Smells like teen spirit(uality)

Are young people more or less spiritual than past generations? And what's the key to keeping them in church?


I demand a second opinion! Barry Gane’s Valuegenesis research shows Adventist young people in 1992 were less spiritual than they are now. Surely there’s been a miscalculation—some vital variable overlooked during a dubious recalibration. Because I was one of the Year 12 students surveyed in 1992, baring my soul anonymously to Barry and his clipboard-wielding henchpeople. Only to be told, years after the fact, that I belong to a generation of spiritual dwarfs. Sigh.

They say the truth hurts; in this case it’s certainly revealing. And, sadly, my recollections only serve to reinforce the Valuegenesis stats. There were about six other Year 12 kids attending my church at the beginning of 1992. By the end of the year I was the only one left.

It’s a sobering toll and my experience is not unique. It leaves me wondering: What made the difference between my peers and me? Didn’t God have a plan for each of us? (Yes, and He still does, even after all these years and despite our poor choices.)

There were about six other Year 12 kids attending my church at the beginning of 1992. By the end of the year I was the only one left.

Valuegenesis points to the importance of family—that was certainly a key factor in my case. I had parents who modelled a living faith and loving, consistent biblical principles. The research also suggests that quality youth ministry in the local church is crucial. And here I would have to agree, but with an important addition.

It’s not enough to have great programs that keep young people engaged in worthwhile activities and connected with a positive peer group. It’s not even enough to present clear biblical truth and lead soul-warming worship. For me—and I suspect I’m not the only one—the key was involvement.

I was probably only about 15 when I was asked to be on the youth committee for my local church. The young people organised their own Sabbath School and activities, and it was empowering to be a part of this process. Because I was part of the organising team, I felt a sense of ownership over what happened and appreciated the hard work involved.

At the age of 17 I had the opportunity to go on a youth mission trip to Poland. The team would support the work of the public evangelist as well as conducting street ministry. In preparing for the trip I was forced to confront my own spiritual state—was this just going to be an overseas junket, or was I serious about sharing Christianity with others? The reality of my involvement took me to a place of decision where, for the first time, I wholeheartedly gave myself to God.

I’ve found since that time, that involvement in church life has remained crucial to my faith. Christianity was never supposed to be theory, but a practical religion. I’m glad now that my own teenagers are involved in music and given responsible roles at their Adventist school, Pathfinder club and local church.

And, putting my wounded Gen X pride aside, I will have no objection if, when my boys reach Year 12, it turns out that Barry Gane is right after all, and they’re more spiritual than I was at that age, or any age. Indeed, I’m praying for that outcome.

Updated and reposted on May 13, 2020.