As I said below, I am still pondering the implications of the Pew Forum poll showing how many people leave whatever faith in which they were raised and go somewhere else, usually by the age of 24. The lovely post-modern-looking graph, there, shows the trends of movement from one group to another. (You can click on it to see it in detail.)
Michael Bell, guest blogger on the Internet Monk, said this means we need to UP THE YOUTH MINISTRY QUOTIENT, which didn't quite sit right with me, and I wasn't sure why. But this morning I have a couple more thoughts on the matter.
First of all, this hypothesis doesn't take into account all those people who haven't lost their faith at all, but simply switched their allegiance, denominationally. I hope we're not saying that we have FAILED in our youth ministry if someone, for example, grew up in the Presbyterian church then left to become an Episcopalian, eventually getting ordained.
Second, this doesn't explain why those raised in no faith join a church. Did they have bad agnostic youth groups?
Ultimately, I think a far simpler hypothesis makes sense: as children grow up, they make their own decisions about their faith.
OK, so color me obvious. But I think that our anxiety about losing people (we're losing! we're losing!) ignores the fact that people get to choose for themselves; we can't force people to stay if they don't want to.
And, yes, we should have good youth groups and vibrant worship and deep faith and all of that. But if we do and it still doesn't "succeed"...well, I personally think we shouldn't keep banging our heads against that wall. But that's just me.