Losing Our Youth?

So I stumbled upon a Rod Dreher article at Beliefnet, “The Church’s Lost Generation” (and by “Church” he means generic Christians). It is clear from General Conference themes that senior LDS leaders are now aware (finally) of our youth retention problem and the broader faith versus doubt problem that seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. Dreher makes it clear we are not the only ones worried about the problem. Everyone is losing their youth, it seems.

Here is his first paragraph.

In March, I traveled around the country to give speeches at three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:

These kids know almost nothing about their faith.

He continues:

Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said.

This isn’t really breaking news. Christian Smith’s 2005 book Soul Searching (cited by name by President Hinckley in Conference, no less) made the case almost ten years ago, including favorable mention of young LDS students as more religious and better informed about their religion’s beliefs than other Christian youth. [See earlier posts here, here, and here.] But it’s still a problem, even if others have it worse.

So here’s the question: Is anything working out there? Here are some changes the Church has made or is making to strengthen the faith of LDS youth and avoid losing them.

  • Sending young LDS on missions earlier, at age 18 (men) and 19 (women).
  • Changing the Sunday youth curriculum to focus on particular themes for an entire month and to get them more involved in teaching and learning.
  • Changing the seminary curriculum (starting with the new manuals this year) to give coverage to “faith issues” like multiple accounts of the First Vision, polygamy, and Mountain Meadows.
  • The new essays at Gospel Topics at LDS.org, covering the same basket of faith issues. These were recently highlighted as a resource in a letter to local leaders, but again no mention of the essays in General Conference.

Any feedback on what is working or not working? Anything I have missed?

44 comments for “Losing Our Youth?

  1. My question is are youth today really less informed/faithful than youth previously? I mean it’s a common family joke that my uncle wrote home from his mission asking when they came up with this “plan of salvation” thing.

    Being at the end of my time as a YSA, I’ve certainly been the recipient of a lot of condescension from older members about my gospel knowledge. While I’ve certainly learned things, most of it has come from my own reading, not from any particular teacher. Am I just some kind of outlier?

  2. To be clear, I think we should do all we can to try and retain as many of our youth as possible. I’m just wondering if all these alarms are just the usual “kids these days” worrying of the older generation.

  3. I think this isn’t just inter-generational exasperation. The youth today have never lived in a world without the internet. They’re plugged in. Their orientation toward learning truth is different as a result of this, and we’re finding their brains are even wired differently than ours. This is the information age. We’ve eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and there’s no turning back. We can no longer be naive about our complicated history.

    I suspect that the youth also hunger for “true religion” (as in James). Instead, they’re getting endless crusades on social issues. They’re turned off and tuning out.

  4. I work with LDS teens and college-aged youth and I think I am seeing steps forward on this issue… less
    Naïveté concerning our doctrines and history, and a more stable outlook towards religion in general. But this is just anecdotal and I have no means of verification or of discerning the cause(s). but most of these youth were forming their religious identities BEFORE the changes listed in the post were initiated.

  5. Social issues–especially gay marriage–are a big part of this. I’d guess that most LDS teens–even in the Mormon Corridor–have considerably different opinions on gay marriage than their parents do. Many remain in the church despite the conflict. Some don’t.

  6. In the internet world honesty and integrity become essential.

    When my family joined the church in 1958, all we knew about the church was what the missionaries told us, and the confirmation of the HG. Now we would look up the internet, and find out that the leaders of the church were racist and white supremacists, at that time, and presently opposing gay marriage, and equality for women, you would also find they play little games with the truth (all the sunday morning conference stuff) in response to the Prophets dementia. And much more.

    I think the leadership of the church being all male and all past retirement age would be off putting too.

    Lack of honesty/ morality.
    An us v them view of the world
    conservative social values presented as Gospel
    Age of leadership
    Gender exclusion of leadership

    These are valid problems that the church must address if it wishes to retain members and particularly youth and be successful with missionary work in areas where people have access to the internet. (the first world)

  7. The internet doesn’t explain why youth are not knowledgeable about their own religion. Nor does it explain that well why they are interested in believing “faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”

    Yes, there are issues in the LDS faith about historical practices. But the issue that the article in question references is that young people want results for today in this life and don’t show as much interest in life after death.

    I think the cultural reasons for that go way beyond the internet and access to information although they may be related to the fact that relative to 200 years ago everyday life would seem like magic in many ways to our ancestors.

