The 3-Word Question At the Heart of the Youth Exodus

This post is going to have some overlap from last week’s, but I wanted to expand and dive a little deeper into a critical subject. Gen Z is said to have a higher percentage of atheists than any prior generation. However, atheism is not rising at the same rate that religion is shrinking. Most of the people leaving the church are not suddenly hopping the fence to atheism. Instead, they end up joining the nebulous group of apathetic “Nones.” They may still be vaguely spiritual or believe in some form of God, but they do not feel the need to identify with any particular religion, and so they check the “none” box for religion. They simply stop caring and join the church of apathyism. These young Christians are facing a crossroads, and there is a single question that determines the direction they take. This simple three-word question may come up in college as soon as the student no longer has parental oversight. In some cases, it happens far earlier, when students become mature enough to ask difficult questions about truth and humanity. The crossroads happens when they ask themselves, “Do I care?”

“Do I Care?”

Consider it for a moment. If most of the people leaving were jumping into atheism and proclaiming that everything they were taught is a lie, then we would be facing a different problem. That does happen, and we should be prepared to handle that kind of scenario. The numbers show that the far bigger problem at the church’s doorstep is apathy. Kids are facing the “Do I care?” question and realizing that they don’t. What is happening to cause this apathy? Did something change in our culture?

Trendy Christianity

Apathetic Christians who merely go through the motions is nothing new. In the early church where Christians were few and often persecuted, apathy was not an option. There was no reason to stay onboard if you did not care. Then suddenly Christianity becomes the trendy religion. Some might argue things have been going downhill ever since.

Sometimes the culture facilitates the apathy where it is beneficial to remain culturally Christian, even if the passion is gone. For the majority of American history, Christianity has been trendy. You were often considered weird or worse if you were not some form of Christian. More and more though, our culture shifts away from orthodox Christianity, making certain elements of the worldview less popular. What sets young people apart from some past generations is that they not only have to answer this question, but can comfortably say no. As it becomes more socially acceptable to be something besides a Christian, the number of people thoughtlessly checking the box is going to drop pretty significantly.

When in Conflict

People walk away from their faith, or at least push aside any practice of it, and we ask why. The answer is often pretty simple. It’s not that they were corrupted by an atheist professor or a satanic neighbor. Two things likely led to the decision. The first is the trigger. Young adults move away from their parents, and live without oversight for the first time. Suddenly there is a world of excitement, thrills, and pleasures that they want to partake in. However, they recognize that these new activities are counter to what their parents and their religion taught them. This leaves them with those three short words that can turn even the most educated believer upside down. Do I care? I’m seeing this same story more and more.

The Other 3-Word Question

There is a second 3-word question that is critical, but often secondary. “Is it true?” I think some people have the tendency to jump the gun to this question and assume that this is the question at the crossroads every student is facing. This is also the question we in the apologetics community have certainly spent the most time on. For some of us, the answer to this question is why we care. While this is a very essential question, it is ultimately secondary to the first. It is entirely possible to believe in a lie that you like or reject a truth that you dislike. Frank Turek often raises the question when talking with students, “If Christianity was true, would you become a Christian?” If they say no, it means there is a deeper issue relating to the will. If we spend every conversation answering the “is it true?” question, but they have already decided that they do not care, our words are likely falling on deaf ears.

Do We Care That They Care?

I realize this post is presenting the problem without offering any solutions. As a result I’m leaving you with a somewhat gloomy conclusion. That said, if we understand the problem, it becomes that much easier to find a solution. So often we find ourselves chasing our tails wondering what the real source of the problem is. If we understand the questions young Christians are asking themselves, we can better equip ourselves to answer them. The unfortunate reality is that apologetics is the easy part. Getting answers to whether or not Christianity is true takes some time and study. Getting young people to care about their faith and why truth matters is much more difficult. That’s a topic for another post.

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