The second chapter of the Book of Judges speaks to the passing of faith down the stream of generations. The Israelites, it says, “served the Lord” for as long as Joshua and his generation lived (v. 7). This generation had grown up hearing of God’s deliverance from Egypt, his covenant on Sinai, and his provision in the wilderness. They had seen for themselves the miracles of Jericho and Gibeon. They had witnessed “all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.”
Afterward, however, “another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (v. 10). They “forsook the Lord” and served other gods and suffered military catastrophes (vv. 12–15). Thus begins the period of the judges.
The passage is distressingly relevant. One survey after another shows increasing numbers of young people leaving the church. Gallup reported this year that belief in God had declined 10 percentage points in about 10 years. According to Barna, the percentage of Americans who qualify as “practicing Christians” (meaning they identify as Christian, prioritize their faith, and have attended church within the past month) has dropped from 50 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2020—with church attendance dropping most precipitously among millennials.
The data show a steady decline from generation to generation. Pew reported in 2019 that 84 percent of Americans born before 1945 identify as Christian, compared to 76 percent of boomers, 67 percent of Generation X, and 49 percent of millennials. Millennials merely represent the next step in the downward staircase. Since younger Americans are less likely to have been raised in Christian communities and practices than their forebears, they are less likely to affiliate with the church as adults.
It is, as the saying goes, better to light a candle than to curse the dark. So how can we ensure rising generations see “all [the] great things the Lord has done” (Deut. 11:7)?
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Timothy Dalrymple is president, CEO, and editor in chief of Christianity Today.
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