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Is Your Group Atheist-friendly?

 —  September 4, 2013 — 7 Comments

Hi Insiders! We have an incredible post for you today from the one and only Katie Sutton! I hope you enjoy and find it helpful to your ministry!


katie-sutton BY KATIE SUTTON


Recently, the Fixed Point Foundation published some interesting research compiled while polling college-aged atheists.  Many of these atheists reported having been church attendees during the time they made the choice to live without God. In Christian circles, we like to blame college professors for turning our kids away from God, but the students in this research said that they became atheists between the ages of 12 and 17. The finger points accusingly back to us as youth workers. Could these kids have been at our church or in our student ministry when they turned away from God?

I personally have noticed an increase in students who claim to be atheist and agnostic in our Bible studies. Whether it’s a parent forcing them to come, a friend bringing them in, or pure curiosity drawing them here, I’ve determined to take every opportunity as a divine appointment to give those students a smooth path for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.

Some ways to make your group atheist-friendly:

  • Let them ask “Why?” Allow a place in your student ministry to ask questions. Make at least one of your forums a place for students to speak back to you. Preaching-only ministries will not attract or keep atheists. They need to be able to question you about your beliefs.
  • Make your ministry a safe place to dialogue. Keep public mockery to a minimum! Don’t ever let anyone get the impression that there’s a dumb question when it comes to Christianity. Allow all opinions an expression without apologizing for the Truth. Avoid combativeness, but challenge opinions passionately and freely.
  • Admit when a question can only be answered by faith. Don’t try to prove something that only God can prove. Personal testimony is sometimes the only right answer.
  • Make faith stories an important part of your ministry. Students want to know that Christianity “works.” Often, the only things a student will remember are the stories you tell them. Tell them why you believe what you believe and how it affects your life. Give your student workers an opportunity to do the same. Atheists need to know there ARE success stories.

As a youth worker, I find it jarring that we may have missed the opportunity to reach a student while he or she sat in the midst of our churches and student ministries. Now that we know, what are we going to do about it?

– Katie


Keep loving every student that you encounter well! You guys rock.

~ Amber


Amber Cassady

Amber Cassady

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Marketer for Simply Youth Ministry and Group Mission Trips. College-aged girls small group leader. Coffee lover. Fan of skiing and hiking as much as she can!

7 responses to Is Your Group Atheist-friendly?

  1. Thank you.This is spot on. We need to do more listening and opening the space for questions. It means remember that the young people are the center of our youth ministry and not us.

  2. Fantastic Article! Thank you for the encouragement! We have been in a series about truth, and it was just an incredible encouragement to hear that there are other ministries that struggle with finding that balance! Good stuff. If we truly believe that what we believe is truth, no question should scare us… :) Thanks Katie!

  3. Interesting take. I wouldn’t say I disagree in practice. However, I don’t make any effort to be “atheist friendly”. I want to be “people friendly”, while at the same time teaching what I believe to be Bible truth. Atheists, including kids, are often looking for that one bad example who will give them a reason to not believe. While we need to strive to avoid being bad examples, it can happen to the best of us. Kids will leave and blame the church. We need to see through this. They were looking for reasons to not believe all along. Why do so many other kids choose to keep believing and coming to church? Love people, pray for them, and boldly proclaim the truth. If this is a turn off then there is nothing else we can do for those people.

  4. I am posting this on behalf of my friend, Drena (with permission)….a parent of a teenager in one of our churches. She shared this on my FB wall after reading Katie’s article.

    –There aren’t enough likes in the world for this!!!
    I went to church with my grandmother up until I was about 10-12ish. I loved church~even though it was filled with old people and TONS of peppermints BUT…looking back…some of my darkest moments were centered around church and lack of conversations. I told my Sunday school teacher that I wanted to have Jesus and be baptized. The preacher came over after dinner one night (possibly a Tuesday~~bwahahaha) and talked with me. I am not really sure what I said wrong but I remember him telling me I was not ready to accept Jesus…So I went to my room. I listened AKA eavesdropped, and over heard him say I wasn’t ready to be baptized either. That meant for me, God didn’t want me I grew up with “Christian” parents who couldn’t talk with me because they were never prepared to give an answer. I think I went to church after that occasionally because I was made to but, I was such an angry kid by then. I denounced God, and when I went to church on occasion, I would want to have conversations. They never took place. I was a declaring atheist till I was 30. I will never forget the day that Jesus reminded me that He was always there with me, even on that day I thought He didn’t want me. Still brings me to tears.
    I know that is a whole lot but I tell ya….I love everything in this article. Every soul matters.– -Drena Gaydon

  5. This is a brilliant post. I would never think that this would be how we approach this. I am so enlightened.

  6. The best ones to ask why kids leave their faith are the atheist kids themselves. I’m sure they’ll be honest because I’m one of them. I think you’ll find that it’s not you, it’s not about personal crisis or ill mannered approaches at conversion. It’s the Christian belief system itself that so many youth find irrational and untenable. It’s also fair to say that many (including myself) never really bought into the faith from the get go. But when you are raised in a strong Christian home and community you tend to go along for the ride since you are dependent on your parents and school for your fundamental needs. You can google reactions by parents when their kids “come out” as atheist, and it’s often not pretty. Sometimes it’s best not to rock the boat.

    We also no longer live in monotheistic cocoons like in the past. The internet and the information age have allowed us to access a huge range of divergent ideas about religion. There are many other religions proclaiming “the truth” as fervently as Christianity does. In addition you’ll find all sorts of rebuttals and counter arguments to Christian claims. There’s a popular meme going around: “the internet is where religion comes to die”. I think this highlights a trend in thinking that places far greater value on skepticism than on faith. No where is that more evident than in today’s connected youth generation.

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