Is Already Gone a Crazy Myth?

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I was saddened to hear a recent episode of Pastor’s Perspective, a radio program on the large KWAVE Christian radio network based in California. Answers in Genesis was referred to—and not in a flattering way—on the March 12 episode, which was also aired live on His Channel TV (and additional radio affiliates).

In this particular episode, the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Brian Brodersen (who succeeded a great friend of AiG, the late Pastor Chuck Smith), conducted an interview with Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. Pastor Brodersen mentioned AiG’s book Already Gone during the program. Now, Pastor Brodersen hosted me at his former church in London, England, and I am grateful to have spoken a number of times in the pulpit at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa when Chuck Smith was the senior pastor. We do have many friends at this influential church (it is the founding church of all the Calvary Chapels worldwide), and they have been blessed by our apologetics resources, including in Sunday school classes. But in the radio program, Pastor Brodersen strongly implied that the main message of AiG’s book Already Gone was based on a myth, and a “crazy” one at that! (Listen to the program for yourself—a link to it is provided at the end of this article.)

Not only will we comment on what was said in last week’s broadcast, but we will also reveal some new primary research from America’s Research Group (whose founder, Britt Beemer, was coauthor of Already Gone) that sheds additional light on the state of the church in America.

Stetzer, during his discussion with Pastor Brodersen, said,

You have maybe heard the stat—most of the pastors listening would—that 86 percent of evangelical youth drop out of church after high school, never to return. Now that’s a fake stat. I know the guys who made it up. There was like nine youth pastors in a room. They all guessed, and they averaged their guesses and came up with 86 percent. And now if you Googled that right now, you’d find millions of references to that stat. . . . I want people more serious about the gospel, more serious about the Scriptures, more serious about the next generation. So all’s not well, but I think when we come to bad conclusions, untrue conclusions, we get—we make hysterical responses, and we end up making bad choices.

Pastor Brodersen’s response to Stetzer’s comment was, frankly, shocking:

I can always count on Ed to come up with a sensible response to some of the crazy stuff that’s out there, you know. But you know, that idea that—I think there’s a book entitled actually Already Gone—the idea being that your kids are already gone, you know, that once they leave your church, once they leave your Christian school, they go off to the university and they leave their faith, and they become atheists or whatever. And I think, of course, I think that’s a myth. (emphases added)
Nowhere in our book is such a statistic even mentioned.

The context of Pastor Brodersen’s statement we cited above was in connection with the comments made by Ed Stetzer, with Brodersen strongly implying that some of the key statistics in our book Already Gone are a “myth” and contained “crazy stuff.” But you see, nowhere in our book is such a statistic—that supposedly 86 percent of youth leave the church—even mentioned. Furthermore, in Already Gone, never do we say that “evangelical youth drop out of church after high school” and are “never to return”—or will become atheists. On the contrary, the primary research conducted for AiG showed that some of them will return, and others will consider returning.

It appears that some careless people have spread that bogus stat far and wide. But Already Gone does not, and we reference related studies from Barna Research and LifeWay (where Stetzer is employed) and offer details of primary research conducted by America’s Research Group concerning those who have left the church.1 For Brodersen to associate Already Gone with the claim that 86 percent of youth are leaving the church, never to return, and then strongly imply the book contains myths is highly perplexing—and very disturbing since his false charge was broadcast on so many stations.

Let me summarize some statistics from Already Gone:

  1. On p. 24, we quote Barna Research from both 2000 and 2006: “61% of today’s young adults who were regular church attendees are now ‘spiritually disengaged.’ They are not actively attending church, praying, or reading their Bible.” To follow up Already Gone’s findings on why so many young people are leaving the church, we commissioned ARG to conduct new research (that I will reference later) that confirms this 61% Barna figure for the 20–29 year olds.
  2. We had asked ARG (a renowned behavioral science research group) to survey those in their 20s who used to go to church but are now disengaged. We wanted to find out why these young adults left the church and thus help Christians in how to deal with this group. Also, as stated on page 27 of Already Gone, “We deliberately skewed the research toward conservatives so that we could all understand that whatever problems showed up would be much worse for the church population in general.” As a result, we presented the need for apologetics teaching in homes and churches to equip young people with answers to the skeptical questions that can cause them to doubt and disbelieve the Bible, and then leave the church. Thankfully, many churches have introduced creation and general apologetics to their teens and children, and they have reported to us that they have seen tremendous success.
  3. On p. 62 of Already Gone, we state the following, based on the national survey by ARG:

    So about a third said they were never coming back and about a third are planning on it. What about the rest? When asked whether or not they would return to church after they have children, 30 percent said that they “don’t know.” The “I don’t knows” from most surveys tend to get overlooked. We tend to think that these people are apathetic (“I don’t know” = “I don’t care”). I see something else here. I see an opportunity. Consider this seriously. A third said yes, they’re coming back, a third said definitely no—but in between is an equally large segment that is hanging in the balance. They sincerely haven’t been able to make up their minds as to whether they’re going to return or not.

Now in the broadcast, Pastor Brodersen also discussed the state of the church in the UK (as well as America) and claimed that there are those who say, “I heard all the churches have been converted into mosques. . . . The church is dead.” For the sake of ensuring people won’t think that Answers in Genesis or our book Already Gone makes such statements, I wanted to include some quotes from our book.

