There are convincing sociological arguments that say a significant part of the decline, for denominations like ours that have traditionally relied on Christian nurture of our own progeny, is due to demographic factors such as: (1) a sharply declining birth rate among our member families; (2) a historically unprecedented increase in the average age of marriage and mothers bearing their first child; and (3) the vast increase in two-paycheck households and in working hours in general, which has sapped our traditional pool of volunteers.
Check out Robert Wuthnow's landmark study, After the Baby Boomers, if you want to see those statistics.
But that doesn't explain all of it. Here's a further explanation for the decline that, coupled with the sociological numbers, makes sense to me:
"Kenda Creasy Dean, in her important book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, suggests that kids leave the church in their early adult years because the faith they received at home and church ends up being fairly superficial, unable to help them make sense of and navigate the challenges of adult life. I’d add that in a hyper-driven world with 24/7 opportunities and obligations, time has become the scarcest of commodities and therefore we will no longer give our time to things that don’t significantly inform and tangibly contribute to the rest of our life.
While Dean suggests that a major cause of the superficial faith of our kids is the failure of their parents to show them why their own faith matters, I’d point out that today’s parents – even committed church-going parents – never received this kind of instruction from their parents or pastors. Why? Because in a nominally Christian culture everyone knew enough of the faith to make sense of it while simultaneously not needing to employ that faith to navigate significant elements of their lives. After all, when most people went to church, what serious other options were there for how you would spend your Sunday mornings?
Which means that on one level confirmation should be more important than ever. If our kids, that is, don’t learn not just the content of their faith but it’s actual value to help them shape productive lives, they will undoubted find better things to do with their Sunday mornings."
- Blog post by David J. Lose, "Does Confirmation Still Matter?"
If our kids aren't coming back to church in adulthood, then without a doubt there's something wrong with the way we've been doing Confirmation. It's not that we don't have great Confirmation curriculum and media materials - some of the stuff out there now, like the re:form videos offered by sparkhouse.com - is truly inspired. It's the larger question of whether we're equipping and inspiring parents to share their faith with their kids. Because, let's face it, when we're talking about young adolescents, it's still their parents who are the most significant adult examples of Christian faith in their lives. (Teenagers won't often admit it, but it's true.) If they can't see something real and authentic about their parents' faith, then the game is over before it even begins - even if the parents dutifully drive their sullen offspring over to the church for Confirmation classes ("Because that's just what we do in our family, kid, so you're going, and if you never go to church again after you get confirmed, that's your business.").
Yes, Confirmation does still matter. It matters more than ever.
But it's got to be real.
Real people, witnessing about their real faith: not just dry theological lessons about what "the quick and the dead" and "he descended into Hell" mean.
Can we find a way to make that happen, for our kids' sake - and the future church's?