Recently researchers concluded that there seems to be an “alternative faith” among American teenagers. They call it “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” and describe the view of God as “one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs, especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved.” 
In this faith, God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other (as taught in the Bible and by most world religions); the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about ourselves; and God is not involved in our lives except when we need God to solve a problem.
Author Kenda Creasy Dean attempts to interpret those findings and suggest a way forward for church youth ministry. Dean is perplexed that “we ‘teach’ young people baseball, but ‘expose’ them to faith. . . . [We] blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging ‘when youth are ready.’” 
Another study  concluded that Anabaptist young people, like other young people in North American culture, are unable to articulate their own faith. But even more troubling were the study’s findings about missions: in young Anabaptists’ understanding, missions has been reduced to only “service”; “conversion” as the purpose of missions has receded to obscurity.
Even closer to home, Conrad Kanagy, professor at Elizabethtown College, led a survey on behalf of Eastern Mennonite Missions. He found a negative growth rate in Lancaster County churches, but significant expansion in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Let me suggest that as Anabaptists in North America, we ought to be compelled to action by these discoveries. Let us return to teaching the Christian story and embodying that story through communal scripture reading, foot washing, regular communion, witness, testimony, and many other rich rituals – in order to reinforce that story in our churches and homes.
This is one way to regain our missional imagination and reject the syncretism around us. I believe that such a step will lead to our young people being inspired by God’s story and heart. This is how the church could ensure that our children will have faith, and that God’s mission will continue through the church.
The church through various agencies needs to continue to be committed to this recovery of God’s story and the practices that spur our missional imagination. In partnership with church agencies, the Mennonite church ought to continue to find relevant ways to tell God’s story, and continue to find relevant ways to embody God’s story through the various formative practices to help young people to develop their spiritual muscles to be able to live as God’s missional people in a world marked by many formative stories (pluralism).
1. Smith, Christian, with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 164.
2. Dean, Kenda Creasy, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 15.
3. By students Matthew Krabill (Fuller Theological Seminary) and Jamie Ross (Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary), presented at Council of International Anabaptist Ministries, January 2012.
Photo, entitled “Children of the Corny,” courtesy of wackystuff via Flickr.
[A version of this post was published previously on the website of Eastern Mennonite Missions.]