    Religion is only important to the youth of today as morality. Less need for religion to be cosmic and atemporal and more need for it to tell us how to get along with others. That is a very different kettle of fish than the ol’ time religion.

  8. I think Jeremiah (the commenter) hits the nail on the head with this: “I suspect that the youth also hunger for ‘true religion’ (as in James). Instead, they’re getting endless crusades on social issues. They’re turned off and tuning out.”

    Generally, I disagree with the assertion from Dreher that “youth today” know nothing about the gospel. My experience has been that they are generally better educated on doctrine/history than people of my generation.

    Just to add a fun anecdote that speaks to the same: I had a mission companion who had been in the field for 3 months. After teaching what was then the 3rd discussion (on Priesthood Restoration) to an investigator on our first day together, he turned to me and said, “That’s so cool about Peter, James and John! I’d never heard that before.” That was one of the very few times in life that I’ve been so shocked by something as to be left literally speechless.

  9. Sorry, hit post before I meant to.

    And based on that link, sometimes the trolls are the members of the Church, especially when it comes to homosexual and feminist issues lately, and sometimes the trolls are opponents of the Church, which focus on topics too numerous to summarize.

    My point simply – in the internet world the last thing that matters is honesty and integrity, which is something that most people, especially Church Leaders, don’t really get.

  10. There are a lot of issues here. As a longtime member, and grandparent, two things about our times I’ll mention here. If you are not married as an adult, it seems very hard to belong at Church. It’s not only a matter of strong convictions about chastity, but also the lack of a satisfying lifestyle. I don’t know what “programs” can deal with those. Also, related, is not so much the concern over whether The Church is “true” rather whether it “works” in one’s life–the prevailing culture, the lifestyles, leadership, whatever.
    A 3rd item I notice in the last few years is “how am I blessed for discipline and hard work?” when jobs are hard to find and education doesn’t even seem to help. That makes committing to marriage even more troubling. I have benefited from 12-step groups. If the Church sponsored something like that for members who don’t self-identify as addicts, I think that might help.

  11. It was the emphasis on marriage and parenthood directed towards the youth this conference that freaked my kids. It really isn’t something they want to have to think about at this point in their lives.

  12. I don’t think church history plays a significant factor in youth leaving. From my own observation, many youth end up leaving activity, because of their parents wavering activity in the church. These parents are most likely not having prayer, FHE or scripture study in the home. If church activity isn’t important to the parents, how can anyone expect the children to stay? Yes, a few especially strong souls may stay active despite their parents, but they are the minority. This has always been the case. I have pioneer ancestors that emigrated to Utah only to go inactive. Some of their children were never baptized.

    I know plenty of active parents who have children who are not active in the church. Some of these children are from part-member families. Others have their own mental, emotional and maturity issues deal with. I do think that those children whose parents have done their best to teach the gospel to their children (yet their kids still leave the church) have the best chance of coming back at one point or another.

    Church programs do help the youth stay in the church, but nothing is as important as the parents.

    On a bit of a side note.I was reading a book on basic literacy of Jewish culture. It talked about how the teachers hired to teach young Jewish children were not paid well and consequently the job didn’t attract the best and brightest teachers. Teaching had little prestige, so often the teaching quality was low. The author (a rabbi himself) says that this was a factor in many Jews becoming secular. Upon reading this, my reaction was, why weren’t the parents doing more to teach their own children?

  13. I think part of the disagreement in the comments is due to the definition of “youth.” Are we talking about teenagers or young adults? Much of what is novel about youth struggles today (if anything is novel) comes from the reality that the markers of adulthood are being pushed to later ages.

  14. Dave K,

    I do think that there are some things that are at least relatively novel on the longer time span. Many youth grow up with an extremely small social network relative to the large number of overlapping social groups that they are superficially exposed to. It socialization that is a miles wide and an inch thick.

    Also, one of the markers of adulthood that has not been pushed to later ages is sexual relations.

    Its not completely new, but the youth of today live in a world where the chain of connections between cause and effect in our actions is exceedingly long and abstract.

    The sheer number of messages exposed to by the youth of today does seem to be so large that the quantity makes a qualitative difference.

  15. That’s a good question, Dave K. I think we are really talking about “youth and young adults” through mission and college. I suppose one could argue that people are people and any disaffection process is going to have a similar profile, but the Church certainly works hard to give support to the “youth and young adults” demographic. Once you are married and working, you are on your own.

