I have a theory about which kids ‘stay Christian’. It’s a theory based only on observation, and it’s quite simple. The kids most likely to stay Christian in evangelical churches are the ones who fit into evangelical culture best.
(Perhaps I should refine that: the ones who stay are those who find an evangelical culture to fit into. There are a number of flavours of evangelical Christianity to choose from.)
‘Being a Christian’ is just as much about fitting into a particular subculture as having a deep experience of God. The extent to which that subculture will resemble the gospel varies – but it’s often about a lot of other things like:
- Finding evangelical pop music bearable.
- Not being too alternative or rebellious in your tastes.
- Not hanging out too much with the druggie kids or the party animals.
It’s not wrong that Christianity is a subculture. It’s inevitable. But evangelical subculture is built too much on inoffensiveness, kitschiness, bland mainstream but Christianised tastes. (I guess this applies to adults just as much as kids.) We have to be a subculture, but we should be a subculture distinctive for hospitality, generosity, humility, discipleship instead (and it sometimes we are).
I’m not being clear enough. I’ve got in my mind the devout parents of young adults who didn’t turn out Christian. They really beat themselves up about it. They wonder what they did wrong, when the other parents in their church have a higher conversion/retention rate amongst their kids. I’m certain evangelical parents rank themselves like this – what percentage of offspring stayed in the church? 100% – excellent; 50% or 66% – good; 33% – unfortunate; 0% – disastrous.
Anyway, what I wish I could say to those parents, if they don’t already realise it, is that it’s a lot more complicated than the stories evangelicals tell themselves. Maybe you taught your children to be free-thinking loners and they didn’t fit into the church you took them to. Maybe the other kids at youth group were cliquey. Do you know how horrible and unchristian youth groups can be? The parents whose kids stayed Christian, they’re not necessarily better Christians than you.
(Part of why I’m writing this is my own distaste for most of evangelicalism, my own negative experience of church as a kid, despite having great Christian parents. I feel like those who are comfortable in church – whether teens or adults – are rarely deep thinkers, misfits, rebels, poets… the sort of people I like.)