What does it say about our generation that 40 to 50 percent of young Christians fail to stick with their faith or connect with a church after high school? Most likely, you’ve experienced or been witness to this exodus of twentysomethings from the faith community. At this point, it’s not even surprising to watch young adults become disillusioned with church as they go to college, build a career, start a family or begin their “real life”. But can it be stopped?
We recently spoke to Kara Powell, executive director of Fuller Youth Institute and co-author of Sticky Faith, to answer just that. Drawing from her extensive research with Fuller Youth Institute, she gave us a little more insight into what it takes to find a faith that sticks.
Do you think young people are just leaving the church, or leaving faith? Or is it both?
Probably my best answer to that is to describe what Tim Clydesdale—who is a sociologist in New Jersey—refers to as “the identity lock-box.” What students tend to do after they’ve graduated from high school is place important parts of themselves in an identity lock-box, and their faith is often part of that. The good news is that you put something in a lock-box when it’s important to you. So there is some sense that students still value their faith at one level. But the problem is when your faith is in a lock-box, especially as a college student or emerging adult, you’re making so many important decisions about worldview, and marriage, how you engage in risk behaviors, and vocation, and calling, and all those considerations are made while your faith is locked up in that lock-box. So there is some sort of residual sense that students value the faith, but it’s not influencing their day-to-day, or even major decisions. Given the long-term impact of those decisions throughout their adulthood, it’s pretty disconcerting.