  16. I wonder if it has more to do with our place in the pride cycle. Adults and youth having their hearts set on the things of this world. The world has never been so wealthy (and unequal) or been filled with so much pride as now.

  17. An oft-heard claim on these blogs is that the Church is losing young people at a frightening rate because of its conservative policies. I have definitely seen polling data to indicate a lessening of interest in organized religion among the young. The Church is losing young members. However, is there a positive correlation between the rate of exodus and the degree of a church’s religious conservatism?

    An earlier poster says that the young are thirsting for “true religion” (presumably as defined by James) and not social crusades. Fair enough. There are prominent denominations out there that combine a progressive worldview (e.g., SSM, female ordination, environmental awareness, etc.) with opportunities to help the poor. If those churches were picking up youth in large numbers (and retaining them), the argument would be more convincing.

    I’m not making a claim or staking a position here, but rather asking a question. Is the LDS church’s loss of the young simply proportionate to a lessening of interest in organized religions, or does the church suffer a uniquely greater exodus because of its policies? Many on the blogs are convinced of the latter, but I have seen no data to support either the uniqueness of the Church’s losses or the claim that those losses could be stemmed by pointing to more progressive denominations that are growing impressively.

    If anyone knows of reliable data sources that would enlighten me, I would appreciate it.

  18. As someone who has not yet aged out of the young adult demographic, what Dreher said about “Moral Therapeutic Deism” is in line with much of what I have seen. I do know of people bothered by church history or by “progressive issues”.

    But by and large, my experience has been that when a youth (teenage or college-aged) leaves the church it is a process by which they slowly get caught up by the legitimately good stuff that the world has to offer. Those things become extremely important to them and a religion that is as demanding as Mormonism can’t always accommodate. To deal with this, several of my friends claim enlightenment and arrive at a place of spiritual (im)maturity where their views can be summed up as there is a God who loves us, wants what we want to be happy and fulfilled and isn’t interested in telling us much of anything else.

  19. I agree with ABM, while I have known a few bothered by church history or social issues, by and large most people just get caught up in doing what they want to do with their lives which doesn’t include a demanding religion. Like I said above I think this has far more to do with the pride cycle and that the Book of Mormon has more to say on what is going on then what has happened with the internet.

  20. I second BJohnson’s request for data. How do we compare a) with other denominations and b) with other periods in our own history in the proportion of our young people who stick around? I’m very frustrated with the confident, completely unsupported assertions I see on this front.

  21. Thanks Dave. “College” and “young adults” is still somewhat vague for me. I guess I should ask it this way: Is an unmarried 30-year old working in DC considered a “young adult”? What about 35?

    As for your suggestion regarding “what is working,” I agree with your specifics, as well as the general view that the LDS church is doing a better job than most other churches in retaining its youth (not necessarily a good job, just better).

    IMO, the church puts its money where its mouth is. The financial outlays for church schools are huge. Lowering mission ages is a clear indicator that a mission is now firstly about the youth themselves, and only secondly about converts/reactivation of others. Unfortunately, I think the culture of the moridor is pushing 18 as the expected age for boys rather than the exception, which may unintentionally undermine the value of a mission experience. In my experience, most 18 year old boys are too young and spend a lot of their first year growing up.

    As for the essays and curriculum changes, I am hopeful that they will eventually prove helpful, but I don’t think we will know until we see the current generations of high school kids go through college. I don’t see youth leaving in high school because of historical issues. The hope is that any “inoculation” they receive in seminary will pay off later when those youth are on their own and deciding what they really believe. Cutting against the essays and curriculum is the fact that the church is not heavily emphasizing them (yet). That may be out of concern that the essays reflect changes to teachings and thus may upset older members (I’ve seen this myself). Eventually I expect to see more official instruction on the essays as the church prioritizes the needs of the youth over us old adults.

    FWIW, here are a few additional suggestions I would make to stem the loss of youth/young adults:

    1) Call YW as visiting teachers. This is a no brainer. Transition from YW to RS is very tough and this is an obvious way to help bridge the gap, especially for youth who do not go to church schools.
    2) Encourage earlier marriages by explicitly teaching that birth control is a blessing and that waiting to begin your family for a few years after marriage is acceptable and often wise. While not a panacea for the plague of unmarried young adults, this would help some of them to take the step earlier.
    3) Find ways to meaningfully engage young adults at church. Most youth I know do not leave because of huge doctrinal issues. They leave because church is boring and no one will miss them. Talks on how “all are mothers” are great. But that hasn’t yet translated to create meaningful ways to include singles in weekly worship services.
    4) Open the door to full inclusion of members who do not have a testimony of everything the church teaches. No more “its all true or its a fraud” talk. This is especially true for social issues such as female ordination and same sex marriage. Too often young adults let go of the things they find good at church because they are told they must accept the things they do not yet (and may never) have a testimony of.

