On 2 and 3 March I attended “Haemorrhaging Faith”, a conference based around recent Canadian research regarding why young people leave the church. Both the Australian and Canadian speakers at the conference confirmed that while the research was Canadian, the culture, statistics and reasons are remarkably similar in Australia. Alarmingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, 70% of people who grow up in a local church will leave the church, and only 2% will come back later in life. The most common points of departure are at three crucial life transitions; primary school into high school; high school into university; and university into work. At Kew Baptist Church, large numbers of our attendees have just completed the second of these transitions (high school into university), and many more will complete the third (university into work) during their time at Kew, meaning that this research has particular relevance to us.
Thankfully the conference was not all bad news! The flip side, Transfusing Life, occupied over half the conference with tackling the question: what can we do to strengthen the faith of those who grow up in the church? The four “solutions” suggested all revolved around the question that young people often subconsciously ask of Christian faith – does it work?
(1) Show that it works in your family involves family modelling of practices of faith in the home and in everyday life.
(2) Show that it works for them by helping young people experience God’s presence in their life.
(3) Show that it works in the church by encouraging an alive community of authenticity, vulnerability and cross-generational connections.
(4) Show that it works in the teaching by providing thought filled content, dealing with tough subjects and tackling “why” questions.
The question of whether faith works in real life has been prevalent in my thinking recently, particularly when considering other non-Christian ideologies. The classical example is Marxism; undoubtedly an intellectually incredible philosophy of government and nationhood that has consistently failed to really “work” in history (at least to this point!). In fact, many of today’s most popular philosophies (preference utilitarianism, cultural relativism) stumble on this crucial test: “does it work”?
In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind who is subsequently hauled before the Pharisees to explain himself. While unable to engage in their religious debates, his words at John 9:25 show a profoundly clear understanding of what happened: Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! For the blind man who is healed, faith in Jesus works. For the lost and broken who are given hope and a future, faith in Jesus works. As we continue to minister to young people, may we continue to display, proclaim and model a faith in Jesus that works in our lives in the real world.