The Home Church
and Her Young
We have heard the many warnings from faithful brethren who are in positions to know that the church is losing thousands of her young people every year. We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of their statements. We rather believe, however, that the home is losing the young and the church is suffering the loss. Be that as it may, we are inclined to believe that the loss of our young is possibly the greatest loss the church has suffered in the twentieth century. Estimates range from fifty to ninety per cent no longer are staying with church, depending upon the area studied. Many of those who nominally remain with the church have drifted into the worldly and liberal digression and erroneous tangents so characteristic of many churches of Christ today. This loss has become so apparent during the very years when the young would ordinarily be of college age whether they be in college or not.
Some years ago I set out to discover what was happening to the faith of the young during college years and why the loss. More precisely, I wanted to learn what the home church could do to prevent it and recover as many as possible. I visited many campuses, both state schools and so-called “Christian” campuses, as well as other private institutions, interviewing students, preachers, teachers, counselors, student center directors, dorm supervisors, youth workers, deans, presidents and whoever would give me the time to discuss this matter. The answer I received from my questions were for the most part thoughtfully given because I asked them to allow me their time before I visited them, requesting they give thought to the area of investigation I was making prior to our discussion. It was usually obvious that some preparation was given to the answers to my questions.
The information I received was tremendous and the volume of it so large that all I can present in this account only touches the surface, but sufficiently, I believe, for us to see the nature and magnitude of the problem of losing our young. A lengthy series once appeared in the GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 1971, reviewing my investigation and campus visits.
Areas of Inquiry
My inquiries were along four major lines of thought: (1) What are the deficiencies in attitude and knowledge among incoming freshmen and how do these change during college years? (2) What can the home church do once they are away from home to help them remain faithful? (3) What are the dangers, problems, frustrations and most destructive influences they encounter in college environments? (4) What are the most effective means and activities for young people? What is really worthwhile, that will stabilize them in the faith? The answers varied somewhat from college to college depending on the nature of the school. But there were so many things in common with them all.
Several observations are in order. I was impressed with the value of the “Christian” schools pertaining to moral environment. I was disturbed with the glaring decline even in these areas, and particularly with the compromising, false and liberal doctrines being taught and protected on these "Christian" campuses in recent years. It is not unfair to say that for the most part those who sacrificed so much to bring these schools into existence have been betrayed because the very purposes for which the school was established are being buried beneath a barrage of liberal propaganda.
By noting the relatively better moral climate on “Christian” campuses, we do not demean the work done among some state college students, but the state campus is far more open, compromising, permissive and outright rebellious toward the will of God. But even the work done among students in state schools was obviously being influenced by the liberal and worldly ways all the way from near cults to the “do your own thing” philosophy.
The acceptance of drugs, immorality, alcoholic beverages, co-ed dorms, immodest dress and profane speech was much in evidence on state campuses more than elsewhere. Such an environment presents special needs for the Christian who attends them.
I was impressed with the urgency of effective work among young people. While not in total despair, I find little reason for realistic optimism, and faithful workers among the young are in near panic as the problems sweep the youth in large numbers. Many of these workers have simply resigned, even promoted the idea, to go along with the trends. Our losses are high and departures are numerous because of digressive influences within and without. Folks back home are too often not even aware of the seriousness and magnitude of the problem, resting comfortably in their naive state that things are now as they were when they went to school.
I am convinced that the young people generally do not lose their faith at college as much as having taken little faith to college with them. We are losing them before they reach college, and it only becomes glaringly evident once they are away from family influence, the home church, parental advice, and then fall under the spell of their new freedoms. Many are overwhelmed by the parade of the self-proclaimed superiority they must endure from their professors.
It was startling to me to hear one tell me that probably less than fifteen per cent attend services regularly once they arrive on his campus. Campus workers often never have a chance to be of assistance because the youths never allow them to even know of their once-professed connection with the church. We are obviously not doing a good job prior to their leaving for college. Liberal churches that abound around campuses take advantage of this attitude and are often successful in leading the young into religion which is not New Testament Christianity.
