Green Key Books
“I realize the title of this book may be shocking.
But the decision to call this The Last
Christian Generation was not made lightly
nor was it done for sensationalism. I sincerely
believe unless something is done now
to change the spiritual state of our young
people—you will become the last Christian
Marsha hugged her son as he prepared to leave. “It’s been nice having you home again, honey,” she said.
“Yeah, Greg,” his father Mike echoed. “It really has been good.” He stepped in for a hug. “I miss the weekends as a family, going to church and all. But I assume you’ve found a church home there in the college area by now, haven’t you, son?”
Greg swung an arm through a loop of his backpack. “Well, Dad, not really,” he said hesitantly. “Being a firstyear college student is tough, so I’ve been really busy.”
Sarah, Greg’s sixteen-year-old sister, handed him his duffle bag. “Is college really that hard?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say hard, really. You just keep busy, you know?”
Mike clamped a hand on Greg’s shoulder. “If you’re too busy to be in church, son, I think you might be too busy.”
“Well,” Greg responded, “your kind of church just isn’t my thing anymore, Dad. I’ve got some friends and we do a group study once a week and that’s enough for me.”
“I’d rather do things with my friends, too,” Sarah added. “Church is a bore.”
“Sarah!” Marsha said. “That’s a terrible thing to say!”
“Well, it’s true!” Sarah said.
“She’s right, Mom,” Greg said. “Church just doesn’t cut it for me anymore.”
“Honey, don’t say that.” Marsha touched her son on the arm. “That college isn’t turning you against God, is it?”
“No, Mom,” Greg chuckled, “I’m just rethinking a lot of things. God is still important to me, I just believe some different things from you guys, that’s all.” He adjusted the weight of the backpack. “Hey, I’ve got to get going.”
Greg moved on out the door as Sarah helped him with his things. Marsha and Mike stepped onto the porch and watched their son walk toward the car.
“We’ll be praying for you, son,” Mike called.
“Thanks, Dad,” Greg responded with a chuckle.
Marsha and Mike watched in silence as he backed down the drive and waved to them as he drove away. “I hope we’re not losing our son,” Marsha said.
Mike nodded. “I hope we’re not losing our son and our daughter.”
Are Our Kids Embracing True Christianity?
If I hear one dominating and recurring theme among the many church leaders and families I come in contact with, it’s fear. Some can express their fear. Others can’t quite put it into words. But most admit to a fear, deep down, that their kids, having been raised in Christian families and having spent their childhood and teenage years in the church, will, nonetheless, walk away unchanged. They fear that they are the last Christian generation and that their children will depart from the true faith.
That fear has become a reality. In past years, between fifty-five percent (55%) and sixty-six percent (66%) of churched young people have said that the church will play a part in their lives when they leave home. Now only thirty-three percent (33%) of churched youth say that!1 This is consistent with what various denominational leaders have confessed to me. Many have estimated that between sixty-nine percent (69%) and ninety-four percent (94%) of their young people are leaving the traditional church after high school … and very few are returning.
It’s not that churches and Christian families haven’t recognized that we’re losing our young people and haven’t tried to do something about it. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, significant numbers of Christian parents began removing their children from the public school system in an attempt to salvage their kids. The hope was that a Christian school education would somehow undergird their children with a biblical worldview. Today, there are over twelve thousand Christian schools in the United States. But what are the results?
For nineteen years, the Nehemiah Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, has been offering Christian schools what is called PEERS testing. This is to identify a young person’s views in five areas: Politics, Economics, Education, Religion, and Social issues (PEERS). The test is framed to grade a student according to one of four worldviews— Biblical Theism, Moderate Christian, Secular Humanism, and Socialism.
The Nehemiah Institute has offered a valuable service in providing this type of testing to over 20,000 students from one thousand schools (see www.NehemiahInstitute. com). Christian parents have even tested their young people who attend public school. You would probably not be surprised to learn that eighty-five percent (85%) of youth from Christian homes that attend public schools do not embrace a biblical worldview. But what of students in Christian schools? While these students scored slightly higher than their counterparts attending public schools, only six percent (6%) of students embraced a Biblical Theism Worldview.2 It is clear we have all but lost our young people to a godless culture.
