With this question we were challenged by Chris Curtis, the director of Youthscape, during the European Youth Ministry Network. A justified question to the youthleaders from various European countries. What is the situation in the Netherlands? Fortunately, a lot of research is done in the Netherlands, often by students. The OJKC regularly comes up with fascinating researches. There is even a Research & React day in which you are informed about current research. Yet I was again triggered by this question. Because the reason for most research is the completion of a study or promotion and based on your own affinity. And as far as I know there are not really longitudinal studies. There is no research center that has a overview about Christian youth work. In addition, we often miss the translation of scientific research into concrete practice in churches. To give an idea, I would like to share some of the research that was presented during the EYMN conference:
GenZ: Rethinking Culture
This study into Generation Z was conducted in November and December of 2016 among 11 -18 year-olds from England. Laura Hancock, research director at YFC England, presented this research, noting that the attendees did not know it was a research from YFC. Because it contains so many interesting figures, I limit myself here to a number of aspects from the summary.
Does God exist? Almost half of the young people do not believe in the existence of God. And it is more common not to think about God and spirituality.
Share faith? Even though most young people know friends who are Christian and they experience these Christians as positive, it does not mean that they want to know more about God.
Family valuable? The family is perceived as valuable by the young people and helps them to gain a positive self-esteem. The strongest motivation is that the young people want their families to be proud of them.
What concerns? The young people are most worried about their school (results) in addition to their appearance. Global issues among young people are war, terrorism and poverty.
No Questions Asked
The research presented by Chris Curtis of Youthscape focuses on young people aged 16-19 years in Luton, so can’t be copied to other young people. At the same time, the European youthleaders recognized a number of outcomes. The reason for the research was whether belief questions were changed among young people. But the big surprise was that there were no questions about God and faith at all, only at the end of the interviews. It seemed that the questions were buried under a thick layer of history. Why is it that young people no longer ask these questions about faith? The following points emerged from the interviews:
Disrespectful: If tolerance is an important value and discussing, asking questions about someone’s faith is experienced as ‘criticism’ or ‘attack’ then you do not ask questions. Questions about faith are seen by young people as not respectful; ‘I did not want to upset you’.
We’re all the same: Why do we have to ask questions about each other’s faith if it is all the same. Many young people see no differences, due to unfamiliarity with religions or a pluralistic conception of faith and sometimes because tolerance and acceptance is more important.
Beliefs are personal: Faith is private and personal and therefore not something to discuss or to ask questions about. That is why young people are not really used to talk about God or faith. Even in families between parents and children, there is hardly any talk about religion.
Religion is practical, not abstract: Young people do not have a well-defined dogmatic framework about faith, they experience faith as something practical, something of every day. Faith questions are therefore less relevant, it is about what you see of faith. It is striking that Christianity has few concrete expressions in comparison with Islam, such as fasting, clothing, prayer times etc.
Religion is not a big concern: Even though young people often think about their hopes and dreams for the future, religion is not really an issue. Faith and God is simply not something that you are very passionate about or that young people are concerned about.