Parish Newsletter

A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

September, 2012

Almost Christian

In 2010, Kenda Creasy Dean wrote a report based on surveys from 3,300 American teenagers, plus follow-up interviews.  The book was called, Almost Christian, What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.)  A committee from the San Jose Diocese was asked to summarize the results and present it to the bishop and Council of Priests.  What follows are some key findings quoted by the committee, along with the page numbers from the book.


Faith Of Their Parents

Why are American teenagers at once so positive about Christianity and at the same time so apathetic about genuine practice?  Part of the reason is based on their parents’ view of their own faith.  The book found that the religiosity of American teens largely reflects their parents’ views.  Teens echo “with astonishing clarity, the religious choices of the adults who love them.”  The solution lies not in improving parish youth programs or making worship more “cool” and attractive, but “in modeling the kind of mature, passionate faith we say we want young people to have.”  (pp. 3-4, as quoted in the San Jose Report, p. 3)

True Christianity, Dean contends, has been traded for a religion that stresses “being nice, feeling good about oneself, and saving God for emergencies.”  The guiding beliefs of this approach to religion are:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Dean asks, “What if the Church models a way of life that asks, not passionate surrender, but ho-hum assent?  What if we are preaching more affirmation, a feel-better faith, and a hands-off God, instead of the decisively involved, impossibly loving, radically sending God of Abraham and Mary, who desired us enough to enter creation in Jesus Christ and whose Spirit is active in the Church and world today?”  She goes on to say, “Exposing adolescents to faith, as it turns out, is no substitute for teaching it to them.”   And that “parents matter most when it comes to religious formation of their children.”  (pp.12,16,18)


A Counter Trend

A small percentage of teens who were interviewed, 8% from across denominational lines, exhibited very different characteristics from the majority.  1. They portrayed God as loving, powerful and active in the world.  2. They talked about their church communities as spiritually and relationally significant.  3. They sensed a divinely appointed purpose for their lives.  4. They bore witness to a hopeful future. (p. 42)


According to Dean, some elements that help cultivate a faith that is of consequence to teenagers include:

– Parents and mentors, such as Confirmation sponsors, who talk about and model their faith.

– Reframing the Word of God into the vernacular of teens, but without dumbing down the Gospel.

– Talking about Jesus more than about God, even learning Scripture passages by heart as a guide.

– Immersion experiences where teens can articulate their faith in a protected environment, i.e., retreats.

– Spiritual encounters, such as a powerful liturgy, a sense of divine guidance, an answered prayer.

How to get there?  Form the parents, bring the Gospels to life, a place to share faith, make demands.