A recent study conducted by Never the Same revealed startling statistics on students and the Bible.
Of the 3,000+ students who were surveyed, 90% said they believed the Bible is important, but only 12% of students read it regularly (4 or more times a week). Forty-five percent said they never read the Bible.
There is a disconnect between what students say and what they do. This move away from the consistent reading of Scripture and subsequent biblical illiteracy has tremendous implications. According to Barna, “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. 18–29-year-olds who grew up in church tell Barna they have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen” (Barna, 2019). This rise – up five percent from 2011 – is startling for the future of society and the Church.
According to the study, the desire for engagement is there, but the resources and training are not. Students highly value Scripture, but their inability to develop a plan for reading and understanding it paired with a lack of accountability and support are what keeps them from engaging with it at a level that would bring about lasting change and habit development. This has shifted the priority of student ministries in a major way.
A focus on biblical literacy and personal discipleship has been largely removed from the foundation of North American student ministry. This trend directly affects both the ownership of faith in students now and the sustainability of the church as a whole in the future. Based on Barna’s research, students who do not hold tightly to their faith will lose it. A refocusing is necessary to bring students back to personal engagement with the Word of God.
Now is not the time to diminish the danger of failing to hold a standard for biblical discipleship with students. Without a clear understanding of the power of the Word of God and the tools to read and apply it, students will turn to anything else that boasts of wisdom and security in this world. Clearly, this is already happening, as the number of students leaving the church continues to rise. If Barna’s research holds, a youth pastor with a group of 100 students can assume that 64 of them will not return to church once they graduate. This should be of concern to the youth pastor and his or her leaders, who care deeply about these students and their eternity. The standard for students must be set by the adults leading them.
We must fight for students by empowering them in their faith. This does not begin when a student walks across the stage at high school graduation. It begins six or seven years earlier when he or she walks across the parking lot into a youth group for the first time. Churches must invest time and energy into discipling students from the very beginning by focusing on biblical literacy and personal ownership of faith. This includes deep and consistent rhythms in prayer, time in the Word, and a plan for helping students develop a faith that lasts a lifetime.