I recently listened to an excerpt from a message by Voddie Baucham given before a gathering of pastors addressing the steep decline and departure among evangelical students from the church after their first year of college. Statistics reveal that somewhere between 75% and 88% of confessing believers leave the church, most never to return, after their first year of college. The implications of this are not just that biblical Christianity is losing traction within Western culture, but that biblical Christianity is slowly dying within Western culture.

Baucham’s implicit presuppostion is this: biblical Christianity flourishes within culture, not necessarily through evangelism, though the church is called to bring the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation, but biblical Christianity prospers through the family.

There is a telling stastitic that supports this presuppostion and the impact of families upon culture. Currently, within the US, the birth rate is below the replacement rate for the first time in history. What this means is that we have more people dying in our population and less births to replace the dead, and thus sustain our culture. The birth rate within the US is currently at around 2 children per family. People are marrying older in life and choosing to have less children, and even an indiscriminant general observation of the nuclear family reveals that there is a certain stigma in Western culture related to large families (more about this later).

Let’s look to Europe to see the growing implications of a low birth rate versus a high mortality rate. In France the birth rate is about 1.5 children per family among the indigenous French. There has been a steady influx of North African Muslims into France and other European countries over the past several years. These Muslims average about 6 children per family. With a rapid influx of Muslims competing in the culture with a declining presence of indigenous French, what do you think will soon happen? France will soon be a predominantly Muslim country simply because Muslims will outnumber everyone else. And why are the French having so few children? This points to a love affair with prosperity over children and families. It almost seems that Western cultures despise children. Have you noticed how often large families are mocked for having 3+ children with comments like, “Don’t you know how that happens?”

The same kind of thing is happening in the US. Since 1965 the number of Muslims has increased in the US from 800,000 to over 4 million (and some estimate as high as 8 million). The Buddhist population has increasted from 400,000 to 2 1/2 million and the Hindu population from 100,000 to 1 million. And all the while Christian families are having less and less children.

To put into perspective that Christianity is dying, take the conservative number that we lose 75% of evangelical Christian students after their first year of college and apply it to the general membership within the Southern Baptist Convention, which currently stands at 16 million. By the next generation the SBC membership will be 4 million if current trends hold. By the following generation the membership will be 1 million. The next generation, 250,000. You might be inclined to argue that evangelism is the solution to a low birth rate and the survival of Christianity. At the current pace of our decline it would take 1 Christian to reach 3 lost people to retain our current numbers. Right now, within SBC life, it takes an average of 43 confessing believers to reach 1 lost person.

If this isn’t startling enough, here is where it gets interesting. Baucham says that the SBC response to this dire situation over the past 30 years has been reach children through youth and children’s ministry, not through the family. We live in a church culture that has more resources to reach people than ever before, and more youth workers than at anytime in the history of the church. Yet, sadly, the numbers of confessions of Jesus and baptisms among youth and children are rapidly declining.

According to Baucham, and I think he is right, God’s plan for seeing students come to know and fear God is the family, not youth ministry. He points to Ephesians 6:1-4 and reminds us that if we want childrne to be Spirit-filled we should not send them to their youth pastor, we should send them to their parents. The submissiveness of children to their parents in obedience from the heart with joy is the truest sign of genuine spirituality.

This message doesn’t have all the answers. Not everything in youth ministry is bad or needs to be scrapped. Not everything is unbiblical, though much that we see in youth ministry today works against Scripture. But there is no doubt that the current model for ministry to children and youth needs critical care and attention. There will also always be cases where we can’t send children to their parents for evangelism and spiritual discipline because their parents don’t love Jesus. But this fact should not dominate the structure and focus of our youth ministries. It should be a consideration, but not the driving impetus to establishing ministry with no regard for the family, no structure in place to encourage, motivate and disciple parents, and no intentions of folding students into the overall life of the church.

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