Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Churches and Education

Churches have not kept up with the increase in education that America has been seeing.

In the past decade, college enrollment has risen 31%. 42% of 18-24 year olds are currently enrolled in college (NCES). From 2011 to 2021, the National Center for Education Statistics projects a rise of 13 percent in enrollments of students under 25. According to a study by the North American Mission Board, 80% of churches that participated in the Annual Church Profile in 2012 reported either none or only one baptism in the 18-29 age group. That’s 36,000 churches.

Bible studies and Sunday schools do not keep up with this increase in education. As students begin to attend college, they begin learning about subjects in a way that they never have before. They study philosophy, science, history, and psychology from teachers that have devoted their lives to these fields. They are asked to think deeply about things that they’d considered immutable and challenged intellectually on a daily basis. When it comes to the religious education they receive from their churches, however, they find stagnation. They aren't going any deeper into the bible, church history, or religious philosophy than they did in their high school youth groups or general Sunday services.

This is the group that churches are overlooking.

As someone in this demographic, I can tell first hand how we are being overlooked. Even searching for a church in San Marcos, a town of 50,000 people containing a school of 35,000 students, it was nearly impossible to find a church with an official "college group." Those that I found were led by volunteers that put the groups together because they personally noticed a need, not because the church was taking steps to reach this demographic. They were using the types of book studies that you'd buy at a Mardels with no more depth than you'd find in a youth group. Books that may or may not have been updated for a college audience by using "college related" examples rather than deeper course material.

This isn't the teachers fault; they're not equipped to teach a college-level course. And nothing is wrong with study groups like these; they tend to foster great fellowship. The problem is that these sorts of classes are all that are offered, and intellectually, they aren’t challenging. They offer a chance to grow closer to other church members, but they don’t offer a deeper understanding of the faith.

Churches need to become more serious about educating their congregations.

Churches need to take advantage of the seminaries producing people with masters degrees and greater in these subjects. They need to offer classes taught by people that have spent large amounts of time academically studying the subjects they are teaching. This may mean spending a bit of money to actually hire people that are qualified to teach at a higher level.

This doesn't just benefit 18-29 year-olds it benefits the congregations as a whole. Deeper courses on church history, scripture, and religious philosophy would do wonders for a church’s spiritual growth. As education and intellectualism grow in America it is increasingly necessary for Christians to know what they believe and why they believe it. We wouldn’t trust a doctor that has never been to med school, a school teacher that doesn’t have a degree, or an accountant that couldn’t do algebra. Why should we trust a Christian who hasn’t studied?

This post was written as a reaction to the blog post “Missing Teens? Missing God?” written by Dr. John Mark Yeats and a study posted by the North American Mission Board.

North American Mission Board. “Pastors’ Task Force on SBC Evangelistic Impact & Declining Baptisms.” http://www.namb.net/baptismtaskforce/
National Center for Education Statistics. “Fast Facts.” http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98
Yeats, John Mark. “Missing Teens? Missing God?” http://www.johnmyeats.com/unfinished-works/missing-teens-missing-god