  22. I’m just glad that the leaders of the church have (finally!!) reached the stage of understanding and concern about the youth of the church that people like Dave Banack apparently reached ages ago. But, it’s enough to make one wonder why a church led by revelation didn’t pluck him out of obscurity, a mere occasional contributor to a mostly unknown blog, and put him into a position where he could help his less-enlightened brethren see the light.

  23. Numbers 6, 11 and 20 make good points, I think. I work with college students every day (from a variety of backgrounds, so not all Christians) and it’s important to realize that this generation has grown up with Enron, the Iraq War, the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandals, and many other things that have made them generally skeptical about institutions and the claims those institutions make. The young people I work with are especially skeptical about institutions that demand obedience and tell their followers to trust them. This could make many Christian churches out there rather unappealing and I would think the Mormon church, being one of the most conservative and (relatively speaking) intractable churches out there, would be particularly unappealing.

    As for our own youth leaving, I think the ease with which one can find the truth (or at least an alternate version of things) about so much of our controversial history, our perhaps somewhat rigid and conservative stance on social issues, and the rather strict (even for me, a 28- year member) requirements for living temple standards all combine to make church, at least for some of our young people, a place of confusion and alienation rather than of love and acceptance. I don’t really see a solution here, unless the church would be willing to back off of stuff like tithing, the law of chastity and the (in my opinion) condescending and infantilizing way we treat our youth generally. I don’t think the church will do that, so here we sit. In my stake, there is only a 10 % attendance rate for 18 – 30 singles. I suspect that might, with a bit of variance, be the case church-wide. I feel like we’re potentially losing our next generation of leaders and I don’t know if it’s possible to get them back. And I’m with BJohnson above. I’d love to see any hard stats about LDS vs. non-LDS church attendance of young people.

  24. I think the general trend among youth/young adults toward anti-authoritarian, morally relativistic positions could lead some logically to suggest that the kids are having issues with the conservative leanings of the church. The question is whether the leanings of the youth are a reaction to the conservatism of the church, or if the anti-authoritarian positions would have happened regardless of the political stances that the church has made. I personally believe it’s the latter.

    I thank that belonging to a religion in the past was seen as a positive socially (an essential step towards adulthood) where now it can be seen as a liability. With social democratization via the internet, there is less pressure to stick with a rigid cultural structure that you may not totally fit in to. I think having a testimony is critical to being happy in this church, but feeling like you’re a good fit with your church community can often be just as influential in a decision to stay or leave.

    Another relevant blog posts with interesting discussions: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/11/20/the-nones/

    LDS Youth Religiosity Statistics from BYU studies (published 2010): http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/shield-faith/2-religiosity-lds-young-people

  25. Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson three years ago in the Wall Street Journal (link):

    “The national news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4% since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high. But when a study by the Barna Research Group claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts across the nation—even though it was a false alarm.

    “Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church, yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

    “Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people.”

  26. Thank you, Mark B. — it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

    Nice suggestions, Dave K. That the Church sponsors singles wards shows a willingness to tailor Sunday meetings and the ward experience as a whole to the needs and interests of unmarked young adults. But I’m not sure how much it is really tailored to their needs and interests as opposed to just promoting and preaching marriage. I’ll bet young LDS singles just get tired of hearing about marriage.

    For data, go read Christian Smith’s Soul Searching and David Campbell’s American Grace. Lots of other data. Go dig around the Pew site.

  27. “For data, go read Christian Smith’s Soul Searching and David Campbell’s American Grace. Lots of other data. Go dig around the Pew site.”

    I’m certainly willing to pull my own weight when it comes to going to such sources and mining data. Before I do, however, may I ask one simple question that is easily answered in a sentence or two: “Would a review of those publications and data sources (I’m already fairly familiar with Pew) paint a stark and thoroughly persuasive picture for me that conservative denominations are losing younger worshipers at an accelerated rate and that more progressive religions/denominations are the growing beneficiaries of this trend?

