Being in a position to lead a church and congregation is no easy feat and requires much sacrifice, an open heart, selflessness and effort. There is a desire to instill values and morals that can help individuals grow into respectable members in society with a heart of love and common sense, but a prevalent situation in need of assistance is reinvigorating young adults in their faith walk and sense of church duty. That is why in helping young adults mature in this aspect, religion and faith have been embedded in religious households through one’s immediate family.
Regardless of that fact, it is of concern on a global scale to see a trend in young adults falling out of their faith as studies have been showing how “teenagers are less likely to pray (down from 81% in the mid-nineties), to attend worship services (down from 53%), and to read from the Bible on their own time (down from 37%)”.
As difficult as this may be to experience, it is hence important to look into the potential causes in order to find the appropriate responses as well.
It is first important to understand that young adults are at a stage where they’re undergoing many circumstances that may contribute to their reasoning for falling in their life of faith.
This can be seen through aspects such as emotional and social changes through navigating what it means to care, handling conflict, managing their emotions, as well as how they think and learn such as creating habits, contemplating on goals or the future, and distinguishing what is right from wrong. In this stage of learning, random curveballs and triggers may occur especially when something that they’ve grown up with or is an aspect of their identity, like faith and religion, are tested.
To contemplate on this further, factors such as being unable to explain or find answers, experiencing hypocrisy, feeling forced, and receiving influence from peers can impact their thought process and heart in their life of faith. Given it may be different for everyone, looking at these signs should help give guidance as to what the root cause may be.
Firstly, certain concepts of faith can be rather confusing as content from the Bible, information spoken by spiritual mentors or leaders, what peers or family may say, to sermons that pastors preach, can conflict or conjure different types of emotions. It’s important to again understand that because young adults are still in a position where they are practicing how to cope with emotions and are developing in their brain, any trigger or negative experience or emotion evoked by the words someone can say makes a big impact.
Furthermore, in naturally being curious, not being able to find answers to real life questions can cause their foundation to be unstable as well and a few examples to keep in mind may be: Why does God allow suffering to occur in the world such as the COVID pandemic? If Jesus died for our sins, why is there sin today? Why does God not answer all prayers? How do we know what is God’s perspective vs. our own thinking? What is the concrete evidence of God’s existence? How do we know Jesus is the promised Messiah? The negative emotions that may arise in contemplating one’s own experiences and frustrations can take a toll, and if the answers being given are contradictory or incoherent, it can cause them to choose to quit as well.
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Secondly, witnessing scenes of hypocrisy by those in the faith can cause discouragement and mistrust within a young adult. It is good to keep in mind that actions speak louder than words and oftentimes reflect what’s really inside someone’s heart. For example, it is a common moral teaching to learn to love one another just like God and Jesus do, yet there are a plethora of allegations regarding bishops and priests committing sexual abuse and rape. There was a 2019 NBC report that even mentioned how “nearly 1,700 priests and other clergy members that the Roman Catholic Church considers credibly accused of child sexual abuse are living under the radar with little to no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement, decades after the first wave of the church abuse scandal roiled U.S. dioceses.”
In another example, the Bible teaches to correctly handle the Word yet sermons may sometimes use the Word out of context and take advantage of the congregation as seen through a U.S preacher telling his followers that God told him to believe for a private jet and hence asked his followers to help him purchase his fourth one in 2018 as well. Witnessing heinous crimes such as this being broadcasted or reported, and corrupt actions can diminish the value of the words being preached and cause misunderstanding.
Thirdly, a young adult feeling forced to practice a life of faith and hence feeling as though they are not claiming their own faith can be a cause to turn away from it. Most young adults have a sense of longing to become independent and be able to discover the world for themselves given the many paths and options presented before them. When something becomes habitual, done with no understanding as to why it is being done, traditional without feeling any connection or sense of value with, or is expected of someone for the sake of pleasing another, it can be rather burdensome to do. This is what decreases fervency or passion in their faith walk due to the lack of a sense of purpose or relation.
Practicing a particular life of faith full of discipline and tradition can fall into this especially if consequences for not obeying follows. Not a lot of people like to be told what to do, so pushing a young adult to do so without giving full explanations or purpose as to why, if they ask, may lead to negative emotions and behavior towards faith in itself.
Finally, the influence of one’s peers can affect one’s perspective and attitude towards carrying a life of faith as well. There’s two ways this can be looked at such as surrounding oneself with individuals who are hypocritical believers or those who are against faith. In looking at a congregational perspective, Mahatma Gandhi once mentioned how he ““likes your Christ…but does not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” to further show how Christians are not even placing Jesus’ teachings into action as well despite holding onto the label of them being Christian and proclaiming them to have faith. This is a reason to deter faith.
Zeal must have knowledge and must be followed by action. This was how believers were convinced to follow Jesus and the disciples as well at the time of the First Coming. Furthermore, in being surrounded by those who are against the faith, given the fact young adults are still developing a means to overcome peer pressure and being influenced in general, it can take a toll on their perspective as well.
In now recognizing the different causes for why teenagers may fall from their faith, it’s important for individuals in a young adult’s faith walk to first listen and understand where they may be coming from. This must be approached with a calm and open demeanor given any negative emotion or force being conveyed towards them can be a trigger for further discomfort, anger, frustration, or confirmation to no longer want to attach themselves to faith or church duties.
It may be difficult to answer spiritual questions, navigate one’s circumstances and struggles, or to communicate in ways to appease the curious inquiries, but a means to develop their foundation with what’s firm is a solution to help a young adult overcome. These can be methodologies of genuine fellowships reminding them of why they wanted to carry a life of faith in the first place, to even attending bible studies in which the standard of God’s Word being taught and understood is present.
Individuals must be a source of encouragement and light in a young adult’s darkness, and working on this problem together can be a solution to mend not only their relationship with those directly involved in their faith maintenance but ultimately to God as well.