Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


USA Today: Teens Losing Interest in Church and Church Camp

posted by Mark D. Roberts

USA Today features an article today that contains bad news for churches. ‘Forget pizza parties,’ teens tell churches builds upon research done by the Barna Group. In summary:

Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups,
considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since
1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going
to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.,
evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their
summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall,
when school-year youth groups kick in.

Factors that might explain the lack of participation by teens include: lack of parental commitment, the over-commitment of teens in the rest of life, and greater use of technology by teens. Barna president, David Kinnaman says, “Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook.” (Perhaps God needs to get on Facebook?)(Photo: Laity Lodge Youth Camp)

llyc-echo-valley-5.jpgOne Christian camp director explained the loss of participation in youth camps by pointing to “growing competition from summer mission trips.” Interesting! Is that good or bad, I wonder. The youth camp associated with Laity Lodge, where I work, sponsored a mission trip to Haiti this summer. Could this be the way of the future for Christian summer camping?

Though Barna’s research does not bode well for churches, if you check out the data from the Barna Group website, you find more of a mixed picture. Involvement of teens in church is flat over the past seven years, while involvement in youth groups is up a bit.

For a nuanced, extensive, and intensive look at spirituality among teens and young adults, I’d recommend the outstanding books by sociologist Christian Smith: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.

So what do you think? How can churches and Christian camps connect with teenagers today?



  • Matt

    One problem I see is when churches become overly sensitive to things like Harry Potter (Catholic Church stating magic is the work of the devil) gay marriage (not saying one has to agree) but some churches seem to spend more time denouncing gay marriage and abortion then trying to help people and love thy neighbor. Also instead of flat out denying that other religions have some spiritual truths churches should embrace open discussions about other religious beliefs.
    I think these things turn off not just teenagers but people in general.
    I am a Christian but I like Harry Potter books and think Harry Potter is a good role model for a fictional character. I also practice Yoga which is not a manipulation of the body but is a great way to work out, increase circulation and reach a state of relaxation… but the Catholic church does not approve of Yoga. The idea of the my way or the highway doesn’t resonate with common sense. I would think science and Jesus’s teachings would show God loves diversity. So Christian denominations need to embrace diversity not attempt to remove it.

  • Stan

    This article has many truths to it, and I agree with them. Many mission trips are a week of camp with doing good thrown into the mix. The lack of a booming economy has forced parents to make sacrifices and cut back spending. In camps you not always know the others who are participating on any given week, but on a mission trip, we are a flock of geese protecting out own.
    I also agree 400% that God should be on facebook. When God and the mentioning of the belief in him is under attack in today’s secular world, EVERY progressive church MUST be on facebook to meet the young on their terms, in my day we had Davey & Goliath cartoons.
    I don’t agree with Matt’s comments about keeping opinions to oneself. People think because of the great commandment nothing else matters. By throwing out the rest of the scriptures it denies 7957 other verses and their importance. I do love myself, but I am not naive to think that I make wrong and potentially harmful choices at times. By “policing myself” I take hold on where I would like to be spiritually. If I love my neighbor as myself, I’ll “police” them too. Harry Potter which practices the occult, and yoga which is founded on Eastern religious beliefs, the church has legitimate issues with them [not to say I agree, just understand].

  • Jose

    When teens have gay friends, and then they see Christians condemn and demonize them, the church is going to come out the loser.
    When teens study science, and then see Christians insist that the world is 6000 years old, the church is going to come out the loser.
    When teens read the words of Jesus condemning greed and commanding us to take care of the least of these, and then see Christians oppose health care reform, the church is going to come out the loser.
    We have summer camps that have been hugely successful, but they are 100% mission work for local low-income families.

  • Stan

    Jose,
    Are Christians supposed to lose their Biblically based moral values to gain more Christians? I have read the Bible, and I don’t remember it stating: 6,000 human years ago, in the beginning. God, whose time is different then humans made the universe and man in 6 days… HIS days, what that equates to in human days is just a guess.
    The health care debate is one of mismanagement, corruption and greed, more than ANYTHING else. It’s like saying here’s my ATM card and my pin, help yourself. The country as a whole will be dragged down because of unlimited expenses with a huge bureaucracy trying to control it. It’s a financial VietNam war. There’s an answer out there, just not an open checkbook policy which no one checks the balance BEFORE checks are written.

  • Molly

    Hmmm…if we all think back to when we were a teen, and how difficult it was, I can empathize with these kids. It’s a natural, biological reaction at this age to want to fit in, and peer acceptance now is even more hard-won than it was just a few years ago. I think the answer to this dilemma is one thing and one thing only – parenting. For example, look at the mixed messages children and teens are exposed to everyday. If a child has an open line of communication with their parent(s), it makes understanding daily contradictions much easier. I was recently introduced to a book called “Ben’s Big Bang Botheration” by David Millette which focuses on a kid who learns a teaching in science class that is contradictory to his religious beliefs. He has a struggle with this, and ultimately seeks out his parents for guidance. There’s also a guide for parents included in the text that shows the best ways to tackle issues like this WITH their children. Here’s the link – http://www.todayinscienceclass.com/2.html I think the more parents use invaluable tools such as this, and set the proper example for their children (as stated above), you’ll see the statistics stated in the article go on the rise.

  • Matt

    Response to Stan:
    Unfortunately the OT contradicts the NT at times. If we follow the OT by every word then men should wear white and grow their beards long. (leviticus). People who try to take the Bible literal in every sense contradict themselves by picking and choosing scripture.
    The OT also attributes God giving Joshua permission to kill women and children of his rivals. It is time people realized that the OT although divinely inspired is not word for word dictated by the Holy Spirit or angels but is subject to the author’s viewpoint.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment ROBERT FISHBACK

    THERE IS BUT ONE HOPE FOR ALL WE DESIRE RE YOUTH, YOUTH CAMPS, AND ALL PROGRAMS…..GOD ALWAYS HAS A WAY AND WILL MAINTAIN AND SUSTAIN ALL THAT HE DESIRES. NO PLAN OF MAN CAN OVERCOME THE INCREDIBLE INTRUSION OF EVIL AND DECEPTION INTO THE CURRENT RELIGIOUS CIRCLE.

  • Pingback: Good News for Churches and the Next Generations? - Mark D. Roberts

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