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In response to alarming statistics about Canadian young adults leaving the Christian faith, Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, hosted a sold-out panel discussion to help local congregations face this issue with hope and encouragement.

Panelists Peter Schuurman, Dwayne Cline, and Natalie Frisk.

According to statistics from a report entitled “Hemorrhaging Faith” published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church regularly as a child still attends church today. Of the non-attenders, the most dramatic increase was in the category of “no faith at all.”

Four primary factors that keep young adults from engaging with the church were identified: hypocrisy, judgment, exclusivity, and the youth’s own personal failures.

Syd Hielema, campus chaplain at Redeemer, said that the state of youth is an early predictor of the state of the church. He believes the study is a landmark that has “unearthed rich insights concerning the faith and church lives of teens and young adults, and has also offered suggestions for both church communities and parents in strengthening their discipling of [this age group].”

Panelists Dwayne Cline, a senior pastor from a local Baptist church, Natalie Frisk, a youth pastor with the Meeting House congregation in Oakville, and Peter Schuurman, an instructor in Redeemer’s Youth Ministry program, shared an overview of the study and offered their own personal observations and insights on these issues and their potential impact on the church.

“The [study] results were a wake-up call to me to be more intentional during the transitional stage of the junior high age group,” Frisk admitted.

“The default position [of being Christian] in our Canadian culture has shifted,” commented Schuurman.

Questions from the audience were heartfelt and emotional, raising many passionate concerns about where the youth who leave the church are going; the role of the family, parents, and the retired generation; the leading of the Holy Spirit; and the effects of majority culture inside and outside the church.

Joel Sypkes, 19, thought the evening was a great step in the right direction. “It was interesting to hear a wide variety of age groups all discussing such an important topic,” he said.

The study emphasized several key areas where parents and churches can make a difference, citing parents’ own religious and faith practices as the number-one predictor, and identifying the importance of youth pastor relationships, mentorship programs, and integration into the life of the congregation. The study offered several discussion questions and suggestions for churches to review their practices.

Gary Van Arragon of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Guelph, Ontario, believes that it’s more than an issue of keeping young people connected to their faith/church.

“We have to get this intergenerational thing figured out,” he stressed. “It’s an issue of thinking about church differently for all generations. . . . We all need to see the church not as something we do but as something we are a part of.”

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