In the last couple of days, I’ve read two very encouraging pieces from a couple of young Baptists that have been, to say the least, inspirational.  Links to both are posted here. 

I find them encouraging, first of all, because we do not hear from younger Baptists very often.  “Younger,” in Baptist life, has become a relative term.  Many times, in the past decade, as a forty-something, I have been among the “youngest” Baptists in the vast majority of gatherings of people either in the context of Southern Baptists as a denomination, in associational or state meetings, or in special interest group meetings such as Texas Baptists Committed.  In most of those meetings or gatherings, there were few people younger than me.  Among the friends and acquaintances with whom I attended college and seminary, few are left participating in Baptist denominational life, many for some of the reasons that Ken Williams speaks of in his editorial.  Most of those still in the professional ministry serve in non-denominational churches and missions ministries, tired of what they see as a loss of ministry focus in the face of influence peddling and power brokering for control of Baptist conventions and institutions. 

I also find “Agent Tim” to be very encouraging and inspiring.  I spent the first 28 years of my vocational ministry service working with middle and high school students, as a youth pastor, Christian school faculty member, coach, and administrator, investing time, prayer and a lot of sweat equity in ministering to students and their families, helping them prepare for the challenges to their faith that they would encounter upon leaving home and going to college, praying that they would develop their own faith, and hear God’s calling in their lives.  Most of us know the statistics that show that upwards of 80% of youth who are active in their church during high school leave by the time they have finished college.  Tim’s blog is a bright light of hope, an encouragement that there are young people who are well on their way to “running a good race.” 

The future of the Baptist conventions and institutions that we cherish depends on capturing the interest of the next generation.  If Ken is right, and I think he is, if that is going to happen, the conventions are going to have to do some major re-focusing.  It is pretty easy to see that denominational politics, political maneuvering, and the Baptist pedigrees and prominence that go along with it is a major turn off.  Look at any gathering of Baptists in the last decade, and you will find that anywhere from two thirds to three forths of the participants are past 60, in most cases, considerably so.  But then, look inside most Baptist churches on any given Sunday, and you’ll see the same thing. 

The big question is, “How do we capture their interest?”  My answer to that is “Listen to them.”  Ken and Tim, among many others, will give us the answers if we will listen to what they have to say.  What motivates them?  Let them tell us, and let’s pay attention.  And instead of merely offering “sage advice,” we should resort to dialogue instead. 

There’s only one thing in Ken’s editorial with which I disagree.  He said that “Baptists of tomorrow must adopt an entirely new set of values.”  No, actually, I don’t think so.  I think Baptists of tomorrow need to adopt the values of their Baptist ancestors of the past, because I think that is exactly what they are looking for.  That would include a faith that is spiritually powerful, Biblically discerned, and which motivates believers to action, including social justice, racial reconciliation, and a servant heart. 

Our worship must be powerful, and spirit filled.  The Holy Spirit must be present in it, it cannot be an empty exercise of routine.  That’s one of the characteristics I find in worship among younger people, they are looking for, and expecting an encounter with God in worship.  In many Baptist churches today, frankly, that is missing.  Our faith must also be centered in sound, Biblical teaching.  The Bible is God’s written word, and it leads us to salvation in Christ, and to those powerful, spiritual encounters in worship.  Baptists have long declared we have “no creed but the Bible,” and our faith must be grounded in it.  These things compel us to action.  Social justice and servant leadership are the themes of Christ’s ministry, and the examples he set for his followers.  Faith without works is dead, and works without faith are meaningless.  The younger generation is looking for a faith that has meaning and gives them purpose.  We have plenty of examples, in American Christianity, of an over emphasis on social justice and servant ministry without Biblical guidance or spiritual power, of an over emphasis on spiritual power without Biblical guidance or ministry, and an over emphasis on doctrinal purity over spiritual power and servant ministry. 

It is tempting to want to tell this younger generation of Baptists to devote their enthusiasm and energy to attending the convention meetings where votes make changes.  The problem with doing that, however, is that in the system that currently exists, it would take half a generation to make those changes, and I’m not sure that the numbers of younger Baptists are large enough to do it over the long haul, anyway.  I’m also not sure that maintaining “brand-name” identity, or institutions that work exclusively with churches inside a particular identity, is something that the younger generations of Christians are all that interested in doing.  It is far more important to follow the Great Commission in making young disciples of Jesus than it is in making young Baptists out of those disciples.