I am further convinced that homes and home churches are not meeting the issues, many not even being aware of them, and fewer still having knowledge how to cope with them. We must get busy doing something about that. Unless great strides are taken among the young to return to the “old paths” the Bible teaches, having Biblical authority for what we say and do, these young will be forever lost to the cause of Christ. They may be religious, but not as the Bible teaches them to be.
Psalm 71:18, “0 God, forsake me not until I have declared thy strength unto the next generation, thy might to every one that is to come.”
Lack of Knowledge
The first area of questioning had to do with the deficiencies of knowledge and attitude among those entering the college years? (These things are specifically concerned with those going to college, but they are also reasonably applicable to all of that age, whether entering college or not.) They have a lack of personal conviction. They have a borrowed faith, not the real sincere acceptance of truth because they have learned it for themselves, but because they have leaned on others. This is partly their own fault, but why have they not been taught better? They have attended Bible classes and worship services often due to family pressure and insistence, but have never really learned and been convinced by the evidence of truth. This is either because it has not been properly presented to them, or they have been unwilling to apply it to themselves, which in many instances is the case. Generally speaking, they are Biblically ignorant. Once away from home, lacking conviction, they forsake the church.
Young people need to be asked, “What do you believe, and why?” As one has said, “God has no grandchildren.” The sad fact is, parents and local brethren cannot bestow their faith on their young without the young coming to willingly believe it and knowing why. One cannot be sustained on the faith of another. We may have told the young WHAT to believe, but evidently they do not know WHY they should believe it. They remain uninformed until other influences take them away. While they are often touted as the most brilliant generation to ever come upon the scene of human history, we have strong reasons to doubt that when we observe their conduct. They are surely more ignorant of the Bible than most any generation in this century.
Interestingly, the faith among young people who come from the small, rural churches seems far stronger than those who come from the large, rich, worldly metropolitan churches. Those from mission areas have far greater faith than those where the church counts progress in numbers. This is probably because they have come from churches where conviction was taught to be necessary, not mere social acceptance. Faith among the young where there are many churches, large numbers, big money, seems to be less grounded because they are what they are because many others are what they are, but not because they are founded on “thus saith the Lord.” This is no argument for small churches against large churches per se, but it is a strong indictment that churches that recognize the need for “thus saith the Lord” produce far stronger faith than the social minded, recreational, entertaining, numerically prominent and financially comfortable churches who have most likely compromised truth to gain their recognition.
Some of Their Confusions
We found some alarming attitudes among them. They want less “doctrine,” and more social action. This they are getting from liberal churches. They have almost entirely missed the mission of Christ and the church.
They speak much of “love” but show little comprehension of what love is as taught in Scripture. They consider it mostly an emotion and sentiment to be outwardly expressed by holding hands, closing eyes, swaying bodies, and such as that. They do not seem to recognize that love is seeking the other’s highest good as God has determined that good. They act, with some exceptions, as if doctrine and love are in conflict. They fail to note the Biblical teaching that one cannot separate love from obedience to Christ’s doctrine. They seem to think love allows “let me go my own way without rebuke, whatever I say, do, or want.” This they receive in heavy doses from liberal churches and liberal teachers in pulpits and college classrooms. They consider doctrine as "our" doctrine while others have “their” doctrine, not realizing that the Lord’s church is to produce no doctrine, but is to uphold the doctrine of Christ in our world.
They are being taught aggressively that our services are cold and irrelevant, and they are indifferent to services unless they have some kind of “charge” to them to make them feel good. They obviously do not understand the purpose and nature of worship. They are not aware of what the Bible teaches about worship, or the proper attitude toward worship, and seldom can tell you with Biblical authority what ought to be done in worship. They have drifted, with help, with the trend of emotionalism, “getting turned on with Jesus,” and “feeling good,” expecting something special to come upon them from the Holy Spirit, even if it has to be invented.
