Studies conducted by the Pew Research Center show that the future of religion in America will be comprised of a diverse set of youth with no roots in Christianity.
America is known for having people from of every race and ethnicity and background all over the world come, and pursue their passions, build a better life for themselves, and call this place their home. The American church, on the other hand, has a history of struggling to be an inviting place to all different races and ethnicities, leaving them to feel spiritually homeless.
In recent years, however, according the Religion News Service (RSN,) American churches have finally been opening their doors more and more to ethnic minority groups
On the other side, the recent participation and attendance of white, evangelical youths within the church has decreased.
In 1976, white evangelicals accounted for 86 percent of America’s population. However, as of 2016, a mere 43 percent of white evangelicals accounted for the population, according to RSN. When broken down, the decline is not among the older white people but young white people.
Jason Lanker, PhD., Professor of Biblical Studies, has a theory of his own as to why white youths are leaving the church. Lanker believes that the American church has applied the school model to their youth programs—they are very specialized programs that promote individualism and pragmatism over community and connection. Thus youths leave the church because they never felt like they were a part of it in the first place.
“[The] Youth group is an orphaning structure, once you’re done, you’re done, and no longer have a larger communal structure in the church,” Lanker said. Additionally, Lanker said that youths in the church interact with each other and are taught all the right answers but they have little to no interaction with the daily life of the church. They are not given the chance to discover why they believe what they believe.
Erika Regier, senior Christian ministry and formations major, said that white youth in the church may feel overlooked because the church is “overly-focused on diversity. Don’t get me wrong, diversity is a good thing, but I think we have taken it to another extreme of ‘if you’re not a diverse population, then you’re not worth our time.’” Often, the church assumes that white, evangelical kids are taken care of since many are in youth groups or have a solid, Christian adult presence in their lives.
This dangerous assumption, however, does not lead to true salvation, it merely covers up the problems white youth may be facing and they feel like they have to deal with their problems on their own.
Regier believes that organizations like Young Life are a more effective model of youth ministry and will hopefully help win white evangelicals back to the church. Organizations like these focus less on diversity and more on glorifying God. They are able to meet all high schoolers—not just a specific demographic of high schoolers—in their struggles and truly answer their questions, allowing them to experience community.
Sharon Tatem, Senior Biblical Theology major, is one of the many young, white people who feel as if the youth group system failed them. Tatem said that, in order to keep white youth in the church, we need to start listening, pointing them to their value in the Lord—not just their value within a youth group setting.
MEGAN KOONTZ – Staff Writer