I have started to re-read The Next Mormons by Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Benjamin Knoll. It might be more correct to say that I am studying it for the first time. I had been anticipating the book’s release for so long that I do think I missed some details in my voracious reading it the first time I read it.
Dr. Riess, often accompanied by Dr. Knoll, has given many wonderful interviews about the book and the survey that it is based on. I appreciated that she even took the time during the busy book launch to talk and that is here. There was even a very interesting conference that focused on this book at Claremont Graduate University and fortunately they even posted the conference presentations on YouTube.
But before I re-read even past the first 2 chapters, I saw an interesting blog post by Jana. In this blog post she mentions that one very oft question she is asked is, “What can be done to reverse some of the trends?” She mentions that she had just interviewed a fellow author David Kinnamanthat has written the books, “You Lost Me”, “UnChristian”, and a new book he co-authored called “Faith for Exiles.” This last book takes a look at not what is driving many away from Christianity, but instead what is keeping those that do remain as active Christians, or what Kinnaman calls, “Resilient Disciples.” He mentions that these individuals are not living in a society where the overwhelming majority wear the label of Christian, but instead are living more in a world that this is a minority. It is logical that this would focus on for millennial’s and Gen Z as this is when the vast majority of individuals are more likely to leave their faith when compared with later periods in their life.
So what does the book “Faith for Exiles” recommend? I have not read the book (yet), but Riess outlines the 5 ways that seem to be working. I will try and give a quick summary and then a bit of my take on how this might relate to the LDS church (If you are interested in more depth you can read the blog or even the book itself)
They focus on personal intimacy with Jesus.
Just entertaining doesn’t cut it. The church experience needs to emphasize regular devotional habits sincere worship. This generation feels they are overly marketed and honor authenticity. They want a deep emotional connection to God.
I wouldn’t say that LDS Sunday services fit in the “entertaining” column. I assume there is quite a bit of variance on how LDS individuals feel that the church helps with an intimate relation with Jesus. At this point I feel the push for obedience to the leaders overshadows and actually gets it the way of focusing on Jesus. But I do realize some do find LDS services help them relate to Jesus.
They educate with a purpose.
The faith has to engage the mind as well as the heart. Studying challenging reflections of other Christians is helpful. It isn’t helpful focusing just on, “the good old days”, but they need to be helping people in today’s world that they live in. Also it is noted that often smaller groups meeting outside a church can be more successful at keeping younger members within the fold.
After quite a few decades, I found the Sunday curriculum to be mind-numbingly boring. It felt to me that not only were we never to get into the “meat”, but I was only fed skim milk with occasional tastes of ½ percent milk. I find way to much placing of the 1950 American idea of a perfect family and not enough focus on inclusion.
As a leader I never really found any of the “training” that we attended to be anything nearly as helpful as training I received at work. I even received more “soft skills” training from work (Emotional Intelligence, Working with difficult people, etc.) To me it always seemed to either be “here is the new program” (I can see the need for some of that) or just preaching.
They help young people forge meaningful inter-generational relationships.
Churches as institutions are losing their appeal, due to factors such as sex scandals and social conservatism. Having a close relationship with an adult can be significant factor helping with retention, but this needs to be a relationship that is honest and open. The adult needs to not be focused so much on ensuring the younger generation being just as they are.
I think this is one area that the LDS church does create opportunities for these relationships. Many people keep the relationship with their young men’s or young women’s leaders for years into adulthood. There are many other situations where the young and not so young rub elbows together.
I do think that the LDS culture isn’t quite so good on the being non-judgmental. Stray just a bit off what is even culturally accepted as the right path and I have almost always seen immense pressure to get back in line. My experience tells me there are VERY few instances where someone can bring, “I read the CES letter and I have some questions, can you help me” and be meet with, “OK, let’s talk about what you read.”
They train young adults about vocation.
Those that keep young adults allow/encourage intermingling of their vocation within the church.
Riess says it about as good as I can summarize it: “Churches that are doing well with young people help them to discover what God created them to do in life and give them tools to succeed at it. Because many young adults are delaying marriage and children, most spend their 20s focusing on work. This is an opportunity for churches to teach about “vocational discipleship,” which is approaching work through the lens of an active, growing faith.”
I can’t say I have a clear picture here. I do think that young men are clearly told they need to be the family support, so make sure you have a job that will support a family. I think with young women there is a bit of latitude as long as it stays within some (narrow?) confines and does not significantly detrack from being a stay at home mother.
I wish that missions could be turned to be more in line with this suggestion. I know I had zero interest in being a salesman in a high-pressure numbers driven organization. But I have to admit it helped me become less shy than I was and more confident in unfamiliar situations.
They promote countercultural mission.
Encouraging young adults to not follow the “me me me” culture seems to keep them more engaged with the church. Churches need to “take epic risks” to live out their faith.
I think the LDS church absolutely does some things in this area, but then it can drop off a cliff. The youth are constantly taught they are different and need to be above the world. The effort to do such as a youth I think does some emotional bonding as the youth grows up. Missions of course are huge anti “me me me” culture and many people that I know that are not interested in the LDS church in the least are impressed with people going on missions.
But I think there is only one path. If someone feels that instead of going on a church mission they want to take a year and go deep into Africa and help vaccinate against a ravaging disease, they will get some admiration, but an assumption that such an activity is not nearly as important as a church mission.
Do you agree that the 5 suggestions are good suggestions?
Do you see the church currently implementing any of these suggestions?
Do you think any of these will be implemented in the near future?
Other suggestions on what the church can do to reverse the trends?