[i] Nearly six in ten (59%) young people who grew up in the church will leave the church or their faith for at least a significant amount of time, if not for good, in their 20s.[ii]
These are words which appeared on the Leader Blog of the LCMS and I have no reason to doubt the statistics. One of the things we need to pay attention to is why these young people who grew up in the church have left or will leave. At least in part, the issue here is catechesis. We have for years dumbed down the curriculum of Sunday school and catechism programs to the point where these seem to be more about interest and fun than schooling people in the faith. We have also done the same for adult instruction. If the statistics are to be reversed, clear and consistent catechesis must be restored for all ages in the church. We are only so strong as the catechesis into which our youth are imparted the doctrine and practice and the already confirmed are renewed and refreshed in what we believe, confess, and teach and how this is lived out in the life of the church and the faithful.
We do no one any good by trying to simplify the faith and we should not diminish the power of our youth to understand and experience the fullness of the mystery of the incarnate Lord who suffers and dies in our place upon the cross, rises to life death cannot overcome and then delivers these gifts to His people in the means of grace. We do them a grave disservice by trying to shield them from the great paradoxes of the faith, by making doctrine simplistic, and by treating grace as cheap and easy.
Second, we must admit that the first line of catechesis is not in the church building but in the home. I do not intend simply to blame the parents here but to rally the family to the deep and profound influence moms and dads and their extended family have on their children's faith and life (and not simply while they are under their parents' roofs). In every study I have seen, the parents are the clear and most significant role models for faith and life for their children. When we sit down with parents prior to their child's baptism, one of the most important things we talk about is how significant their example is and their role as models and mentors of the faith is for their children. Our children certainly encounter other conflicting and competing influences against this godly example but none of them is as deep and powerful as what happens in the home, learning the faith from mom and dad.
Third, these did not leave because they did not find worship fun or exciting but because they found nothing in sermon and liturgy to compel them to remain. In other words, when we diminish the content of the faithful proclamation within the Divine Service and when we treat the liturgy as if it existed to entertain the faithful as spectators, we diminish the character of mystery that is inherent in the means of grace as we are confronted with the presence of God and with His rich gifts of mercy and grace. Millenials will surely not be retained by adopting another style for an empty confession and me centered focus but they have demonstrated that they are interested in and compelled by true liturgy that is the other side of the coin of faithful confession. What does arrest the bleeding off of our young people is nothing short than the most serious and faithful liturgical expression of what we believe, confess, and teach.
Finally, I would suggest that those who have the greatest power to call these young people to account are their peers who have not abandoned the faith. I am constantly impressed of the young adults in my own parish who reach out to the curious and even to the lost and address them with their own experience of faithful worship, catechesis, and confession. They are constantly bringing their friends and peers to the church to hear faithful sermons and to experience catholic liturgy and reverent music because this is where their own faith lives and these are the fonts from which their own continued faith and life in Christ draws sustenance. We should discount or diminish the power of faithful Christian peers to speak to those within their own generation. These folks are some of the most important means of addressed the unchurched with the Gospel and reclaiming those who have fallen away from their faith and life within the church.