In his early writing, MySpace to Sacred Space, author Christian Piatt highlights statistics and studies that show how several young adults (ages 18-40 [esp. 18-25]) become increasingly more unacquainted with the institutional church. This means, it’s fair to suggest; College Age (18-25 traditionally) is the age of “Faith Flight.” This trend is also telling because many of those in the current generation are not growing up de-churched (having been brought up in church as children and subsequently left) but un-churched (having little to no church experience at all).
Quite often, Faith Flight is a response to the rejection or dismissal of the rigidity of traditional religious assumptions implemented in the life of young people without space for the dialogue necessary to make faith make sense. In other words, when people are becoming more and more independent, they are less likely to pledge allegiance or commitment to anything they haven’t been allowed to engage (and even interrogate) for the sake of their own well-being. Many times our churches have promoted a particular taboo type precedent in numerous matters and communicated an “our way or the hell-way” type of theology. This approach is almost a surefire method of marginalizing the college and young adult population.
A few years ago while I was serving as a Director of Student Ministries at a local church, I stumbled upon an approach that combated this cultural phenomenon. There was a stress-filled transition going on administratively and ministerial, that was impacting our young adults to no end. I wanted to provide an opportunity to speak to the “elephants in the room” and “air our dirty laundry” giving our young adult parishioners voice and empowerment during the transition, as well as make sense of all of the “stuff.” I began to implement, “Faith Forums.” These were seminar style discussion sessions (lead by young adult leaders and facilitated by ministers) that allowed for those taboo style questions to be raised and addressed with no retribution. The engagement by the young adults was amazing. It allowed for them to take ownership in the spirit of the ministry and participate in the progress we all were hoping to obtain.
When I began teaching religion at LeMoyne-Owen, I sought to implement a similar effort on the campus. In reflection on my experiences with this effort, I surmised that we can combat the season of life that brings about “Faith Flight” with Faith Forums that provide atmospheres for those questions that get us “blackballed” in our early years. These “banned questions” are addressed in Christian Piatt’s series Banned Questions About the Bible as he and his editorial team use the question and answer format to highlight and expand on what is (and what ought not be) the “sacred cows” that too often throw out the “babe in Christ” with the baptismal font water.
If we are to attract and engage young adults in contemporary culture, we have to be open to hearing, addressing and attempting to answer those awkward questions that are being answered on numerous blogs, social networking sites and other media that contain illegitimate and anti-inspirational gurus who are providing answers contrary to the Gospel. I suggest we courageously use tools like the “Banned” series and other writings to open up these forums that will expand our faith. Do remember, it was our Lord and Savior who at the age of transition from parental dependence into personal independence that was found in temple, sitting with the religious leaders, asking and answering questions with awe and anointing. We ought to be willing to provide a platform for the same to take place.
Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers…”