Characteristic of the young, they feel they simply must be accepted regardless of what they say, do, how they act, dress, or what influence they exert on others. If you do not accept them, whatever they display, you are bigoted, old-fashioned, uncaring, lacking in compassion, and cannot be trusted. They are not beyond parroting the church bashing they hear in the schools and liberal churches. They are big on condemning those who condemn anything, denying anybody the right to “judge” anything, except for themselves. They detest any form of condemnation except what they choose to condemn.
Those who are knowledgeable of the Bible know that these views are in error and can be and have been proven fallacious. Not all have bowed the knee to Baal, but we speak generally. Most are inconsistent, and are not even aware of it. But the sad thing is that many of these have been “raised in the church,” as is evidenced by their words and phrases. But respect for the Bible is so often near non-existent.
There are other attitudes of note that are more commendable. They care far less about rugs, drapes, buildings and parking lots. They seem to be more concerned for people than steeples, even though their concern is often misdirected. Many expressed grave disgust at large expenditures for buildings in which to meet, but have more sympathy for large expenditures in which to play. I never quite got one to explain that to me. It should be evident that these large expenditures, whichever direction, have not stopped the youth drain.
The young are really repulsed by what they consider gross hypocrisy among members of the church. This probably has had a far greater impact among the young than among older members. This may be because the hypocrisy they observe is among older members, even though they fail to see the inconsistency and hypocrisy in their own peer group. Coming from youthful idealism into the world of realism shakes them. They find it hard to adjust to the reality that everybody and everything is not as professed to be. Much that they call hypocrisy, however, is actually immaturity, and the need for growth among those they criticize. They find it hard to discern the difference. Some of this will be tempered with their own maturing.
There is no excuse for hypocrisy among the young or the old. But who can deny that adults have placed many stumbling blocks in the path of youth? I heard it repeatedly said, “I’m so sick of the hypocrisy in the church.” I could assure them that many others agree with them on that score. I could not get good answers from the young as to why that ought cause them to take out their anger at hypocrites against the Lord by turning away from His church.
They call the work of the church relatively unimportant and push it aside to accommodate their whims, pleasures, sports, dates and “good times.” Their religion, if it remains at all, is often a matter of convenience rather than personal conviction. All of this takes a deadly toll among them. We cannot overstate the power of example, good and bad.
What must be done is for everybody to be taught that two wrongs will not produce the right. Nobody can go to heaven on the basis of the hypocrisy of others. Who can believe we can throw out God and His Word simply because some ignore it, or even profess to follow it but do not really obey it? Hypocrisy is not confined to just those who are older, however. Gross hypocrisy in the actions and attitudes are much in evidence among those who readily criticize the older members of the church. How much more hypocritical could one be that to renounce the Lord’s church because somebody is not living acceptably who claims to be a member?
Many young people are, in their words, “bored to tears” with their Bible classes in the home church. Often this is because they have no interest and concern, but often it is because the classes provided them are not conducted intelligently, by competent people, with informed teachers, but just whoever happens to be willing to volunteer to take them. Often I had the complaint that they did not believe the elders of their home church knew what was going on in classes, and did not really put much stress on providing them the best possible teachers, and even less concern about materials. While they studied theories, math formulae, complicated data in school, they are subjected to fill-in-the-blank booklets, puzzles, catchy fictitious stories of “problem solving,” dull lectures, and ill-prepared presentations. They are taught so little Bible in “Bible class” that they know little about the Bible.
I was impressed that brethren and sisters who teach must learn that the day of Saturday night preparation is over if we are going to retain our young. It never was adequate, and it is now so painfully apparent. Many rightly feel the teachers are not dedicated, are there because nobody else wants to be, therefore, are not motivated to serious thought and Biblical inquiry. Possibly, brethren, we have gone along for so long with publishing houses’ graduated level materials that we fail to realize how the young need to comprehend the same gospel as their parents and grandparents. Why is not a thoroughly prepared open Bible study far better than what so many are getting?
