Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Already Gone: A Review and More

I'll warn you now that this post is going to ramble, and is not going to be the standard book review. Already Gone is written by a fundamentalist Protestant. He looks at why children raised in "Bible Believing" churches leave, and what can be done both to keep them from leaving and to woo back those who left.

I'm Catholic and one topic often discussed on Catholic blogs is why children leave the Church and what we can do to bring them back. Those on the conservative side of the spectrum generally say that the problem is that these children were never taught about the faith. They complain about weak religious education programs and/or teachers who don't support the Church's teachings. They say that many parishes have lost a sense of the sacred and propose more formality (and better dress) at mass and a return to the use of Latin at mass. They criticize the praise and worship music often used at teen masses and encourage the use of the organ and Gregorian chant. Those on the liberal end say that we need to encourage more liturgical involvement by teens and young adults. Our masses need to be more welcoming. Music needs to be more modern and the Church needs to be more open to the lifestyles of its people. As a middle-of-road parent I am left wonder WHAT I can do to keep my kids in the Church. When this book was offered by First Wildcard, I thought it would be interesting to see what the neighbors had to say about what is evidently a common problem.

For this book, the authors surveyed 1000 young adults who had been raised in what they term "Bible-believing" churches, but who did not currently attend church. They tried to determine how these young adults were alike and different, why they no longer attend church, and if they plan to return. The author's litmus test for "Bible-believing" appeared to be whether the church taught the literal truth of Genesis. He came to the conclusion that these kids were leaving their churches in their minds and hearts long before college. Kids who attended Sunday School regularly were less likely than those who didn't to answer questions such as whether they believed in evolution or whether abortion should be legal in the manner the author considered correct. The survey found that 38% of these unchurched young adults planned to return when they had kids.

The basic conclusions of the authors are that children need to be taught the literal truth of the Bible, especially of Genesis, and that they need to be taught apologetics so they can intellegently refute the messages they are getting at school and in other places that promote evolution. Further, they state that parents can't depend on Sunday Schools to pass on the faith--they have to do it. Interestingly they found it made no difference whether the kids attended public school, private schools or were homeschooled. They say that pastors have to firmly preach about Genesis and make preaching the Word the center of their services (rather than music as is now the fashion in some circles).

I don't claim any great expertise nor have I done the research these folks have done. To me, it seems that part of what they are saying makes sense--if kids aren't taught the truth (however you define "truth") there is little reason to stay with a church that claims to have it, especially if that church's teachings are unpopular in the culture (like the authors' beliefs in the literal truth of Genesis or the Catholic teachings on sexuality). If a church is little more than a neighborhood social club there is little reason IMO to make attendance a priority. On the other hand, this book studied a very distinct set of people--those raised in a particular type of church who now no longer attend any church. I'd be curious how the data would look if you surveyed 1000 random young adults who are not now regular churchgoers. What is their background as far as churchgoing? Are certain denominations or styles of churches that do a better (or worse) job of retaining their youth? Are there certain denominations or styles of churches that tend to make churchgoers out of their youth--but whose youth often choose other types of churches?

The book was interesting, though from my perspective, too much time was spent discussing the necessity of a literal view of Genesis and why it is important. For the record, I do not believe much of Genesis is literally, historically true.

First Wildcard will tour this book October 15. Check back then to read the first chapter.


  1. I guess I'm somewhat in the middle as well. I am not one for praise and worship music at Mass but I am also not a fan of the Latin Mass. I wish kids would dress nicer but by that I mean without holes or stains, with skirts that come closer to the knee than the buttocks and I don't want to see cleavage - if I can see it from my place in the congregation, just think how much the Eucharistic minister is seeing :( (and that dress goes for adults as well).
    I think teaching children the Truth is important... wishy washy faith doesn't work

  2. I agree that it is all about teaching the truth...and of course I am a Catholic so I may be prejudice ;-) but I will put the intellectual heritage and tradition of the Catholic Church against ANY the world has ever known.

    Man people, including many Catholics, have no real knowledge of that sadly.

  3. This sounds like an interesting read. But...since I am Catholic, I think I would be reading the book and comparing the experiences to ones as a Catholic parent.


  4. As a Lutheran this book probably would have a lot of the same problems that is does for Catholics. Having been the wife of a Catholic husband for almost 27 years, a mother of a 25 year old son raised/confirmed Catholic and having worked with/for a couple of Catholic chaplains I have a couple of observations.

    The first as, Caite said, many Catholics know little about what they believe and the history of their church. They also do very little to correct this problem. I have met many Catholics who have never actually read from a Bible (only the readings in the missal). a Catechism, or a history of the church. To keep the kids interested you have to get the adults interested. Adults need to participate in apologetics and bible study (maybe parents should be required to attend in the last couple of years before their kids are confirmed). Even something as small as discussing the reading or the homily at Sunday/Saturday family dinner could help.

    I am also reminded that the bishop at my nephew's confirmation made the parent's vow that they would do their best to attend with there child after confirmation (instead of do as I say not as I do). Parents in all faiths I think have a tendency to say we've gotten them this far now they are own their own. (Even ask them about church when they call, email, or text you after they move out of the house.

    It might also be beneficial to teach kids more about the other faiths (Christian and otherwise) that they will coming in greater contact in high school and after so they understand differences and can explain at least some of the questions they might be asked. Participation in church ministries should also be encouraged. A good book for questions is "Ask the Bible Geek: Answers to Questions from Catholic Teens " by Mark Hart.

    The book "Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development" by James W Fowler is also useful to understanding why many people go through leaving and returning to a faith.

    There are also several good Catholic Bible study programs designed to help the student learn how to read the whole Bible (with maps and time lines) laws, history, and gospels. One of these is "A Quick Journey Through the Bible " by Jeff Cavins. My husband did this one during Lent 2009.

    I guess I better not forget the Pope Benedict's book about the early church father's.

    All the books mentioned are available through Amazon.

    That's all from me for the moment.


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