That is not to say, however, that our young people are rebelling against God. In fact, in many ways, today’s youth are just as promising and as spiritually inclined as any generation. Perhaps even more so. Studies show they possess an impressive set of priorities:
65% want a close relationship with God;3
49% want to make a difference in the world;4
79% consider having close personal friends as a high-priority goal for their future.5
Today’s youth seem to be just as interested in God and just as passionate about spiritual things as any generation. For more than a decade, young people have been the most spiritually interested individuals in America. Their interest is not in question at all. But the fundamental question is: “How are they forming their view of God? And what brand of religion are they adopting?”
A large proportion of our young people would echo Greg’s remark at the beginning of this chapter: “God is still important to me, I just believe some different things from you.”
What are these differences? For starters:
63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God;
58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths;
51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead;
65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity;
68% don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity.6
In other words, our kids are departing from the faith of their fathers…and mothers. They are believing “some different things from you and me.” Much of what they believe about Christianity, truth, reality, and the church comes from a distorted view they have gleaned from the world around them. It’s not that they haven’t embraced a version of Christianity; it’s simply that the version they believe in is not built on the true foundation of what biblical Christianity is all about.
But it’s more than a matter of the things they believe. Those differences in belief make a world of difference in the kind of lives they lead. You see, when our view of the truth becomes distorted, then how we view God, ourselves, and others is profoundly affected, too. And, sooner or later, what we believe will govern how we think and act.
Research shows that when young people lack a basic biblical belief system, it negatively affects their attitudes. As a result they are:
225% more likely to be angry with life
216% more likely to be resentful
210% more likely to lack purpose in life
200% more likely to be disappointed in life.7
The research also shows that our young people’s failure to adopt a foundational Christian belief system negatively impacts their behavior:
48% more likely to cheat on an exam
200% more likely to steal
200% more likely to physically hurt someone
300% more likely to use illegal drugs
600% more likely to attempt suicide.8
The above quoted research tells us that when our young people are not grounded upon the foundational truth of what Christianity really is, they are two times, three times, and six times more likely to engage in “un- Christlike” and destructive behavior. And studies show this to be precisely the situation we have today. The Josephson Institute on Ethics’ report entitled, “The Ethics of American Youth,” underscores this reality.
According to this study, there is no more than a four percent (4%) difference between the attitudes and actions of professing Christian youth and non-Christian young people.
Isn’t something terribly wrong with this picture? Studies show that the majority of our young people want a close relationship with God and perhaps are more inclined toward spiritual things than the previous generation. And yet their beliefs and lifestyles are inconsistent with what you and I would consider to be true Christianity. Wouldn’t true followers of Christ believe that Jesus is the Son of the one true God? Wouldn’t they say that Jesus bodily rose from the dead? Wouldn’t they accept that the Holy Spirit is a real person? And would they lie to their teachers and parents, cheat on tests, and steal from others? The cornerstones of the Christian faith is that the power of Christ so transforms a person that he or she begins acting Christlike. That is what a Christian is—a person who thinks and lives in the likeness of his or her Lord, Jesus Christ.
A ground-breaking study by George Barna divided professed born-again Christians into two categories:
Those who believe in Christ, but their lives don’t
reflect Christlikeness; and
Those who believe in Christ and live a Christlike life.
His research showed that ninety-eight percent (98%) of professed born-again young people do “believe in Christ,” but they do not reflect Christlike attitudes or actions!10
What has happened? Why does the Christianity that so many of our young people, and even adults, are adopting make so little difference in their lives? Is it because they are not attending enough church services and Christian events or that there are not enough seminars and resources available in the form of books, training, or curriculum to teach them the truth about Christianity?