  28. I think we’re actually talking about many different groups of people who are leaving for different reasons. My faith crisis was triggered by historical and gender issues, after I spent my youth and college years extremely dedicated to the church. You would never have been able to convince me when I was 20 that in a few years I would be in anguish about my involvement in the church. I know half a dozen women in my singles ward who are in the same boat–faith crisis after being the most active youth in our wards and serving missions. But we are only a drop in the bucket compared to the number of inactive singles in our ward, who left activity sometime in their teens or twenties. I’m sure the reasons they left are quite varied, and I’m also sure most of them never visit the blogs of read Rough Stone Rolling. I think the church needs to put some serious effort into studying the reasons people leave the church so it can tailor its efforts to specific groups. Until we have some evidence to base our efforts on, I don’t think we’ll be very effective.

    “Religion is only important to the youth of today as morality. Less need for religion to be cosmic and atemporal and more need for it to tell us how to get along with others. That is a very different kettle of fish than the ol’ time religion.”

    I’m still a YSA and I’ve found this to be true for me. It has been a slow change in expectations as I’ve come to have a more complete and complicated understanding of the variety of LDS teachings on the afterlife beyond the simple version of the Plan of Salvation I was taught as a youth. Some LDS versions of my destiny, especially as a woman, are downright awful. I can’t look to the church to provide comfort about the afterlife, which is unknowable anyway. What will come will come. I am more interested in living a moral life on earth. My morals sometimes seem in conflict with the church’s more conservative morals, which is where conflict comes in. But again, I arrived at this state through study and crisis–I don’t know how other youth and young adults got there.

  29. BJohnson — no, the progressive or liberal denominations are not gaining the disaffected youth. But yes, conservative denominations are losing youth at greater rates (it is a secular trend visible in the younger demographic). The LDS Church is losing youth at a greater rate than in the past, but is doing better than the other conservative Christian denominations. [I read both the Smith and Campbell books from the library, so I can’t pull them off the shelf and post statistics, but that is the big picture from those sources.]

  30. Another way to approach the problem is institutionally. Note this claim from JohnnyS (#25): “it’s important to realize that this generation has grown up with Enron, the Iraq War, the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandals, and many other things that have made them generally skeptical about institutions and the claims those institutions make.”

    It is amazing how little the Church has changed at the local level over the last forty years. Three-hour block, Sunday School classes that follow the same script, even with the same manuals (!) for an entire generation, same basic talks, early-morning seminary, Scouting — it’s like we are stuck in 1981. We sense they youth look at the world, look at institutions, look at church, look at social issues differently — but we change little or nothing. So a growing disconnect emerges, and the standard response is to complain that youth spend too much time looking at their ipads or cell phones, instead of … what, tuning in to lessons or talks they have likely heard three times before, delivered at a pace that often puts people to sleep? I don’t have pat answers, but if we aren’t changing anything then we are essentially ignoring or perhaps denying the problem.

  31. BJohnson,

    The data I have seen don’t show that conservative denominations are losing people faster. But part of the whole issue is the notion of a “denomination”, Church attendance and denominational loyalty are decreasing faster than belief in God or spiritual beings.

    The most sophisticated description of this from a philosophical and historical point of view is Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. He makes the point that what has increased the most are the options for being secular. In terms of lifestyles and life choices, the consequences socially of not being a church member are much less and the ways that one can find a social group, identity and meaning outside of religion are way up. His point of view is that of an academic who is Catholic in Canada but he is a very, very thorough thinker.

    To me there is a shakeout that will take place where religious denominations will go through a period of consolidation. In my opinion, it is not practical to hold on to those desiring a less formal religious experience. The church is a patriarchal, authoritarian institution. However, I also believe that the political split between left and right and its overlap with religion has been a disaster for religion. Religion has been deformed and politicized in a way that has distracted it from its purpose.

    In the USA, it has regionalized religion. Race and gender politics have been cross-correlated with religious affiliation. Economic and social understandings of personal responsibility have taken the place of more strictly religious understandings of those topics.

    A growing number of non-religious or loosely religious people has the potential to tip the political balance away from religion for a period of time that may also free churches from the burden of trying to keep a majority in favor of certain policies favored by the conservatively oriented religions.

    Conservative religions will likely be more inwardly focused. After the shakeout, denominations will be left with the very highly committed. A smaller but potentially more fervent group. This does not necessarily imply fundamentalist, I just mean people will have self-selected into religious grouping that fit the new realities.

    Personally, I am not optimistic that the feminist and non-feminist portions of the membership can co-exist. My young feminist extended family members are just too different from my young non-feminist family members. It is a divide too far.