I would contend that the day of studying only what somebody else says the Bible says, through printed literature, is ineffective. Many young people told me that they wish from the fifth and sixth grade they had been given opportunity to simply study the Bible.
Another weakness in our teaching is that too often we merely relate facts without application to life of those facts. While the Bible is relevant to our age many are never shown this relevancy, and then it becomes dull. Unless our teaching efforts are improved, become more Biblically oriented, sharpened and brought up to their capacity of learning, we will not retard the departure of our young from the way of God, nor will we develop them in the personal conviction they must have to sustain them.
It pains me to relate how impressed I was that so many young people have abandoned a strong Biblical stand regarding worldliness. They say preaching they have heard on the subject has been vague, weak, compromising and abstract. Therefore, they shun to condemn drinking alcoholic beverages, modern dancing, smoking, even though most question the propriety of drugs. They are frustrated by churches that provide havens for violators of God’s will by condoning worldliness. Let one church take a righteous stand and some get disgruntled over it, some run away to a more permissive church, and they are received with open arms without repentance. This disgusts them. It disgusts me, also.
Many have never seen the dignity of negative preaching, and clamor for only something positive. They have not been taught the whole counsel of God. They have been brainwashed into thinking condemning error is some way a display of an ugly heart. Furthermore, often they hear the denunciation of sin from the pulpit, but see the practice of it without consequence. Elderships have much for which to give answer along this line.
They will hear much criticism of condemnation of sins from both parents and peers. Sin may only be condemned generally, but not specifically. It is like one said concerning the statement in prayer, “Lord, forgive us our sins.” He wondered what would happen if somebody said, "Name one you would admit.”
The young, taking their cue from the older ones, see the fear of offending the prominent, the more wealthy, and the quest to be socially acceptable in the community. They see cowardice and fear to defend what is proclaimed, and while they do not admire that, they come to think this is the way to face error. Their stand against worldliness is so weak because they have been shown this weakness regarding it from both home and home church.
Where are the young lacking? You name it, and with many, it is lacking. I repeat, they are so Biblically ignorant. What they do know they are not well able to communicate. They know of Abraham and Moses but do not even know who lived first, or how each fits into God’s scheme of things. There is a tremendous need to emphasize the authority of the Bible, and the necessity of having Bible authority for what is taught and done. They cannot even defend the inspiration of the Bible, and this is deadly seeing how in nearly all schools there are those teaching things that would undermine that truth.
How badly they need courses that survey the themes of each book of the Bible, and how the books relate to each other, and to us. The need to know why the church is not a denomination. One administrator of a "Christian" school whose enrollment then consisted mostly from “Christian” homes said that eighty per cent of the incoming freshmen considered the church just another denomination among denominations. On a questionnaire that asked, “Is the church of Christ a denomination?” eight of ten answered, “Yes.”
The home church must turn attention to teaching the home to fulfill its duty toward the young. Rather than trying to take the place of the home with fun and games, the church needs to teach the home what members of the home should be and do. More than the local church, even more than professors, student centers, or anything else, the home must be strong in the Lord because there, more than anywhere else, is where the young are molded. The home church can help the young by helping the home help the young. It is all too evident the church in many places is losing its young because of the home rather than the church, except as the church neglects its duty in teaching, and as the home church may itself become liberal and digressive, bashing the Lord’s church in favor of newness and change without regard to revealed Biblical truth.
1. What are generally the attitudes of young people today as discovered through the
interviews and questions asked?
2. Discuss: They do not lose their faith in college because they took very little faith with
them to college?
3. What are the dangers facing our youth in “Christian” schools today?
4. How much influence does peer pressure have on young people away from home?
5. Are young people correct in thinking there is hypocrisy in the church?
6. Do programs of “fun and games” save our young people?
7. Why are so many young people bored with their classes?
8. What do you think of their greater concern for people than drapes, parking lots, etc.?
9. Why do so many teachers rely so heavily on literature from book stores?
10. How do young people from rural, smaller churches compare with young people from
larger congregations in cities? Is this always the case?