Why do young people leave the Christian faith in which they have been reared? Drew Dyck has done an excellent job of researching this question in Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith… and How To Bring Them Back (Moody Press, 2010)
He classifies his subjects into six groups. His first is the Post-Modern Leavers who have rejected rational apologetics, or arguments that depend upon evidence for the faith. They have lost confidence in an absolute truth, and see reality to be pluralistic. Subjective experience is more important to them. They are more impressed by the authenticity of your life than your talk. They are repelled by exclusivity or dogmatism, and attracted to compassionate service.
His second group is the Recoilers who have left Christianity because they have been hurt by those who have professed to be Christians. Traumatic psychological or emotional experiences, or abuse, in childhood result in not trusting God. They hold God responsible for what was done to them by his people. The only way to reach them is through empathetic relationships.
His third group is what he calls the Modern Leavers. These are the skeptics, who have swallowed the rationalistic approach of the New Atheists, who reject anything supernatural. They can only be approached by taking seriously their questions and discussing their world views at a philosophical level. They can be challenged on the meaninglessness of their perspective. Doubt needs to be addressed. Obstacles to faith can be removed. Life cannot be entirely explained by physics.
His fourth group is the Neo-Pagans. These are those who have opted for a naturalistic religion. It is as old as Wiccan and as new as environmentalism. Christianity is attacked because it is not earth-centered, but sees humans as the crown of creation. They want us to care for nature and value its sense of the sacred. They extol the feminine and are critical of how churches have oppressed women. They can only be approached with much prayer and sensitivity.
His fifth group is the Rebels. These are Christians who have rebelled against the lifestyle of their families simply because they wanted to have a good time. They kicked over the traces and sowed their wild oats. They became addicted to the good time, to parties, to a hedonistic lifestyle. Many got involved in drinking and drugs. All too often their youth groups entertained them at church rather than presenting them with a challenging gospel. They need to be confronted with the claims of Christ by people who love them and have proven that love by not giving up on them over the years.
His last group he calls the Drifters. They grew up in the church but were never deeply converted or committed. They are apathetic and indifferent. They still consider themselves Christians but in name only. They go with the flow of their social group. They need to be welcomed and invited to church again where they will be exposed to the challenges of Christ.
Dyck has raised an issue that churches need to be aware of as they seek to reach the next generation. This is an important, well-written and researched book.