The Bible calls the Church "the Body of Christ." Today, that body is bleeding profusely, says a Christian author and sought-out speaker.
"The next generation of believers is draining from the churches, and it causes me great personal and professional concern," said Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis and a Young Earth creationist.
Hoping to shed light on what he believes is a monumental problem, Ham enlisted the services of America's Research Group to study why young people were leaving. The results, published in Already Gone, will shake many churches to their very core, Ham states in the new book.
While previous surveys have shown that Christian students tend to quit church during their college years, the data collected by ARG found that most of them were already gone in middle school and high school.
According to ARG's survey, 95 percent of 20- to 29-year-old evangelicals attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. Only 55 percent went to church during high school. And by college, only 11 percent were still attending church.
"They're sitting in our churches right now ... and they're already gone," Ham said during a "State of the Nation" address last week.
Delving deeper into some of the reasons for the exodus, the research group found that nearly 40 percent of the surveyed twentysomethings first had doubts about the Bible in middle school. Another 43.7 percent said they first doubted that all of the accounts and stories in the Bible are true during their high school years. Only around 10 percent said they first became doubtful about the Bible accounts during college.
Among those who said they do not believe all the biblical accounts are true, the top reasons they gave for doubting the scriptures were: "it was written by men" (24 percent), "it was not translated correctly" (18 percent), "the Bible contradicts itself" (15 percent), and "science shows the world is old" (14 percent).
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In an even more alarming finding, attending Sunday school proved to be of no help in strengthening a young person's faith. In fact, the survey revealed that Sunday school is actually more likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of children.
Recognizing that such data may not sit well with many Christians, Ham encouraged believers to consider the research before reacting.
He stressed, "We're not advocating getting rid of Sunday schools." Instead, we're advocating a revolution of them, he added.
Sixty-one percent of the surveyed young adults said they attended Sunday school while 39 percent said they didn't. When comparing the two groups, the survey revealed that those who attended Sunday school are actually more likely: not to believe that all the accounts and stories in the Bible are true, to doubt the Bible because it was written by men, to defend keeping abortion legal, to accept the legalization of gay marriage, to believe in evolution, and to believe that good people don't need to go to church.
Part of the problem, Ham pointed out, is the curriculum. While Sunday school teachers teach "Bible stories," children are left to learn biology, anthropology, geology, astronomy and other science courses at public schools.
By merely calling it Bible "stories," churches end up communicating the biblical accounts as "fairytales" rather than history, Ham noted.
"To them, the Bible is not real," he said. "In churches we're teaching moral things, spiritual things, relationships, doctrine ... [but] we're not teaching those earthly things. We gave that up to the world."
"Who said that's not for the Church?" the Young Earth creationist asked, noting that the Bible deals with geology, biology and other sciences.
"We gave it up because we didn't know how to deal with it and now we're losing generations," he said.
Ham – whose Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., displays dinosaurs next to humans – finds many pastors and Sunday school teachers teaching what he believes are compromised positions, informing youths that they can believe in evolution and that the age of the earth is millions or billions of years, rather than 6,000 years, while still believing in Jesus.
But by being taught such views, students begin to question the first book of the Bible, particularly the creation account. Later they find themselves not trusting the entirety of the Bible and its authority.
"If we teach our children (or anyone) to take God's Word as written concerning the Resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, and the account of Jonah and the great fish ... but then tell them we don't need to take Genesis as written but can reinterpret it on the basis of the world's teaching about millions of years and evolution – we have unlocked a door," Ham wrote in his book.
That door is the door to undermining biblical authority.
"When we undermine the word of God, the next generation undermines it more and more," Ham said.
The foundation of biblical authority and God's word is crumbling in America while human reasoning and man's word is being held high.
There's a spiritual problem in America, Ham said, and sadly it is Christians who have dropped the ball and allowed moral relativism and secular worldview to rise.
Churches have failed to raise the younger generation on the authority of God's word and to teach them how to defend their faith or give answers to secular attacks, Ham said.
"We let them (secular humanists) take generations of our kids and give them a different foundation," he lamented.
Christians have an epidemic on their hands and what they need now is a "complete renovation," not a mere remodel, Ham stressed.
It's time to call the Church back to the authority of the Word of God. And for the Young Earth creationist, that call begins with Genesis.