Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Already Gone - Book Review

This book was definitely outside my normal reading box.  On one hand, I found the statistics to be unnerving and yet very believable.  On the other hand, I found the diagnosis and recommended cure to be frustratingly off-base.
First some of the most pertinent statistics.
  • 2/3 of people who were active in church as children or teenagers will not be active in church during their 20s.
  • Of those 20-somethings who used to attend church but now don't, 95% attended regularly during elementary and middle school, 55% attended regularly during high school, and only 11% attended regularly during their early college years.  This means that we're losing our young people in high school and college.
  • When these 20-somethings were asked why they dropped out of church, the reasons listed were: 
  1. Boring worship services
  2. Legalism
  3. Hypocricy
  4. Churches are too political
  5. Self-righteous people
  6. Distance from home
  7. Not relevant to personal growth
  8. God wouldn't condemn me to hell for not going to church.
  9. The Bible is not relevant or practical.
  10. I couldn't find my preferred denomination in my area.
Notice that only #8 and #9 are belief based issues.  The top 5, which make up 54% of the respondents are all complaining about human behavior issues in the church.

However, the most surprising statistics related to Sunday School.  According to the surveys in this book, Sunday School seems to be counterproductive (at least as currently operated).  20-something church drop-outs who had regularly attended Sunday School as kids or teenagers were MORE likely to ...
  • Not believe that all the stories in the Bible are true.
  • Defend premarital sex.
  • View the church as hypocritical.
  • Become specifically anti-church (hostile instead of just not attending).
  • Feel that the Church is irrelevant to their needs today.
It's unclear why Sunday School seems to be having this effect.  At this point, all we can do is theorize.
However, There were a few statistical hints of hope.
  • 51% of the church dropouts still attend worship services at Christmas or Easter.
  • 38% expect to attend regularly again after having kids, and 30% aren't sure if they will or not.
Now, let me be clear here.  I'm not saying that attending a worship service makes someone a Christian.  I'm also not saying that not attending worship services regularly makes someone a non-Christian.  However, I do believe in the Church and in local churches.  I know the millions of faults to be found in our institutions and individuals.  However, I believe that churches are absolutely necessary and good for the world.  Therefore, I'm concerned that a growing number of young people find local churches to be irrelevant, unnecessary, boring, or even distasteful.  This is a major problem for the Church and for local churches.
Unfortunately, in my maybe not-so humble opinion, Ken Ham and Britt Beemer do a fairly poor job of addressing this problem and recommending a cure.  They seem to completely overlook the basic statistics that most young people who have quit church have quit because of the behavior and attitudes of the church.
Instead, Ham (the driving writer) pounds on fundamental beliefs as the cure, and his take on fundamental beliefs is an extremely literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  While I think such a literal interpretation is possible, I don't think it is necessary, and in some cases (like the comparison of sequence in Genesis 1 and 2), strict literalism is not even logical.   What shocks me the most is the blind insistence on right beliefs above all else.
For example, in the entire book, Ham never mentions (even once) the church's mandate to care for the poor.  In all of his calls to defend the Word and to live the Word, he never once calls our Western materialism into question.   In fact, when he does call for people to live the Word, he gives precious little guidance as to what that might look like.  Once he even says that living the Word is believing that the whole Bible is the literal Word of God (a belief statement).  For me this is evidence that many well meaning people in our church have an unnatural and unhealthy fixation on right belief, while turning a blind eye to right behavior.
However, for someone so conservative, I was surprised to read Ham's chapter attacking traditionalism.  He rightly argued that much that we consider "traditional" is not in fact Biblical.  I was shocked when Ham suggested that we should give 20-somethings who are still in the church the freedom to reinvent the church in more interesting and relevant ways.  Ham said that older, mature believers should stand by as advisers and allow the young folks to take us into a new way of being the church.  He even suggested that these new ways of being church may not feel much like "church" to older folks because they are not "traditional" but may still bear all of the essential elements of a Biblical church.  Mr. Ham (Mr. Uber-Conservative), I tip my hat to you on that one.
 So, that's a long review, of a so-so book.  At the least, the book raised some good points and sparked some good discussion among Sarah and I (and hopefully among the readers here).  Also, these authors see a genuine problem and are honestly trying to understand and to solve it.  For that I give them lots of credit.  For theology, perspective, methodology, and writing style, not so much.  The Josh rating: JJ.
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