Kenda Creasy Dean: Youth and the Church

Date Posted: 6/13/2013

Kenda Creasy Dean, a United Methodist pastor and professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary wowed the delegates with her reflections of how churches today are serving or not serving our youth. She reported that research indicates that most youth ministry work is not helping young people see God working in their lives or seeing themselves as God sees them. It reveals that most of church youth ministry work is dedicated to replicating “what we’ve always done.”


She outlined the National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal study involving interviews of the same youth at five year intervals. The study reveals the following five points:

1.   Teens are not hostile to religion. They are just benignly positive – it’s a nice thing but they really don’t care about it.

2.   Teens mirror their parents’ faith.

3.   They are incredibly inarticulate about religion – young people don’t seem to have the words to use to talk about religion - especially about Jesus.

4.   Only 2 out of 5 teens feel that religion is important and only 8% were highly devoted (weekly church attendance, regular prayer and reading the Bible on their own).

5.   Most thought religion wasn’t important, that it just doesn’t matter.

Findings determined that these youth have a common creed called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which means religion helps you be nice, feel good and “otherwise God stays out of the way.” Moralistic Therapeutic Deism includes these five components: 

·         God exists

·         God wants people to be good and nice to each other

·         Central goal of life is to be happy

·         God doesn’t need to be involved unless I have a problem

·         Good people like good dogs go to heaven

MTD is focused on the “me.” Reverend Dean noted the problem stems from many churches and parents modeling this creed so it’s not accurate to blame youth for creating it. “MTD is now the dominate religion in our country,” states Kendra. “It has supplanted Christianity in many churches.”

Her presentation included many opportunities for the audience to talk with each other about their own churches and how their churches are responding to the challenges of creating disciples of Christ among their youth today. She challenged delegates to translate faith to a young person – to share the love of God – not just the information about faith – but the comfort and peace that faith brings to their lives.

Rev. Dean called for leaders who love God enough so that it is contagious. She declared the need for leaders who personalize their mission as God’s mission, leaders who focus their whole lives on loving others because God loves others. “What makes us a church is who we love and that is what young people need to see from us,” implored Rev. Dean.

View videos of Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean’s presentation. (Due to a technical difficulty, session three is unavailable online. We will post it at a later date.)