Are kids making religious decisions younger?

“Some recent studies have suggested that children are making decisions about attending or not attending church much earlier than previously. While many children used to cease attending in their middle teenage years,some are now making such decisions at the end of primary school.” – Dropping Out of Church, Christian Research Association

3 Comments

  1. In my previous incarnation (i.e. in my teens and early-to-mid-twenties), I taught Sunday school, spent a couple years as the Superintendent of the children’s Sunday school program at my church, taught Vacation Bible School, and even organized/led VBS for a couple years. I was also the unofficial youth leader for my last two years of high school and during college. Then I became the official youth leader for my final two years in church. If the Australian approach to religious education is anything like the approach taken here in the U.S. up through the late 1990’s (I can’t say what’s happened since then), I hope people are looking into the way children and youth are treated in the church as a potential reason for decreased church attendance among children and youth.
    Because a lot of the material coddles children and youth to the point of insulting their intelligence. A lot of it is about entertaining kids and teaching them Bible stories. (Seriously, the sixth graders are still learning the same basic Bible stories they learned back in kindergarten.) They’re giving kids “learning activities” that are way below the kids’ intellectual capacity and capacity to learn. And quite frankly, most of what they’re learning is either stuff not applicable to the things that are important in their lives or is being taught in such a way where the applicability is obscured rather than brought into focus.
    Like I said, maybe things have changed since I left the church in August 1998. Maybe things are and always have been different in Australia. But given my experience, I hope someone’s making sure that’s the case.

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  2. I’m not sure I have a basis for comparison given my inexperience with the youth American situation. It might be comparable, it might be light-years apart, I really don’t know. I’m not quite sure what a Superintendent does or what a Vacation Bible School involves so there are at least some language differences!
    I’m also not sure there is such a thing as “the” Australian approach to religious education. In the two churches I’ve had long term involvement with I’ve noted significant differences between the two, some good and some bad, and that’s just the two. Moreover, I’ve seen significant differences between kids and youth leaders even with the same church.
    Personally I prefer a mix of group discipleship and private mentoring. That allows for greater tailoring.

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  3. Hey, Matt, and Jarred, I know exactly what a “Superintendent” and “Vacation Bible School” entail! Long, long ago, in my early years, I attended the local Lutheran church and Sunday School. In that context, the Australian curriculum in the (dare I reveal it) 1960’s and 70’s (Ouch!) was heavily influenced by the “American” system. In fact all the teaching resources were direct imports through The Lutheran Bookshop of that era.
    However, as per usual, I am an anomaly, when it comes to these things… even though the material was totally uncontextualised to the Australian scene and perhaps a tad boring, my faith flourished during those formative years. Yes, I even kept ALL the Lesson Guides for decades after… I still have my Catechism booklet with all the gold stars for being able to memorize and upon request, regurgitate verbatim, the sections and accompanying Scripture passages. And yes, the same stories were repeated in cycles through to my early teenage years when I did Confirmation class, after which I volunteered my services as Sunday School Teacher (as a 14 year-old) through until I left home for Uni after turning 17.
    I am actually grateful for those years of “repetition” and the teachers who gave of their time to instruct me. In those days, I was a bit of a shocker… the material was a bit dumbed down at times for my inquisitive and garrulous nature, to put it kindly (and I am kinder to myself now), so I am embarrassed to have to admit, I gave those people a hard time of it. However, that foundation has turned out to be invaluable as a a good basic orientation for future theological study. Perhaps also, the prayers of my Godparents who were the pastor and his wife of the church I attended (due to the fact that my mother had no relatives to take on such roles), can also be attributed to my keeping the faith, so to speak.
    In the late 1990,s I earned a part-time income by taking on Scripture teaching in schools for a couple of years. I used Anglican resources that had been created specifically for the Australian environment, and although I have adult education rather than children’s education qualifications, I thought the stuff was pitched well to the various age-groups I taught – plenty of scope for creative activities and room for my unique teaching style.
    All that rave, I suppose, was to give a bit of background to my opinion that it’s not just about the resources, but it’s also about the individual kids making the decisions. Their contexts, personalities, as well as the skill of the teachers using resources, plus other factors, would influence their decision-making about keeping or ditching the faith. Inadequate material can be eclipsed by creative teaching abilities; influences and examples set in the home environment are very powerful, especially when the children are young; the resilience and character/personality development of the individual child would be an important factor; and of course, these days, children in westernized cultures are exposed to seriously influential societal factors such as targeted media strategy and the ubiquity of technologically powered entertainment, info-tainment, and formally educational methods of communication.
    Attitudes and opinions are largely copied rather than “generated” by very young people. I suspect that if their decision-making on faith issues is happening early on, that it’s more a matter of what has been “caught” than what has been “taught”. I pose the question, “Who and/or what are the attitude and opinion shapers and makers of the current generations?”

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