So I stumbled upon a Rod Dreher article at Beliefnet, “The Church’s Lost Generation” (and by “Church” he means generic Christians). It is clear from General Conference themes that senior LDS leaders are now aware (finally) of our youth retention problem and the broader faith versus doubt problem that seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. Dreher makes it clear we are not the only ones worried about the problem. Everyone is losing their youth, it seems.
Here is his first paragraph.
In March, I traveled around the country to give speeches at three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:
These kids know almost nothing about their faith.
Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said.
This isn’t really breaking news. Christian Smith’s 2005 book Soul Searching (cited by name by President Hinckley in Conference, no less) made the case almost ten years ago, including favorable mention of young LDS students as more religious and better informed about their religion’s beliefs than other Christian youth. [See earlier posts here, here, and here.] But it’s still a problem, even if others have it worse.
So here’s the question: Is anything working out there? Here are some changes the Church has made or is making to strengthen the faith of LDS youth and avoid losing them.
- Sending young LDS on missions earlier, at age 18 (men) and 19 (women).
- Changing the Sunday youth curriculum to focus on particular themes for an entire month and to get them more involved in teaching and learning.
- Changing the seminary curriculum (starting with the new manuals this year) to give coverage to “faith issues” like multiple accounts of the First Vision, polygamy, and Mountain Meadows.
- The new essays at Gospel Topics at LDS.org, covering the same basket of faith issues. These were recently highlighted as a resource in a letter to local leaders, but again no mention of the essays in General Conference.
Any feedback on what is working or not working? Anything I have missed?