A Time-Tested Way to Reach Youth and Children
The statistics about the faith of American teens and young adults are grim. When Christians enter college, nearly 70% of them will walk away from the faith. Atheism has doubled among Generation Z as well. Why? Of course, there are a number of reasons, some of which are unexplainable. However, when you dig into surveys of American teens, two common trends emerge.
First, teens and young adults are unsure about what they believe. In a 2015 survey, 56% of Christian millennials said that Jesus sinned while living on earth, and nearly half said that there are alternative ways to heaven apart from Jesus. Both of these beliefs are counter to Scripture and suggest deep uncertainty about the core teachings of Christianity.
The second trend among American youth is an inability to communicate why they believe in Christianity. They haven’t had the space to ask serious questions about why Christianity is intellectually satisfying and experientially fulfilling. As a result, they’re not able to withstand the scrutiny that early adulthood puts on their faith. It’s no wonder then that many students walk away from their faith in the early years of college.
The Value of Catechism
So how do we reach youth with the message of Christianity? How do we capture them with the gospel before they’re put under the social and intellectual stress of college and young adulthood?
One time-tested and effective method is catechism—a summary of the basics of Christianity in a question-and-answer format. Tim Keller points out the value of catechism in teaching the faith:
“Modern discipleship programs concentrate on practices such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism and can at times be superficial when it comes to doctrine. In contrast … catechism takes students through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology, practical ethics, and spiritual experience.”
In other words, catechism seeks to give students honest answers to questions about what Christianity teaches by guiding them through fundamental summaries of the Bible.
Beyond that, the practice of question-and-answer recitation brings parents and children, teachers and students, into a naturally interactive conversation. In my home, we’ve been going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a 17th Century Presbyterian catechism. I’m always amazed at how a simple question can spark more questions in the minds of my kids! Questions like, “Dad, how do we know the Bible is true?” or “Mom, how is God one, but three persons?” or “How can a good God send people to hell?” This practice helps children talk about the faith and go beyond simply what Christianity teaches. It invites conversation and challenges parents and kids to also explore why we believe.
A Common Objection
Someone may ask, “But is catechism the best way to help children know and believe the faith? After all, catechism seems dry and boring.” As a pastor, I hear this question on a regular basis. What we must realize, though, is that we’re being catechized whether we know it or not. For example, the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Or, in more common language, “What gives your life meaning and purpose?” Our culture gives us many answers to that question. Social media tells us that “likes” and “influence” give our lives meaning and purpose. Advertisements tell us that buying new products and consuming more goods will give us meaning and purpose. Television catechizes us to believe that popularity, fame, and wealth will give us meaning and purpose. Magazines catechize us into believing that a 16-year-old body will give us meaning and purpose.
So, is catechism the best way to help children know what they believe and why they believe it? While it’s not the only way, it’s a trusted and time-tested way. Catechism was the most trusted method the church used for educating youth and students for hundreds of years. And in a time where biblical literacy is so low and biblical knowledge is so limited, it might be worth looking back to what has worked, rather than seeking something new and untested.
Where Should I Start?
If catechism is new to you or your family, I suggest using a historically-trusted catechism, like the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. There are modern translations available and many devotionals and study tools to help you walk with your children through these questions and answers. Wherever you start, I’m confident that you will find catechism to be a helpful, time-tested, and exciting practice that will grow you and your family spiritually!