This year, my adult leaders and I are reading and discussing Sticky Faith together. At our first meeting, we wrestled with the chapter on the Sticky Gospel. As part of this, I asked leaders to share their reaction to how teens defined what it means to be a Christian.
According to Sticky Faith, “Of the 168 youth group graduates who answered our question, 35 percent gave an answer that didn’t mention Jesus at all. Granted, two-thirds of those kids who didn’t mention Jesus mentioned God, but the number of youth who define Christianity without any reference to Jesus remains disturbing.”
In response to this finding, my leaders said, “I’m not surprised. Of course kids didn’t mention Jesus in their definition of Christianity. Jesus is understood.”
As they said this, something clicked for me.
How often do those of us with well-formed faith – parents, church workers, adult leaders, and fellow Christians – assume that Jesus is simply an understood part of the Christian faith?
Maybe that assumption is part of the problem itself.
Here’s what I mean. During a year-long research project I surveyed 369 high school students from across the country who were active in their congregation’s youth ministry. One of the questions I asked them was Is it possible to be a Christian and not believe in Jesus?
58% of the students I surveyed either said it was possible to be a Christian without believing in Jesus or that they didn’t know if you could be.
Given this, I think it’s safe to say Jesus is not an understood part of the Christian faith.
Instead, to many of today’s teens, Jesus is actually a missing part of the Christian faith.
This is catastrophic – to our churches, our teens, and the world around us.
Since Christ Jesus himself is “the cornerstone,” a church without Jesus is, quite simply, no longer a church (Ephesians 2:20). It’s nothing more than a community center that’s a wonderful place for good people to meet. Since “the wages of sin is death”, without Jesus, there would be no salvation, no hope of eternal life; there would only be our impending death (Romans 6:23). Beyond that, without Jesus, there would be no “abundant” life in the here and now; there would only be the indulgent life (John 10:10 NKJV). Without Jesus, as individuals and communities, we’d lack identity. Rather than define ourselves according to whose we are, we’d only be able to define ourselves according to what we do.
Such a picture of life, faith, and church is, at least to me, dismal.
So let’s stop assuming Jesus is an understood part of the Christian faith and instead take steps to help teens in our ministries understand that Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith…And hopefully of their lives as well.
For more on this research as well as practical ideas on how to help strengthen what teens believe about Jesus, get your copy of Jen’s new book, The Jesus Gap, today.