including the most basic of terms such as “Sin,” and “God.” Secondly, they said that they find the story of Jesus to be unrelatable.
So, what do we do with this information? How do we help the younger generations connect and feel passionate towards Christianity?
We need to better define and explain the meaning behind our Christian terminology. The young Christians I spoke with had gross misunderstandings of basic Christian terminology. In order to understand and connect with the teachings and traditions of Christianity, one must understand the language.
By talking with the fallen away youth, I found that it was through popular advertisements such as “sinfully delicious” or “sin-sational” chocolate cake, that their interpretation of the word “sin” was not something that separates us from God and brings us into danger. Instead, they believed sin was something good. Something desirable, that prudish Christians condemned for no good reason.
I found that they misunderstood God to be some random old man in the sky or some mystical vague spiritual presence that connected humans to nature. They didn’t understand that when Christians speak about God, they are talking about our creator, who longs for an intimate relationship with us, his creation, so much that he came down in human form to be with us, heal us, and save us.
We must do a better job of defining our terms and cultivating a safe place for the youth to ask questions about what those terms mean in the context of our faith. If they are not forthcoming with their questions, we cannot assume they understand what we mean. We must ask them what their understanding of the faith is, why they believe those things to be true, and gently correct them if they have misunderstood or been misguided.
But this is not all we must do. We must also find a way to help young people connect to the scriptures by making them relatable. The young people I talked with who left the church genuinely felt that the scriptures were outdated and had nothing to do with them. Because of this, we must show the younger generations how the scriptures, teachings, and traditions of Christianity relate to them in this modern day an age.
How do we do this?
We must figure out what they are interested in, what is meaningful to them and connect those things with scripture.
For example, take the popular Pixar movie Finding Nemo. I have found that movie to move people of all ages to tears. One of the most touching themes in Finding Nemo are the lengths that the parents go to save their children. Nemo’s Mom sacrifices her life and dies to save her children. Marlin, Nemo’s Dad, loves Nemo despite Nemo’s broken, deformed fin and wishes to save Nemo, even though Nemo disobeyed Marlin’s orders to never touch “the butt” (boat).
It is because Nemo disobeys Marlin that Nemo becomes lost, but Marlin still risks his life to find and save Nemo anyway.
This is what Christ does for us. Christ our creator, like Nemo’s Mom, died for us. Christ, like Marlin, Nemo’s Dad, will go to the ends of the earth to seek us despite our brokenness and disobedience. Christ does this because he loves us and wishes to save us from our sins, much like Marlin loves and wants to save Nemo from his sin of disobedience. Christ searches for us even though we, like Nemo, are broken, disobedient, and imperfect.
Why is it that the themes in a fictional cartoon fish story can move people of all ages to tears, but the true story of Jesus does not?
Perhaps it is the difficult language of the Bible. Perhaps the lifestyle of Jesus is so foreign that young people simply cannot create an imaginative visual of the scriptures. Perhaps the young people have had bad experiences with Christians who did not practice their faith and they do not want to understand. I cannot be sure.
What I am sure of is that by relating the difficult stories, language, and culture of the Bible to stories, language, and cultures that the youth already understand and are interested in, we can begin to engage in conversations that will help them connect and relate to Christ in a meaningful, life changing way. To keep the young people engaged in their Christian faith, Churches need to offer, in addition to Bible Studies, Studies of Biblical Themes Presented in Pop-culture.