Mullsjö market day and the gospelmullsjö outreach tent 2018.
One lady who visited the tent shortly after the market opened raised a good question concerning our gospel outreach work in Mullsjö. She was curious as to why we were doing this in the middle of a revival area which is known for its churches and mission work. Perhaps she thought of us as "preaching to the converted".
Her question immediately reminded me of the 1942 story of the fall of Singapore. It was considered by the British as an extremely important and well defended part of the empire, too tough for the Japanese, and all defences were pointing out to sea. No one could attempt a landing from the sea, and no one expected Japanese soldiers with bikes try to get through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula, to take the island via the causeway. There was a false sense of security, not defending the weak point much, assuming the enemy would never try to attack from that direction. Sometimes our strengths cause us to underestimate our weaknesses.
As can be seen in the survey results, from a Christian point of view Mullsjö has its strengths. There are still significant numbers of people with "faith" in Mullsjö, and not only does it have a revival history, it also hosts the annual Pentecostal week for the whole of Sweden which has been held here for over 100 years. There are Church activities for some of the young people, and a significant part of the population of the town consider themselves to be Christian. What can go wrong?
What do the two charts reveal about young people and the Bible?
The sample size is still rather small, but large enough to show a clear pattern. There is a familiarity with much of the Bible in the young people, as well as the general population (incluing visitors from outside). Clealry the gospel of John is the best known source of familiar verses to both groups, with John 3:16 being in the lead, but all the other verses selected for the test were recognised by around 25% of those giving an answer.
When comparing the faith identification of the two groups, there seems to be another story. Again, allowing for the small sample size, 50% of the young people had no identification with any faith group, not even atheist. Compare that to approximately 25% overall (which included these young people).
There seems to be a disinterest in matters of faith identification with our young people, even though many were familiar with the Bible verses. As young people, they have probably not resolved what they themselves believe.
One factor perhaps, is the difference between the ex-state church (Lutheran) and the free church understanding of salvation. Confirmation remains a strong ideal for many, with the confirmation classes available for every willing teenager around 14/15 years old, in contrast to the free church regular teaching of young people leading to a confession of faith and baptism. The issue is somewhat blurred in Sweden as many in the free churches also get confirmed.
When we compare the Bible reading habits there is another pattern. The young people don't read their Bibles as much as the general population of Mullsjö. Clearly, as shown earlier, if the young people don't even think about God, their interest in the Bible will be limited. As the young people are especially taken up with technolgy and social media, as well as other things, the place for spirituality seem to be getting pushed out.
Several young(ish) people, during the survey, said "I have never thought about that".
The young people's prayer habits are very similar to the general population despite their apparent lack of interest in the Bible.
The church/fellowship attendance shows a marked difference. Again, this may be due to the low sample size, but those never attending a church or Christian fellowship meeting seem relatively large for the young people.
In this survey, young people were defined as those up to 20 years old.
It was concluded by Bullivant that 75% of young people in Sweden professed no faith at all. Only 18% professed some kind of Christian faith. Our simple survey indicates 40% of our visitors pray often and another 30% pray sometimes - this indicates some kind of faith.
In Mullsjö, the question is clearly not about a loss of Christian faith, either in the young people or the general local population, but rather about the Christian faith itself. The personal prayer life seems to be more important than fellowship with other Christians, and much more important than reading the Bible.
As the forces thought Singapore was strong, and their weakness was exploited, so it can be that we see local Christian people with strong faith, but a declining interest in the Bible upon which that faith stands.
It may also be true that comitment to a regular place of worship and fellowship is in decline, whilst individual and personal faith remains strong.