Faith of Youth Mirrors Who We Are


In Christian formation and youth ministry, the task is to help young people see themselves from God’s perspective. But according to Christian author Kenda Creasy Dean, most youth ministry is falling short and is not helping youth change at all.

Speaking as Friday’s Theologian-in-Residence, Dean shared some of the findings of a longitudinal study, the National Study of Youth and Religion, which measured the faith pulse of persons in their first one-third of life.
“Much of youth ministry is not around God’s transformation but perpetuating who we already are,” Dean said. “What the study has shown is that the issues facing youth ministry are the issues facing the whole church.”
Among the study’s findings:
  • Teens are not hostile to religion. There is almost no conflict “because nobody cares,” Dean said. “You only fight over things that matter,” leading researchers to name such a phenomenon “benign whatever-ism.”
  • Teens mirror their parents’ religious faith to an astonishing degree. We get who we are.
  • There is almost a complete lack of theological language among teens. Teens had a hard time saying “Jesus” and the mention of the word “grace” almost always referred to the TV show, Will and Grace.
  • A significant minority (40 percent) of teens say religion matters and they plan to remain religious – the group from which future church leaders will come. However, only 1 in 12 practiced their faith by regularly attending worship, being part of a youth group or reading the Bible.
  • Most teens (60 percent) found religion inconsequential . Researchers called this moralistic therapeutic deism – God makes you feel good, be nice and otherwise stays out of the way. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. God is the cosmic butler or the divine guidance counselor and teens were critical about God’s performance on both.
“It looks Christian-ish, but the difference between the Apostles’ Creed and moralistic therapeutic deism is that the Apostle’s Creed is about God; moralistic therapeutic deism is about me,” Dean said. “Because young people mirror their parents’ religious faith, researchers say moralistic therapeutic deism is now the dominant religion in the United States, having supplanted Christianity in American churches. That is a damning statement.”
Dean said every generation grapples with a culturated version of Christianity, but every version lacks authentic Christian love that is sacrificial that comes from losing sight of our mission which reflects the core identify of who we are.