The Church's Lost Generation

It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges.

teenager reflecting on life

In March, I traveled around the country to give speeches at three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:

These kids know almost nothing about their faith.

It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.

Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”

Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”

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The Christian college professors I talked to did not disdain their students. In fact, they all indicated deep concern for the spiritual and moral welfare of these young people. “We only have them for four years,” said one teacher. “You try to make up for what they’ve not been given, but there’s only so much you can do.”

This is not failure on the part of these teenagers. This is a failure of those who raised them: their parents and their religious institutions. They have sent an entire generation into the world radically unprepared for its challenges.

Perhaps they thought that there was enough Christianity ambient in the culture that their kids would somehow acquire it. If so, they were fools. Research shows that the Millennial Generation is falling away from church in numbers never before seen in American history. The currents of our secular culture are sweeping millions of young Christians away from their faith, and the older generation has given them little to hang on to.

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