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1. Absent Minded

What it is: Data from the American Enterprise Institute found that during the 2022-2023 school year, 26% of students met the definition of “chronically absent,” meaning they missed ten percent or more of the school year.
Who it impacts: The AEI data shows a 75% jump in chronic absenteeism from pre-pandemic baseline attendance rates. This trend of chronic absenteeism has educators worried that middle and high schoolers nationwide are disengaged from the learning process. This increase in student absences is hitting schools in high poverty districts the hardest, but it’s happening everywhere. It’s possible that COVID school closures made school feel more optional, reordering the way that students, and their families, see in-person class time on their list of priorities. It’s also possible that these absentee rates are related to the spike in behavioral problems educators have observed since 2021.
Continue the conversation: Does attending school or other learning events in person feel less important than it used to feel?

2. Empty Pews

What it is: Declines in church attendance are having an impact on society at large—and even atheists and agnostics are acknowledging it.
Why it’s becoming a larger conversation: “No faith’s evangelism has been as successful in this century as religious skepticism,” writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. He comes to this conclusion after the latest Public Religion Research Institute study found that the only major religious group experiencing growth are the “nones,” or people with no affiliation. This could have far-reaching societal consequences because people who identify as “no faith in particular” are less likely to be civically engaged, less likely to volunteer, more likely to be dissatisfied with their social life, and more likely to say they are lonely. Loneliness has woven itself through a society where isolation is the norm, and looking at our smartphones has become a ritual akin to saying a prayer—so what now? Thompson writes, “It took decades for Americans to lose religion. It might take decades to understand the entirety of what we lost.”
Continue the conversation: What is church for? Can anything else replace what church does?

3. Meet the Baxters

What it is: An adaptation of a wildly popular Christian novel series has hit Amazon Prime—but reviews of the series are mixed.
Why it feels familiar: If “Parenthood” was rebooted with the writer’s room of “Touched by an Angel” running the show you’d get “The Baxters,” a television series based on Karen Kingsbury’s bestsellers. At the show’s heart is Roma Downey (of “Touched by an Angel” fame), who executive produces and stars as the Baxters’ long-suffering matriarch. The Baxters are presented as a family with a strong Christian identity—they pray often onscreen, and they speak almost constantly about how their faith influences their decisions. But that doesn’t mean the material is squeaky clean—real-world issues like infidelity, gun violence, miscarriage, and a murder propel the plot. The first ten episodes, for example, revolve around young Kari Baxter’s discovery that her husband is having an affair and her struggle to fight for her marriage in the aftermath. “The Baxters” paints a picture of imperfect people facing modern moral dilemmas, but parents should know that its themes won’t be appropriate for, or appreciated by, every audience.
Continue the conversation: What would a good “Christian” show look like?

Song/Slang/Resource of the Week

“II MOST WANTED” by Beyoncé ft. Miley Cyrus: Beyoncé’s newest album, aptly titled “COWBOY CARTER,” has been out for a week, and it seems like audiences and critics both love her first full-length country record. Notable songs include a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and our song of the week this week, “II MOST WANTED.” The duet with Miley Cyrus is about loyalty, dedication, and a love that lasts “‘Til the day I die.” It seems Beyoncé once again took inspiration from the tragic but often romanticized story of Bonnie and Clyde. The song feels like a more classic take on country with banjo, a little fiddle, and emphasis on harmonized vocals.  For the full lyrics, click here.

Why Parents Are the #1 Influence On Their Teens

Dr. Christopher Smith and Dr. Amy Adamczyk, two premier sociologists of religion in the West, have studied the evidence and come to a powerful conclusion about the role that parents play in the faith of the rising generation.

In their book “Handing Down the Faith,” Smith and Adamczyk write:

The good news is that, among all possible influences, parents exert far and away the greatest influence on their children’s religious outcomes. Stated differently, the bad news is that nearly all human responsibility for the religious trajectories of children’s lives falls on their parents’ shoulders. The empirical evidence is clear. In almost every case, no other institution or program comes close to shaping youth religiously as their parents do—not religious congregations, youth groups, faith-based schools, missions and service trips, summer camps, Sunday school, youth ministers, or anything else. Those influences can reinforce the influence of parents, but almost never do they surpass or override it. 

This week, we had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Amy Adamczyk on our Culture Translator podcast about these findings and more. One of our big questions was about why exactly parents have a bigger impact on their teens’ faith than all these other individuals and groups—and in her answer, she pointed to the power of everyday conversation about faith. Research for the book found that this made even more of an impact than modeling the importance of faith practices in our own life, or taking the family to church.

When we asked about what makes for a significant faith conversation, she highlighted the importance of being willing to engage with whatever topics our teens bring up, no matter how unimportant or morbid they might seem to us at first.

We hope you’ll take the time to listen to the full interview, available on our Culture Translator podcast. In the meantime, here are three questions to help spark conversation with your teens:

  • What’s one thing about Christianity that’s always seemed weird to you?
  • What’s one question you have about my relationship with God?
  • If you could ask God any one question, what would it be?