Although it may sound harsh, I’m afraid George Barna is right when he says:
Nothing is more numbing to the Church than the fact that it is mired in a rut of seemingly unfathomable depths. The various creative approaches attempted over the course of this decade have drawn much attention but produced little, if any, transformational impact…although many people attend a church, few Americans are committed to being the Church.11
We haven’t lacked creative resources or high-impact Christian events over the last decade. We are inundated with books, courses, and events. And while these efforts have been worthwhile, because some people’s lives have been transformed by the power of God, for some reason we’re losing more ground with this new generation of young people than we are gaining.
What Do We Need?
Paul the Apostle said that when a person has a real encounter with the true God, that relationship will transform him or her into a new creation: “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence” (2 Corinthians 5:17, GWT).
The obvious but, nonetheless, shocking truth is that we are not seeing the majority of our churched youth transformed by the power of God. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of our young people appear neither to understand who the true God is nor the true meaning of Christianity. It is evident that the Church and Christian families are failing to lead them into a transforming experience with God!
“Wait a minute, McDowell,” you might say. “We are still presenting the gospel message to our young people as we always have. Christ is as relevant as he has ever been. If they’re not experiencing him, it’s not our fault!”
This book isn’t about casting blame or trying to determine who is at fault for the things that are happening—or not happening—among our young people. I am wholly uninterested in making anyone feel worse for the spiritual and moral state of our young people. It is abundantly clear that our own “Christian” young people are walking away from the church in alarming numbers. And I’m sure you’ll agree that whatever or whoever is the cause, we all want to find a way to keep your generation from being the last Christian generation.
In this book, we want to come to grips with the impact of a cultural view of Christianity, truth, reality, and the church that has completely distorted how our kids understand God. Yes, churches and families may present the truth of Christ to our young people, but most kids will interpret such presentations through the distorted prisms they’ve adopted from the culture around them. And unless we recognize how our kids process the gospel through these distortions—and then re-think how we introduce them to Christ—they may never understand or experience the true God who transforms lives!
In the chapters that follow, we want to identify the distorted views of the faith that our young people are adopting, but we will go beyond that. We will also examine what it will take to correct their distorted views of God so that we can rebuild the true foundations of the faith within this generation, and by God’s grace, a new generation of true Christians will emerge. We do not use the word “rebuild” lightly. It is true that the foundation of Christianity does not need to be rebuilt because “Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20, GWT). And Christ does not need to be modernized to make him relevant— he is as relevant as ever before. But the issue here is that the majority of our young people lack a relationship with spiritual mentors who are models of Christlikeness, and these youth are building their faith and lives on a false foundation—a distorted view of who Christ is, why he came to earth, and what the Bible and truth really are. And that has completely falsified the intent and purpose of Christianity. They read from the same Bible, talk of a personal relationship with God, and say biblical truth is important to their lives, but their beliefs and behavior are not consistent with what the Bible identifies as a true follower of Christ. We need to help our young people rebuild their faith and relationships with spiritual mentors from the ground up based on the true foundation of Christ.
Some time ago, a youth worker shared his struggle this way:
I have ministered to my kids every week for a year now, and I’ve come to this conclusion: we use the same words as our young people, but they mean totally different things. Words like truth, tolerance, respect, acceptance, moral judgments, sin, the Holy Spirit, the devil, and redemption have a completely different meaning to my kids than they do to me. We were working from two different premises, and I didn’t even know it. I’m convinced unless I can get my kids to rethink these most basic Christian concepts, I’ll never make it to square one with them.
This youth worker is confronting what every church and family confronts on a daily basis. Like him, many are unaware of the differing definitions their kids apply to words and the false concepts these definitions lead them to adopt. Notice just a few words in the following chart that mean different things to this emerging generation.
These differences in meaning are symptomatic of a deeper problem—that the majority of our young people are neither understanding the claims of Christ nor becoming a true follower of him. And if we expect to make it to square one with this generation, we must correct the false concepts that our young people have about the entire Christian faith. Accomplish that and we have a chance to reintroduce the real and relevant Christ to our young people and witness a spiritual revolution of an entire generation.
Picture right now your son or daughter or the group of young people you love and care about. Now think twelve to fifteen years into the future and see them in their mid to late twenties. Imagine them being deeply devoted to Christ and passionately loving God with all their heart, mind, and strength. They know who they are as individuals, they know their strengths and weaknesses, and they are capitalizing on those strengths and compensating for their weaknesses. Consequently, they are highly valued and productive people.
Additionally, they have a great sense of purpose and direction in life: they know why they are here. Their life’s goal is to honor and glorify their God by being devoted husbands or wives, loving fathers or mothers, faithful members of a local church and compassionate citizens of the world. They don’t just talk about how culture needs to change; they are active participants in that change. Their neighbors are attracted to them because they demonstrate such a caring and compassionate heart by bringing healing to the hurting, comfort to the broken hearted, and help for those in need.
These young adults have a perspective on life and death that doesn’t put a high premium on making lots of money or establishing a life of leisure and pleasure for themselves and their families. They sacrifice financially and give of themselves freely. Their eyes are not on this earthly kingdom but rather on a heavenly kingdom. Subsequently, they see themselves as pilgrims on a journey to a place not of this world, and they are intent on taking as many with them as they can.
Christianity to these godly men and women is far more than a system they have been taught or just believe—it is the life they live out every day. And what’s more, they are instilling a Christlike way of life into their own children.
Is this the future you desire for your children and young people? Does this sound too good to actually come true—a hope and dream but not a realistic expectation? Well, it can be realistic if we as a collective body determine by God’s grace to understand how to break through the distortions our young people have about Christianity and rebuild their faulty faith on the true foundations of Christ. I fear that if we don’t, you and I might just be among the last Christian generation.
But there is still hope, and that is what this book is about—rebuilding the crumbling foundations of the true faith to raise up a new generation of Christ followers like that depicted in the above paragraphs. We will not attempt to identify all the “how to’s” of the rebuilding process. Rather, we will lay out a “blueprint” of sorts—a clear picture enabling you to:
Understand the Distortions That Our Young People Have Adopted
By realizing the extent to which our kids misunderstand Christianity, truth, reality, and the church, we gain a clearer understanding of both why and how we must lead them to become true followers of Christ.
Re-introduce God to Our Young People for who He Really Is
Our kids don’t truly understand God for who he really is. They must come to see the true God as a loving, relational being who came to reclaim them and restore all things to his original design.
Lead Our Young People to Properly Respond to God through a Spiritual Formation Process
Being a true follower of Christ involves being conformed to the character of Christ. This involves very basic responses that our kids need to understand and make part of their everyday lives. We will identify seven such spiritual formation responses.
Much of my ministry has been to the youth culture, researching their thinking, identifying the top priorities facing them, speaking to those priorities, and creating resources to help families raise up children to be faithful followers of Christ. But neither my associates nor I work in a vacuum. We work closely with those ministering on the front lines of battle. In every youth issue we have addressed over the last thirty or so years, we have first called denominational and parachurch youth leaders together for a meeting. We ask them what youth issues are of highest priority and in what area they need the most help. They consistently ask for help in two areas. The first is printed and mediated resources that they can use to define the issues for their people and offer “how to” curriculum to help apply a solution. The second is effective “live” events and seminars presenting compelling content that will hold the attention of both parents and young people.
We have collaborated with those who are ministering effectively to parents and young people and drawn from the best of their working models. When we complete a resource for youth groups, we field test it with up to twenty- five youth groups before it is released. We do this to insure that the model can be replicated among even the smallest of youth groups.
What we are presenting in this book is no different. The crises we cite in these pages are from extensive research and interaction with church leaders and their youth. The biblical blueprint we offer here has come from three years of collaborating with local churches, denominational leaders, and parachurch groups. It is forged out of the experience of those with effective working models of ministry.
