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I have been speaking across America the past few weeks—from Oregon to Oklahoma to Georgia—and have been summarizing to audiences the shocking results of a national survey we conducted. Answers in Genesis commissioned a poll to ask 1,000 people who are now in their 20s and grew up regularly attending a Bible-believing church why they no longer go to church at all. The results of this nationwide poll have appeared in our new co-authored book (with highly respected researcher Britt Beemer) Already Gone.
Two stunning and disconcerting results came out of this survey:
- We discovered that we were losing our kids in church in elementary school, middle school, and high school . . . not just in college (which is the conventional thinking); the large majority are “already gone” in their hearts and minds before college.
- Sunday school is one of the reasons why.
Indeed, as our survey revealed, there is a “Sunday school syndrome” contributing to the epidemic of young people leaving the church. Our survey numbers are statistically significant (and are absolutely contrary to what we would have expected). This is a brutal wake-up call for the church, showing how our programs of Christian education are failing dismally.
I do, however, thank those of you who are committed to Christian education inside and outside of the church. I sincerely commend you for giving your time, skills, and best efforts to invest in the future generation.
Nevertheless, when compared to those who never went to Sunday school, more Sunday school attendees who no longer go to church believe the church is less relevant—and more have become increasingly anti-church over the years. They are more inclined to accept abortion, “gay” marriage, and other unbiblical activities of our day.
The startling conclusion is that, on the whole, the Sunday school programs of today are statistical failures—and are even detrimental.
I know that’s going to hurt many of you who are dedicated to Sunday school programs—as well as those of you who are depending on these programs to properly influence your children. But listen: if you are depending on these programs to properly teach and influence your children, it is just not happening.
Out of the 1,000 interviews, 606 were former Sunday school students. The church failed these people miserably. As children and teenagers, these 606 were there almost every Sunday; they were present; they heard the lessons . . . and it had a nominal and even negative effect on their beliefs about Christianity.
If I were a church leader, I would sit down and pour my heart out to the Lord. I would then find a new Sunday school curriculum that better prepares young people to maintain their faith. (For our part, now that we have documented this “Sunday school syndrome,” Answers in Genesis will be working on our own curriculum; for the moment, we have DVD resources and other materials to help create a Sunday school program for some age groups.)
There is no single inoculation that will make us immune to the Sunday school syndrome. The truth of the matter is that the epidemic affects each of us as individuals—because each of us is part of the great Body of Christ. Together, working as a body, a multifaceted response to the disease can materialize. Lord willing, the mass exodus can be slowed, if not reversed, and be transformed into something more powerful than the typical, traditional forms we are now using.
Imagine if we started raising generations of children who stood uncompromisingly on the Word of God, knew how to defend the Christian faith, could answer the skeptical questions of this age, and had a fervor to share the gospel from the authority of God’s Word with whomever they met! This could change the world.
Of course, Christian education begins in the home, and that is where the responsibility for it ultimately lies (and with the father in particular—see, for example, Isaiah 38:19; Ephesians 6:4). The education of our young people must be built upon the following biblical principle: the family is the first and most fundamental of all human institutions that God ordained in Scripture (in Genesis), and it is the educational unit that God uses to transmit His knowledge from one generation to the next. With such families working with the assistance of their churches’ educational programs, we could see the world changed.
Adapted from chapter 2 of Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer.