Saturday, May 16, 2009

Still more on the polling data

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.


Jan Toepfer said...

so who was that person raised in the presbyterian church who eventually was ordained an episcopal person priest??? Does this mean I was a bad mother?

Laura Toepfer said...

No one you know. :-)

Mike Bell said...

Hi Laura,

Thought I would stop by and leave a comment.

I am afraid I may have been a little misunderstood.

For one, one reason why I call myself the Eclectic Christian, is I see value in many traditions. To the Presbyterian who gets ordained in the Episcopal church I say wonderful! One friend of mine went from a non-practicing Anglican to a practicing Catholic and I was very supportive in the move. These are not the sort of changes I am concerned about.

I believe also that the answer is not that we need to "UP THE YOUTH MINISTRY QUOTIENT", but rather we need to do a better job of integrating youth into the church. This may involve youth ministry, but I think there are many other ways that youth can be engaged within our services by both involving them and communicating to them. By youth, I mean those younger than 24. The churches that I grew up in did a good job of this. I myself became an elder at age 27.

I am interested in your African experiences. My own African heritage goes back to 1902. I have spent considerable time in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. My brother now owns a Marketing company in Kenya, so I hope to make my way there in the next couple of years.

Thats for interacting with the survey stuff. I look forward to reading more from your blog.

Michael Bell -

Laura Toepfer said...

Hey, Michael, thank you so much for stopping by and for commenting!

Laura Toepfer said...

Hi, again, Mike! I thought I'd send you an email but couldn't find an address.

First of all, I wanted to apologize for giving short shrift to your blog entry. I am so glad that you corrected my misrepresentation of your position and am just embarrassed that I presented a caricature of your argument.

I also wanted you to know that getting youth involved in church and empowered to do ministry is what I promote regularly in my work with Confirm not Conform. You might want to check out the webpage at

Again, thank you so much for your gracious comment, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts here and elsewhere!


Mike Bell said...

Hi again Laura,

I find if a writer finds his or her writing misconstrued, then the fault lies with the writer, not the person reading it.

So no offense taken whatsoever.

P.S. You might want to consider opening up your comments a little more, I had to use an old blogger Id to make the comment.

P.P.S. If you still want to email you can reach me at

Mike Bell

Laura Toepfer said...

Comment change done (I hope; I don't see it here. I'll double check).

Laura said...

Comment change worked.