In Already Gone, we discuss England briefly, but we never wrote that all the UK churches have been turned into mosques—and we certainly didn’t say “the church is dead” in the UK. We did state on p. 10 that “Since 1969, 1,500 churches in England have heard that final thud as their doors were shut after their final service after hundreds of years of active life.” Then on p. 11 we wrote, “Other former places of worship have been turned into museums, clothing shops, music stores, liquor stores, nightclubs, and tattoo and piercing studios. One is even now used as a Sikh temple, and some have been converted into mosques.” On p. 12 we cite research showing how overall church attendance in the UK has dropped dramatically, with regular churchgoers of all denominations down to 6.3% (it was once 50% or more—before the last World War). Even though there might be some churches that are growing in England (and we praise God for that), and even though we have witnessed an increasing hunger in the UK for spiritual matters when I and other AiG staff speak in many of their churches, Christians cannot deny that the UK has been largely encompassed by spiritual darkness.2

New Research

Now, I must admit I am somewhat perplexed by a statement Stetzer made during the radio interview. He stated, “There’s no serious researcher in the United States—not one—who says that Christianity is dying, or evangelicalism is dying in the United States. Not a single one.” Well, for a start, the studies by respected researcher George Barna (cited above) do show a decline in Christianity in the USA, and not just among the mainline (i.e., more liberal) churches. As I was writing this article, the Religion News Service released a news item that stated the following:

A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.

Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society—including religion.

(An important point to remember as you see the data: Each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults. So a 3-point rise in secularity, for example, means that about 7.5 million people left religion since 2012.)3

In fairness, Stetzer would probably say the numbers show that this decline is in the number of people who were Christians in name only; i.e., they once would check the “Christian” box because their parents went to church, but they no longer will check the box.

Answers in Genesis recently contracted with ARG again to conduct a study about the state of the modern church in America, and a second survey to predict attendance at AiG’s life-size Noah’s Ark to open next year. The results of the church survey are revealing and quite shocking, and they will be published in a book later this year. In the near future, we will also release the new ARG data on predicted attendance at the Ark Encounter (and it’s exciting!).

For the moment, I wanted to give you just a few of the stats gleaned from this new research from ARG.

  1. In the age comparative results, in answer to the question “How often do you attend a church service?,” the results showed that the 20–29 year age group was considerably less than the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, with 64% of those in their 20s disengaged from the church. The 60s group showed around 35% disengaged from the church and the 30s group showed a 38% disengagement from the church. This once again supports what Barna found, as we cited in Already Gone.
  2. In the new ARG research, we also saw a distinct difference between the 20–29 group and the rest of the groups, showing clearly that this younger generation is much more secularized and disconnected from Christianity. For instance, when asked “Do you believe people of Christian faith are under attack today?,” 60% or more of those in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s said “yes,” but only 34% of those in their 20s said “yes.” When asked, “Do you believe Noah’s Ark was actually built or only a legend?,” 74–86% of the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s agreed it was actually built, but only 52% of those in their 20s agreed.

This carefully conducted research by ARG, with an error margin of 3.8%, not only illustrates the secularization of the young adult generation, but also showed clearly that many who attend church today either don’t understand Christianity and/or have very different definitions of terms like inerrancy and born again. AiG is compiling all this data for a book to be released later this year, and I believe it will stun many Christians, especially Christian leaders.

If you want to listen to the interview between Brian Brodersen and Ed Stetzer, I suggest you start at about 12 minutes and stop around the 21-minute mark. Choose the March 12 podcast at this link.

There is no doubt the church is in big trouble.

There is no doubt the church is in big trouble in America (and in fact the whole Western world). In addition to the hard research done by ARG’s Britt Beemer on the state of the church in America, I can present compelling anecdotal testimony to back him up. From my experience speaking in several hundred churches in America in all 50 states, I have met with countless pastors who have told me about their concern over the exodus of so many young adults from their churches. Our other AiG speakers have encountered the same thing.

Yes, there’s little doubt we are losing the next generation in the church. That’s why AiG contracted with the respected America’s Research Group to help Christians understand this phenomenon and why. Already Gone offers powerful research that I urge all Christians to read. You can read the book free on our website or purchase it in our online store.

Keep watch for the sequel to Already Gone, to be released later this year, which will present many new revealing facts about the state of the church in the USA and what is happening with the younger generation in our churches.

Footnotes

  1. The excellent reputation of America’s Research Group was further enhanced when ARG estimated that the Creation Museum would attract 400,000 visitors the first year, and 404,000 came.
  2. Two of our key AiG staff members have lived in the UK. One of them resided in a city of about two million people (including the suburbs), Glasgow, Scotland, and as he tried to find a good Bible-believing church to attend, his research turned up perhaps only 15–20 such churches. This is the land that was once under the great influence of the Presbyterian Church, founded by the Scottish Reformer John Knox. The other lived in southern England for 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s and witnessed the growing spiritual decline in the church.
  3. Tobin Grant, “Analysis: 7.5 Million Americans Lost Their Religion Since 2012,” Religion News Service, March 12, 2015, http://www.religionnews.com/2015/03/12/analysis-7-5-million-americans-lost-religion-since-2012/.

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