About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

7 responses

  1. Dylan says:

    Being a “young” Baptist myself, (the younger half of twenty something) through four years at a Baptist-related university, and now into grad school, what I see among young “Baptists” is a high degree of self-absorbed, self interest, and very little interest in anything spiritual, Biblical, or related to social justice. Perhaps those who do go on to seminary, and are committed to ministry are a bit more focused on their Baptist, or Christian, identity, though the vast majority of Baptist seminarians I encounter, perhaps because of geography, are fundamentalists, not particularly interested in social justice, and not particularly friendly and accepting of those who attend emergent congregations. And I can’t say I’ve met anyone my age who is making plans to attend the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. Most of the young Baptists I know see that as just as bad, if not worse, than going to an SBC meeting.

    As you know, Lee, I attend a church that I consider to be quite “spiritually powerful” in terms of its worship. We do invite, and expect, the Holy Spirit’s presence in our worship. We have a Bible study leader in the college department who is as effective a leader of this age group as I have ever met. We are deeply involved in ongoing “social justice” ministry. Yet, the number of young Baptists who are part of our community is dwarfed by the number of young Baptists who live all around us but are not involved in any church in any way, and who find all sorts of non-spiritual, meaningless things to be involved in mainly for their own entertainment. And we’re talking about people whose parents took them to church (or made them go) every Sunday, and even some who went to Christian schools like I did.

    So, why am I sticking around? It’s not so much that I am all that caught up in being “Baptist,” as it is that there was a point where I crossed the boundary between the faith that I had being that of my parents, and actually becoming my own. I was baptized at age 7, mainly because I thought it was expected of me. But I never had a genuine encounter with Christ until last year, as a result of friendships, and I am part of this particular body of believers because they were part of it. So it’s a matter of being part of the family, not the denomination.

  2. Tim Dahl says:


    I’m just about at the midway point in my 30s, so I won’t be able to claim to be one of those youngsters for much longer. Granted, in the Convention and TBC meetings, I’m just about the youngest there…but, as you said – youth is relative.

    I was curious as to where you got the 80% statistic (20% have stayed in church). I’ve heard that only 10% of my generation is still in church; and they aren’t expecting more that 6% of the attending (youth) generation to stay in church after high school. I think you are being really generous with that 80%, and maybe we should talk of the 90% instead.

    How do we reach them? Sometimes I think I know, and most of the time I’m at a total loss. I’ve heard the secular stats that talk about how the younger generations are giving more to charity (not church), and spending more time in volunteer activities (non-church). But, in between the teen pregnancies/abortions, beatings and disregard by their parents/legal guardians, and the church’s continued insistence that we’re still in the 1960s… I’m just at a loss.

    Tim Dahl

  3. Lee says:

    The first time I saw a study on the exodus of young people from the church, it was done at Carson Newman University, a Baptist school in Tennessee, and the figure was in the 70% range. That was probably in the late 1980’s. The 80% figure is from Barna. I have no doubt that 90% is accurate. And this is more than just the typical youthful “rebellion” against institutions that was more or less the atmosphere of the ’70’s.

    A combination of things has taken its toll. Worship in most Baptist churches is one of the most boring, empty, lifeless hours of the week. It is an empty exercise in which a real encounter with God is so unexpected, there is no plan for it to take place. Affluence has caused the church to spend resources on entertaining the youth it does have, just to get them to come, and what it offers them in the way of Bible study is far short of what they need to maintain their faith. Spiritual disciplines are almost not taught at all anymore. Most churches offer no meaningful outlet for young people to express and exercise their faith. If faith is something that makes a difference, then the church must provide a place for it to make a difference. Spending thousands of dollars on mission trips to foreign countries doesn’t sync with avoiding the neighborhoods in your own city where poverty abounds.

    Instead of criticizing the emergent church, I think Baptists need to take a look at why it is attracting younger people in droves. It’s worship is powerful, not only expecting an encounter with the Spirit, but depending on it in order for real worship to happen. Real ministry, real healing and real repentance are the results of spiritual encounters with God. Something happens inside, and you are changed as a result of it, and that leaves you wanting more. Contrary to popular opinion, these churches are solidly Biblical, but the desired result of teaching the Bible is not a correct doctrinal position, but the ability of the believer to practically apply scriptural principles to their life. They want to be salt and light in the world, rather than to separate from it, have no influence over it, and be seen as nothing more than a group of holier-than-thou moralizers.

