Drifter, Rebel, Modernist…?
Young people aren’t walking away from the church—they’re sprinting. According to a recent study by Ranier Research, 70 percent of youth leave church by the time they are 22 years old. Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29 years old. Unlike earlier generations of church dropouts, these “leavers” are unlikely to seek out alternative forms of Christian community such as home churches and small groups. When they leave church, many leave the faith as well.
Thus opens the publicity blurb for a book entitled, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Church and How to Bring Them Back. In an interview published by Christianity Today, author Drew Dyck made this observation:
No two “leavers” are exactly the same, but some patterns did emerge. “Postmodern” leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes. For them, Christian faith is just too narrow. “Recoilers” leave because they were hurt in the church. They suffered some form of abuse at the hands of someone they saw as a spiritual authority. God was guilty by association. “Modernists” completely reject supernatural claims. God is a delusion. Any truth beyond science is dismissed as superstition. “Neo-pagans” are those who left for earth-based religions such as Wicca. Not all of these actually cast spells or perform pagan rituals, but they deny a transcendent God, and see earth as the locus of true spirituality. Spiritual “Rebels” flee the faith to indulge in behavior that was incompatible with their faith. They also value autonomy and don’t want anyone—especially a superintending deity—telling them what to do. “Drifters” do not suffer intellectual crises or consciously leave the faith; they simply drift away. Over time God becomes less and less important until one day he’s no longer part of their lives.
These groupings were not meant to be scientifically precise; their value was diagnostic and utilitarian. I wanted to help people understand why young people abandon the faith and equip Christians to engage leavers in meaningful conversations about God.
I’ll list Dyck’s categories below to facilitate my consideration of them:
I don’t think much needs to be said about the “Postmodern” category, as Dyck appears to have described that mindset adequately. I am offended, however, by his glib dismissal of the “Recoilers:” people failed and God was blamed unfairly. Uh, no, Drew – people failed and God did not do what he was reasonably expected to do, either
a) protect the victims who were hurt, or
b) prevent the perpetrators from hurting them.
In other words, Drew, God reneged on two of his key responsibilities: delivering people from evil (which is doubly evil when it’s done at the hands of so-called “godly” people or, even worse, in the name, and on behalf, of a god), and enabling his followers to be good, kind and honest, rather than nasty, brutish and devious. I consider divine protection and divine prevention (or intervention) reasonable expectations because both of those functions are ascribed to the Christian god in the Bible and in church doctrine. Therefore, when a god does not perform as promised, it’s reasonable to wonder if he/she/it does anything at all, including merely existing, and to reject a god that doesn’t live up to its billing.
Dyck’s characterization of “Modernist” church-leavers renders that category as little more than a stick-figure. Since his book is an example of social scientific research, one would presume that his concept of “science” goes beyond the “hard,” physical sciences that often come to mind when the term “science” is used in casual conversation. Readers who understand Dyck’s use of the term in that narrow sense may miss the fact that many, if not most, Modernist atheists are informed by insights gained through the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. We are not geeks with our eyes glued to microscopes, and pens and calculators sagging in our shirt pockets. We are multi-faceted people with multi-faceted interests who think in multi-faceted ways, characteristics that Dyck’s categorization appears to miss, or dismiss, completely.
The author’s final two categories seem adequate. I went through a period of spiritual rebellion as a teen, and I’ll admit that his description captures quite accurately the attitude I had then. And many of us can probably think of people who are Drifters.
I briefly considered getting Dyck’s book, just for shits and giggles, but I’ve decided to keep my money in my wallet. The bottom line is, I’m not going to waste my time reading a book that
…equips and inspires parents, church leaders, and everyday Christians to reawaken the prodigal’s desire for God and set him or her back on the road to a dynamic faith…. identifies six different kinds of leavers…and offers practical advice for how to connect with each type. Shrewd tips also intersperse the chapters alerting readers to opportunities for engagement, and to hidden landmines they must sidestep to effectively reach leavers.
The reason I’m not interested in reading this book is that Dyck has misidentified the problem at hand. His view is that people who leave churches are problems. I don’t agree with him. In my view, the people who leave churches are not problems. Rather, churches themselves are problems. The problem is not that so many people are leaving the church. The problem is that too many of them are staying.
— the chaplain