Once I got over the difficult spelling and the drastic imagery, the rest of this study by a Canadian team of researchers led by James Penner [an associate of Reginald Bibby] is not all that different from American research. I’m thinking I should have just combined the two since the message is very similar. The sample and the questions being asked are different so comparing statistics is not that meaningful, but the message is the same—a significant number of emerging adults are leaving the church. Penner, et.al. do include a category called “engagers” who are actively involved, but his other three categories are similar to Kinnaman’s: fence sitters, wanderers, rejecters. The troubling statistic is that only 23% are in the “engagers” category and over 60% are sitting on the fence or wandering.
The response to the survey by a round table of stakeholders is hopeful and primarily focused on what makes young adults stay or return to church: positive parental modeling, a meaningful spiritual experience, openly addressing issues such as sexuality, and most importantly an authentic, inclusive, and nonjudgmental community of faith. The one issue that is highlighted in the research and that Penner mentioned in person is that “Acceptance of gays and lesbians in church is a watershed issue for Christian young adults.” It just so happens that our congregation, as part of Mennonite Church Canada, is in the midst of discussing and discerning this right now. This is a very personal issue so it has the potential to divide the church more than the “worship style wars” did a generation ago. How will we process this?