    I think we spend a lot of time trying to separate our kids from the world and avoid exposing them to it. Then, we send them off to college, where they are no longer sheltered from it, and they get beaten up by it, and take a fall, unequipped to turn to their faith for strength, and they abandon it altogether.

    BTW, when I say “young” is relative, in our former church, in our late 40’s, my wife and I were in a class that was still considered part of the “Young Adult Division” and not yet eligible for the “Median Adult Division.” I often wondered if that was an ego booster intended as a deliberate church growth strategy.

  4. David Lowrie says:


    Thank you for calling attention to these two articles. I agree with you that there was much to learn from the insights of these two young men.

    Reaching and keeping the next generation is critical for the future of our churches and the existence of any state or national convention.

    The church I serve is in a college town, so I have had a great opportunity to interact with numbers of college students. This next generation is a great generation, some might even consider them the next “hero” generation (note the book the Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe). This generation may be the generation that God has raised up to replace what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation”.

    On any typical Sunday our church has between 100 to 200 young people between the ages of 13-23 years old. To have this many in attendance we had to intentional change our worship style to speak their “musical” language, and we also had to make missions and reaching our world a priority. We reached them by listening to them, taking their voices seriously, and changing to engage them in the future of our church. This task is a never ending journey. In fact as I write this I realize I need to spend some time with my young leaders so I don’t stumble into the “fog” of believing I know what they need.

    If we are going to engage this generation we will do it by listening to them, and by joining them in their passion to change the world.

    David Lowrie

  5. JMatthews says:

    Good post. I appreciate the balance you provided as well, since the two articles you referenced provided differing perspectives. I doubt very seriously that a single gathering such as the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant will make much of a difference. This isn’t a problem that a single event will solve. Tim’s comments in response to yours did resonate with me, in that he advocates finding a solution in scripture, and renewing an emphasis on the Bible. I am raising four boys, ages 17, 16, 16, and 14, and one of the biggest problems we have had with youth programs in churches is finding one that emphasizes and immerses them in Bible study, not only in teaching them the scriptures, but teaching them the discipline of studying the scriptures for themselves. As Baptists, we always think that we can solve our problems with some kind of emphasis or program, but the fact is that, as Christians, the answers to solving our problems come from God, through his Spirit and his Word.

  6. BT says:

    If I may add two cents worth. So much of what we do as parents and church leaders is focus on behavior. How can we manipulate a reaction that results in what we consider good behavior? We must grasp the concept of training the heart.

    I did not want my children to do as their dad had done. When I went to college, my motivation for doing right was no longer around (mom and dad). Therefore, I was free to do as I wished. We began reasoning with our children, early on, the “real why” of doing right. Pleasing mom and dad is just a byproduct of pleasing God.

    How has it worked? The oldest is a senior in college and teaches a 5th grade Sunday School class. He lives out his faith in leadership positions on campus. The second is a freshman at a local college while participating in 2 small groups and planning her second international mission trip. The third and fourth are in school and still in heart training.

    What compounds our problem as church leaders is playing catch-up with the parents. Many of them still need a heart transplant. I know I am preaching to the choir. Until our churches understand that working with our youth is more than a full calendar and a awesome sound system, we will continue to lose the next generation. If they know we are listening and committed, we are half way there.

  7. Stephanie K. says:

    As a member of the younger generation to which you refer, I found your post very encouraging. While I am not Baptist, and attend a non-denominational church, on the several instances I have visited Baptist churches, my frustrations were many of things you mentioned.

    In the church world there seems to be this struggle between reaching people and not compromising doctrine. My pastor once did series of which one message was entitled “Identity and Relevance.” I don’t think you have to sacrifice doctrine to be relevant (neither should we allow standards to cave in to appeal to people), but I don’t think the attitude of doctrinal purity is going to win this next generation. I’m not saying doctrine doesn’t have a role to play, but I do agree with the wisdom of listening and then responding.

    There seems to be this portrait of Christianity painted that it is all nitpicks and wimps. Christ said that people would recognize us by our love. Sometimes love must be tough, but there is a world crying for answers and disputing some of the minor doctrinal differences all the time doesn’t seem to be a big draw to them. However, I don’t think an overemphasis on social compassion without any biblical basis (from a church perspective) does anyone much good either.

    This was a refreshing read for me, thanks!