    For a high percentage of my family to stay “mormon” over the next 50 years, the LDS church would have to give way to branches similar to Judaism with a reformed, conservative and orthodox way forward.

    The LDS church obviously has an interest in that not happening, but those of us with family in both the cultural mormon camp and fundamentalist camp have an interest in “Mormonism” being disassociated with meaning the LDS church and applying to all of sects, schisms and personal interpretations of a mormon background.

    The mormon and LDS concept of strong families is on a collision course with this religious diversification.
    It tears families apart to put have church membership so consequential for LDS families. The issue is not just how to keep families it is what do do with all the partial member families to maintain some sense of family solidarity.

    To rk above that said wavering families lead to children leaving. For the lesser active families this is obviously, but which of us here hasn’t seen that large, extremely committed LDS families now routinely have some children leave the church?

    This is the real challenge to me of people leaving. We don’t have good ways of being committed to the eternal consequences of those choices and also relating fully to our family members without those beliefs?

    The LDS church is not just an apocalyptic faith, it is in a very real sense becoming a tragic one. One either gives up one’s beliefs as traditional has passed them along or one lives in constant heartache for those that leave the church.

    Its the church of the Sophie’s Choice.

  32. Dave K, regarding your “plague” of YSAs – LOL. Though I get what you’re saying (single people do seem to be more likely than married ones to leave the church, though of course I don’t know for sure), your phrasing is indicative of a *definite* issue in YSA retention, namely that we are often treated as problems to solve rather than disciples of Christ.

    As to the overall issue, I agree with several commenters above who say that this discussion is too broad to be effective. Everyone who leaves the Church does so for individualized reasons, even though those reasons may fall into categories. In addition, there are many members who are spiritually apathetic and yet fully active on the outside, which seems to me just as much of a concern (sometimes more!) than those who leave. If we’re going to talk about change and accommodation and adaptation, we really need to break up the issue and look more closely.

  33. I like the couragious suggestions in #23 and elsewhere here. I think it’s hard for Leaders to admit
    that “inspired” programs may not be working well. With courage from Dave K I’ll make a radical suggestion: Instead of “worthiness” interviews, how about “happiness” interviews? Or at least in addition and done by a woman or one of say 5 people you feel safe with? Discussion groups instead of classes? REAL discussion groups with strong emotional safety rules. It can be hard when you are not Temple-worthy, don’t have kids, don’t have a spouse–heck, we have Singles Wards–what about Wards for Disaffecteds & Misfits? (Help me with a label!) You know, where even Democrats feel safe!

  34. Francoise (36) – those are some decent ideas, though “happiness” interviews sound too close to Courts of “Love” for me.

  35. The youth leave when they feel lied to. When the lessons taught and their own experiences do not mesh, they feel betrayed. When church leaders care more about the institutions of the church then the people they are supposed to be helping. I know youth who have left AFTER repenting because the process was so traumatic and so unlike the stories they heard in all their lessons in Sunday School. I know many who leave because they feel they will never be good enough because of their weaknesses. Many return missionaries leave because their missions were not “the best two years of their life” but the most belittling, stressful and confidence destroying experience they could have ever imagined. Where there were so many add-on rules and pressure to meet impossible numbers that they feel like failures. Our Bishops and leaders need more training on nurturing and feeding their flock and how to inspire and less pressure to flog them to do ever more stuff. I even know two ward mission leaders that found the calling absolutely “defeating” because of the intense pressure to produce “numbers.” They leave when their leaders are not Christ like.

  36. Mom in #38 made some good points. I nearly lost my own self and sanity over some of those. There were a lot of un-Christ-like and inhumane pressures on a mission, in my experience. A lot of deceptive statements by leaders is just a poorly construed kind of “selling” you made reference to. I know for me in my worst state concerning Church I felt like only low-maintenance, highly confident people belong. I have experienced much Healing, through Christ, by making Healing my priority and allowing myself to be led to where and how it will occur——that process I believe has allowed me accept what is “there” in an imperfect Church and take responsibility, for example, for finding friends I LIKE instead of feeling like the emotionally unsafe people most available to me had to be my priority. A good safe 12-step group was very valuable in getting that started.

  37. Without comment, let me pass one of my favorite, and sobering quotes:

    “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”

    Abraham Joshua Heschel

  38. First thought … while many people are trying to figure out how to get the kids to move out (of the basement) we’re trying to figure out how to keep ’em. Huh.

