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Sep 13

Sound Bite Problems… Even in Christian Media

Sound bite problems in Christian Media
I have commented a few times on what helps teens stay active in their faith. About 2 weeks ago, Catholic News Agency contacted me to interview for a story they were doing on a recent CARA study on the how many kids leave the Church. I later got a Google alert that I was mentioned on Christianity Today (yes, I have Google Alerts set up to know what’s being said about me). When I got the the story I was rather disapointed in how reducing me to a sound bite, they lost the meaning of what I said.

I spoke with CNA for about 20 minutes and I think Matt Hadro accurately represented what I said. Here’s part of the section on me (I also commented on faith & science). The article is here.

How can parents raise their children to stay in the faith? Fr. Schneider cited research by Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, who concluded that a combination of three factors produces an 80 percent retention rate among young Catholics.

If they have a “weekly activity” like catechesis, Bible study or youth group; if they have adults at the parish who are not their parents and who they can talk to about the faith; and if they have “deep spiritual experiences,” they have a much higher likelihood of remaining Catholic, Fr. Schneider said.

This mirrors an earlier blog of mine called 3 Things that Almost Guarantee Teens Stay Catholic which I know I was consciously remembering when talking to Matt Hadro. (I put numerous ellipses to shorten it).

Christian Smith is a leading sociologist on the sociology of religion: he did a study of over 2000 young adults in their teen years on the religiosity and then followed up with them while they were in their 20s…. the end of the book, he talks about how different combination of factors can come together to ensure that Catholic teens are active Catholics (for him, this basically means attending mass weekly, although I would hope that a truly active Catholic would do more). There are only seven possible paths that lead to more than 50% of the teens remaining active Catholics as adults – and some of these require 4 or 5 factors to come together. Of the seven paths one stands out for two reasons: it produces an 80% success rate at having active Catholic adults and all three of the factors are things that we can create the environment where there almost definitely going to happen.

The first factor is a teen attends Sunday school. We have to remember that Christian Smith is a sociologist of religion goes beyond the Catholic Church – as most Catholics don’t have “Sunday school” but rather either CCD and/or some form of youth ministry…

The second factor is teen had many religious experiences. We can never create a religious experience but if we provide a wide plethora of retreats, adoration, service to the poor, evangelization opportunities, and other spiritual opportunities the probability that a teen will have a subjective religious experience is very high…

The last factor is: teen has many adults in religious congregation to turn to for help and support. In simple terms this means that teens can talk adults other than their parents about their faith…

So this was picked up by Christianity Today who decided to reduce my comments to a sound bite:

Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC, who worked in youth ministry for four years, meanwhile challenged the parents of today to help their children keep the faith.

Fr. Schneider suggested parents facilitate a “weekly activity” for the kids like catechesis, Bible study or youth group. He added that parents should become more aware of their children’s faith.

Is that what I said? To me, it seems like they reduced my comments to empty platitudes. Of course any reader of a Christian publication should be encouraged to help their children and be aware of their faith… that’s so obvious, it barely needs to be said. And nothing of Christian Smith’s research makes a “weekly activity” particularly transformative for teens’ faith in isolation, only with the other two factors: I’d still encourage it but their are several other more powerful factors in isolation.