Our desire is to act as a catalyst and serve churches and families with a tried and proven message. And to that end, we pray that what is offered here will help you bring your young people to a face-to-face encounter with the one true God—the God who wants them to enjoy an intimate relationship with him, a relationship that will transform them into blameless and pure “children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which [they] shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15, NIV).
Responding or Reacting?
Throughout history, Christian movements have responded to changing world cultures that have been detrimental to the social and spiritual development of our young people. These movements have helped to shape the church’s view on many issues, including what is foundational to true Christianity. Such movements are often a response to, and sometimes even a reaction to, what is happening in the culture. And when we react, there is always the danger of swinging the pendulum too far in one way or the other.
It is apparent that here at the beginning of the twentyfirst century we face a generation of young people who no longer hold to what most evangelicals consider to be the true foundations of the Christian faith: belief in the deity of Christ, the reliability of Scripture, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Whatever adjustments we make in the way we present the gospel to young people influenced by cultural thinking, those three pillars of the faith are central, crucial, and indispensable. And they are more than mere historical facts; they are crucially relevant to a person’s everyday Christian life and relationships. We can and need to adjust the way we speak to today’s culture, but we cannot budge one millimeter in our insistence that these pillars are absolutely essential to understanding not just our religion, but the entire structure of reality itself.
I spent years documenting the evidences for our faith, convinced that doing so would strengthen and deepen a believer’s faith in God and his Word. But I must admit I was taken aback when I first learned that some churched young people didn’t see the value in discovering the evidence for Christ’s deity, his resurrection, or for the reliability of Scripture. It forced me and many Christian leaders to re-examine how we were presenting the Christian faith to this generation. Out of that re-examination comes this biblical blueprint to rebuild the true foundations of the Christian faith. What we will be presenting here may seem radical to some. And in a sense it is. It is nothing less than a call to a significant realignment, but it is by no means a new theology. It is based firmly upon sound biblical teaching.
What we are calling for is a resurgence of a Christcentered, God-focused message that is biblical yet real and relevant to today’s youth. We do not wish to merely make another defense for Christian evidences or a cognitive, intellectual approach to Christianity, and neither do we simply want to emphasize a warm, fuzzy relational heart message of Christianity. A reaction leading to either extreme can cause more damage than good.
We are calling for a spiritual revolution—a passionate embracing of the Christian faith for what it is—a vibrant relationship with the real and living person of Jesus Christ, to be lived out with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.
If we as churches and families keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve got. And that is clearly not what we want. I’ve had some people tell me we simply need better church attendance and more sermons. That solution is like a sales manager’s response to the accountant who told him that the company was losing ten dollars on every sale. “Then we’ll just double our sales,” said the sales manager. Doing more of what we’re doing will not salvage this generation.
This is a call to correct the current distortion of Christianity among our young people without being alarmist or reactionary. We as a ministry have been asked by numerous denominations to help create a Christian catechism, if you will, that churches and families can adopt as a training tool. But these denominations and groups have stipulated that it not be simply another program. Because going through programs doesn’t accomplish much unless a person learns to live out a Christlike life everyday. In that respect, the “program” we will be discussing throughout these pages isn’t so much a program as it is a process—a way of coming to know God for who he is and responding to him by living and being a true follower of Christ.
Moving away from programs for programs’ sake and adopting a process-driven model will be a challenge for many because it will require the abandonment of what some consider sacred—the “Structural Church” that is primarily concerned with conducting events to a spectator audience. Instead, we will encourage the embracing of a “Missional Church” that is focused on re-establishing a process of becoming more and more like Christ. This book will attempt to provide a clear, urgent, yet balanced biblical blueprint that may rattle many people’s concept of Christianity, truth, and the church. We will in affect be offering a fresh model of how to minister to our children and young people.
So we pray that you find in the following pages a blueprint that is biblically founded, culturally relevant, and applicable to your ministry in doing your part to assure that you are not among the last Christian generation.