This issue invites you to engage in a time of reading, reflection, and conversation about how we do our work as educators and how we can gain a better understanding of our students, of their concerns, and of the ways in which they see themselves and the world. The need for such reflection was brought home to me recently in a conversation that I had with a group of educators. They expressed concern about the number of young people of high school age who are leaving their churches and in some cases, leaving the Christian faith completely. This trend was confirmed in a study recently completed in Canada titled “Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying, and Returning to Church,” commissioned by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. A summary of the report can be found at <tgcfcanada.org/hemorrhagingfaith/>.
While the study focuses on Canada, its findings are also likely a reflection of trends in the United States. And some of its findings are indeed striking. For example:
- Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still does so today.
- Of the young adults who no longer attend church, half have also stopped identifying themselves with the Christian tradition in which they were raised.
- There are four primary issues that keep young people from engaging with the church: hypocrisy, judgment, exclusivity, and failure.
- More young people leave the church between childhood and adolescence than between adolescence and young adult years.
- More young men are leaving the church than young women.
In view of these disturbing findings, one of the questions that arises asks what Christian schools can do to support authentic faith development in their students and thus stem (and perhaps reverse) the flow of young people out of church and out of the Christian faith. Based on some of the issues raised in earlier issues of the Christian Educators Journal, let me suggest the following six suggestions:
- Christian educators need to be models of authentic Christian faith for their students. In them, the students need to be able to see, in very concrete ways, that the Christian faith is something that really does shape every area of our lives in healing and positive ways.
- Christian schools should be experienced by students as communities of grace, shalom, and healing, where everyone is welcome, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and not for judgment, where everyone is loved and respected unconditionally, and where everyone is committed to the common task of deepening our understanding of what it means to serve God in every area of life.
- A Christian school is a place where the students, as image-bearers of God, are respected enough to be given real ownership of their learning and to be drawn into an authentic and collaborative engagement in their exploration of God’s creation.
- In a Christian school, students are challenged to examine their faith honestly, to ask any and all questions in a safe environment, and then to develop their own answers to those questions.
- A Christian school can be a place where students can see that, in spite of the brokenness in the world, there are still many glimpses of hope to be seen around us. Despite appearances sometimes to the contrary, this is still God’s world, a beautiful world where there are many possibilities for us to serve with a deep sense of joy.
- All of this is focused on helping students deepen their understanding and experience of what it means to be a faithful presence in our world.
In short, Christian schools can be places where students can come to see that the Christian faith, rather than restricting life, can open up life in all of its fullness, as God intended it for humankind. Our schools can be places where students can come to see that Christians can make a difference for good in this world.
As we reflect on the completion of another school year, and as we begin to think about what next school year might bring, let’s spend some time thinking about how we can make the school experience even more effective as a way of encouraging our students in the growth and deepening of their faith. It is my hope that the books reviewed in this issue will help all of us toward that goal.