Young people receive a lot of bad press. The media highlight rising drug and alcohol problems among youth, escalating teenage suicides, vandalism, gang violence, teenage pregnancies, and an increase in the number of street kids.
Some parents think that good teenagers exist only in pre-1960 movies, and that the only way to keep them at home is to create a happy home environment and let the air out of their tyres.
But from recent studies in Australia, the United States, and to a lesser extent Britain, one section of young people is defying the general trend. It is church youth — young people who regularly attend church.
In results of a four-year study of the social and religious attitudes of 310,000 church attenders show some encouraging signs among the youth. The results of this National Church Life Survey have been published in a book, Views from the Pews.
The results show that 62 per cent of church-going Australian teenagers identified with the statement 'I do not believe in evolution. The world was created in seven days as described in the Bible'. This teen percentage is much higher than the 43 per cent of creationists aged more than 70 years, and is also higher than the average 51 per cent among all responders. (Not all churches took part.)
Overall, results varied markedly among the major denominations. The highest number of creationists are in the Assemblies of God, Lutherans, Baptists, and Salvation Army. A slightly lower proportion belong to Churches of Christ and Presbyterian, and the lowest number attend the Anglican and Uniting churches.
Interestingly, this young age group that believes so strongly in creation and rejects evolution also shines in other areas. They show strongest opposition to sex outside marriage and to racism, and have the highest assurance of eternal life. Those in their twenties are most likely to read their Bible daily.
With few exceptions, churches which rated low in accepting a literal biblical creation were also the most shaky in other important areas. Their members expressed lack of growth in their faith, lack of assurance of eternal life, doubts about God, and uncertainty in their beliefs.
In the United States, a major study of Christian youths, released in 1994, showed a dramatically better quality of life among teenagers who regularly attend church compared with teens who don't.
One reason given for the difference was that religious institutions teach values and create a foundation upon which young people can make decisions about their lives.The Search study of 47,000 teenagers showed that those involved in church life are less likely to be sexually active than non church-goers and less likely to take part in drug use and binge drinking. They are more likely to stay in school and to refuse a ride with a drunken driver.
One reason given for the difference was that religious institutions teach values and create a foundation upon which young people can make decisions about their lives. Non church-attenders generally don't receive healthy input like this.
A church-run campaign promoting sexual abstinence until marriage — the True Love Waits campaign — has seen many church teens in America, and to a lesser extent in , wearing T-shirts saying 'Stop at the lips' and 'Do the right thing — wait for the ring'. Youth groups have circulated pledge cards which abstainers can sign and produce 'to keep rapacious dates at bay'.
At a time when youths have to fight peer pressure assertively, when most of the media portray anyone who believes in God as weird or a fanatic, and when a young boy on television was heard saying 'It's politically correct to hate Christians', church youths seem to be doing a better job of fighting for a moral, values-based society than many give them credit for.
There are vital lessons here for the churches too. Liberal churches may think the result from the creation/evolution question in the Australian survey is surprising or of little consequence. But from experience, and judging from the comments we receive at magazine from youths and parents, we know that creation/evolution beliefs are an excellent key to determining whether people are likely to get other things right too. ('If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?' Psalm 11:3.)
The churches that are teaching their young people to trust the whole of the Bible, beginning at the Genesis six-day creation account, are the most likely to be producing genuine Christ-honouring adults and stronger churches for the future.
And that, thankfully, will benefit everyone.