    Second thought … raw economics is one reason young people aren’t coming to church. Some people work jobs that require them to work on Sundays. It’s difficult for a single parent to get kids to church when you’re first trying to figure out how to get food on the table. Many people are working multiple jobs these days. Also, the jobs available to young adults (16-24) are often jobs that require working some Sundays. Just a thought.

    Third thought … both of my parents are converts to the LDS church. That means I have an extended family full of good people who aren’t Mormon. That also means I’ve always known that there are moral, good, useful, meaningful ways to live one’s life without being Mormon. This seemingly self-evident truth is not widely circulated in the Mormon community.

    As a parent, there are some values I want to instill in my children as faith-neutral values. That is, even if the child decides to leave the faith, the child should have healthy habits that can carry over to a non-Mormon life. Hopefully that makes sense.

    Last thought … regardless of why people leave, we should always make sure home is a good place to return. And it’s easy. Good heavens let’s make it easy for people to come back.

  39. Some good points–thanks for sharing! Catholics solved the “work” conflict by offering daily masses! I do think that the Church has been wise to help children develop testimonies at a younger age, because they need them earlier. If they have a stronger conviction before becoming a teenager, it will help a lot. If they start as teens to really look at “testimony” then I think what they see around them in the world causes them to lose a desire for a testimony. I thought I might have something else wise to say right now but I’m out of wisdom! I appreciate the sharing here. . .

  40. No commenter has referred to the national survey on youth and religion that found that Mormon teenagers are far and away more likely to embrace their parents’ religious values and able to articulate why they believe what they do. In the book that one of the principal researchers wrote about the survey, “Almost Christian”, the book about the Mormon exception is called “Mormon Envy”. In other words, WE have the kind of bridge for our youth into adulthood as faithful members that other churches would love to have. The big hurdle for the other denominations is that so much of what helps out youth commit to faith and living the gospel is endemic to our theology, including missionary service, meaningful callings, opportunities to preach in worshuip services and classes, and the commitment of adults to volunteer to make programs go, like Seminary.

    The demographic data is extremely clear: the kind of liberal churches that explicitly embrace secular values have basically wiorked themselves out of a job. You don’t need to make the sacrifice of church participation if it is the same message you can get on TV and Twitter. Their membership is declining, and they are not getting the loyalty of young adults in return for blessing their secular lifestyles.

    One commenter mentioned Rodney Stark. In one of his articles, he noted the increasing number of people who say they believe in God but do not affiliate with a denomination. Stark thinks that such people are prime candidates to be attracted to Mormonism because they do not have strong commitments to other faith communities to hold them back.

    I grew up in the 1960s. Compared to that time, I think we have much more effective programs for youth and young adults, including curriculum materials and resources on the meaning of the LDS scriptures and on LDS history.

  41. The first thing I’d like to say, is to recall you are in the last days. It’s going to be a time where evil is called good, and good is called evil. The amount of those disregarding the laws of god will be extremely high. Even in Joseph Smith’s time it was considered that they were already as evil as in the days of Noah. if that was so, imagine how much MORE evil people are today.

    That said, why are youth leaving, I think of several reasons.

    #1. Not seeing the examples. Youth aren’t stupid. Many rules are pretty harsh and hard to live by. I can understand this. However, when you see that in order to be a Bishop, you need to be one of the wealthier people in the ward, to be a Stake President, one of the wealthier people in the Stake, and to be an Apostle means that normally the man was mega wealthy…well…that’s he first step in the equation. The next step is that you aren’t making any money (most youth right out on their own aren’t) and so you pay your tithing, only to discover there is NO money left to buy food, or pay the utilities. So you tell your bishop. Now some may be good, but others then tell them…go to your relatives and your parents first, and don’t help out..AT ALL. So here you have a youth, ready to starve to death for being obedient…and having no aid…except hopefully from the government, or another organization. Then, with them starving and having paid this tithing, looking up at the leadership, and seeing leaders who have NO connection to them. It may or may not be true, but the illusion or appearance are of rich men that that have no connection to those who are less fortunate, and could care less about their welfare except to ask whether they paid tithing or not. It’s not just tithing, but that categorizes the aspect of disconnect between what youth feel is required, vs. what they see. How can these leaders who seem to be rich, powerful, and not really caring about them…really have in connection to youth who are barely making it, if they are making it?

