Oasis in a barren land

Published July 1, 2010

Growing Up Christian: Why young people stay in church and (sometimes) come back to church
by John P. Bowen
Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2010

Canadian books and statistical studies on youth in the church are rare. Most material focuses on why young people seem to be abandoning the church in droves but say little about why some stay or come back. In both these respects, John Bowen’s book is an oasis in a barren land.

Bowen draws on experience working with young people in Pioneer camps, where more than 1,200 youth went through leadership training. Although many denominations were represented, Anglican youth made up one of the largest groups.

As Bowen is quick to point out, this is not an academic study. His work draws on raw statistics, and his use of direct narrative engages the reader.

Looking first at why some choose to stay involved, Bowen concludes that two of the major factors are a positive experience in Christian camping and involvement with those more mature in the faith (mentors). Friends and family run second to these influences.

Reasons why believers leave reveal a constellation of issues not so much with God or Jesus but rather with the church. Youth who leave but continue to believe stressed their relationship with God as the key to residual faith. Most expressed an openness to returning if they could find the right kind of church.

Those who leave and then return also cite their relationship with God as the primary motivation. Along the way, they have found a church with whom they connect. This number is much smaller than is commonly believed.

For those seeking to involve the young, Bowen suggests connecting with them during times of transition can be helpful, as long as the focus is on forging relationships not on denominational retention.

Anyone concerned with the ministry of young people in the church today will find Bowen’s book a valuable resource. It is both realistic and practical, and thoroughly encouraging. Ω

The Rev. Canon Dr. George M. Porter currently serves as youth action director for the diocese of Fredericton, as well as Anglican chaplain to the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton) and St. Thomas University.  


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