    #2 However, I think that the above is actually small change to the second category, which is the world as it is. The world is becoming far more tempting and far more effective at teaching kids that organized religion is the enemy. Look no further than media on TV, internet, and elsewhere to see that those who are religious are portrayed as crazy nuts, and those who are not are the intelligent ones. This is the standard of how they are raised. You’d be surprised at how much youth and college kids learn about the world from media. Even if they aren’t overly influenced themselves, their friends are. There is a HUGE influence of peer pressure. This peer pressure is far greater than in many other generations. It’s considered the norm now to have premarital relations, and those who do not, are scorned socially. They are seen as odd, weird, and perhaps outcast. I’d think that you’d see a HUGE variation among those who have their primary group of friends as those IN the church, vs. those who are NOT in the church. I think this is the second greatest and largest of the categories. The worst thing, is this is the easiest category to fall into. You have the peer pressure, and church starts to be less important. Before you know it, you simply just don’t go to church. It’s not that you don’t believe it anymore, but it just doesn’t seem as important. From there, it goes downhill…as your friends outside the church and their opinions based upon the world of promiscuity and media influence you more than what you were taught in your youth.

    #3. Miseducation on the church. Even as the church builds it’s online presence, the anti-Mormons have built up a HUGE area of misdirection, misinformation, and half-truths. I have learned that if you want to truth of something, you have to look it up personally. I’ve searched and gotten the journal of discourses and other items to see the source information, only to find that anti-Mormons freely quote these things, but use these quotes out of context to support half truths and lies. Things like the Adam-God theory are twisted to fit anti-Mormon hysteria against Mormons and religion in general, while ignoring the context or even what the original talks were even about! I know I’ve gone deeper into my investigations, but I’m a skeptic normally. Most of my friends…what they read on Wikipedia, and then an additional site…for them is as good as fact. If that site just happens to be an anti-Mormon site…well…that’s it for them. They don’t do any further investigation into the matter. I have heard that there were a large number of European saints taken in by these deceptions, and it basically boils down to no one doing their critical thinking or even thinking for themselves. They find someone else’s words and take it at face value rather than boiling down further, getting the primary sources (which unfortunately normally takes money) and then looking at ALL the explanations and counter explanations to a subject. I have found that if looked in on faith and with a true questioning mind, normally the church’s views on a matter are validated, and anti-Mormon views invalidated, but I have found VERY few youth willing to go to the depths to actually do the required research to find out for themselves.

    Now there are many other categories, but the above three are some of the bigger and larger ones…but they all fall under the biggest and largest category which encompasses all of them.

    #4. The youth and young adults are not cultivating a testimony. Sure, they can get up when they are young and bear their testimony, but when it is really seen if they rely on it, it is found that they truthfully never had one.

    I don’t know why this is.

    I know when I was 17, I was wondering on God and religion, and that is when I looked at the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and knew that it was true. Despite all the doubts and problems I may have had since, I know it’s true and hence I’ve stayed in the church. If you have that testimony, all the above items won’t sway you, even if it is extremely difficult.

    Somehow, and someway, the youth simply aren’t getting a real testimony. A Mission should be able to help with that (More than a few gain a real testimony on their mission) but even then, some don’t seem to be getting a testimony there either.

    I don’t know why not. Maybe the adversary is acting more desperately and strongly then ever before, I have no idea. I’m certain this is one area the church can help with, but how…I don’t know.

    So, it doesn’t matter whether the leaders are rich or poor, I have a testimony that I know that they are the leaders that the church currently needs, and that the prophet is the leader of the church and a prophet. Even if I am not helped by a Bishop when in need (has happened), or have overwhelming peer pressure (also happened) where the easiest thing is to not go to church, or questions arise from the internet (also happened, as I explained above, but I tend to be a skeptic that goes into deeper research on these things), it’s my testimony that it is true, that I know it is true, that keeps me in the church and believing.

    If they had this testimony, they would be unshakable as a rock. Unfortunately, I see too many around me that don’t…and I don’t even know what was different between their upbringing and mine.

    However, when they have faced the same problems as me, invariable some of them fall prey to them. It’s not that the church needs to change in it’s doctrine or requirements (so yes, even that hard to pay tithing should stay the same) or change it’s doctrine and ordinances to match a fallen world (in fact, I would hope it doesn’t, how can you have faith in a Lord that changes with the time, instead of one that is constant and is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow), but that something needs to be done to give the youth the opportunity to find a testimony before they are tested without one.

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