Have you ever wondered why people make the decisions that they do? Have you ever stepped back and looked at your own life, and thought, what in the world am I doing? What makes some people sever their relationship with God and the church, while others can overcome obstacles and keep going? As I was getting ready for our Nexus conference this year, I was mulling over these questions. We know one of the biggest challenges that we are facing in young adult ministry is that many are making the decision to leave the church, but why? I think the first step is understanding how decisions get made.
In the study of the psychology of young adults, there is one group that has spent more money than any other when it comes to determining how young adults make decisions. That group would be advertisers! Some of the most defining studies in the field of young adult psychology were done in order to figure out how people born between 1977 and 1994 spend their money.
One day I happened upon one of these studies. And as I perused it I realized that the findings not only applied to simple market consumerism, but they applied to all decisions. Whether it’s deciding to buy a pair of shoes or to get married, there is a cost to every decision that we make. Luke chapter 14 reveals one of Jesus’ famous lines, “Count the cost”.
Luke 14:28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate.
Every decision requires a payment. If you decided to go out to eat for lunch, you have to pay for it. If you decide to go back to school not only is there the monetary cost, but there is also your time and effort that has to be considered. Ending a relationship may give you more freedom but there will be other forms of payment that will be required of you.
Psychologists determined that there are eight basic styles of decision making in young adults:
1. Perfectionist, high quality conscious consumer
2. Brand conscious consumer
3. Novelty-fashion conscious consumer
4. Recreational and hedonistic shopping consciousness
5. Price conscious consumer
6. Impulsive, careless consumer
7. Confused by over choice consumer
8. Habitual, brand loyal consumer
For my purposes, I took these eight decision making styles and I changed the definitions to reflect more than just material consumption. This is what I came up with.
This group is willing to pay a high price in order to obtain the highest quality out of life. Their quest is quality. We might consider them type-A personalities. These are the students that will sacrifice a social life in order to get the best grades, so that they can get into the best grad school. They get what they want out of life, but it does cost them greatly.
I like to refer to this group as image conscious. In the consumer context, they will only buy name brand items because they feel that it is important to have that brand name in order to project a specific image. This group is the most influenced by advertising. People in this group are careful to make decisions that only let others see what they want them to see. This is an unfair negative criticism of a lot of Pentecostals. The problem with this group is that although they are willing to pay a high price, they are not necessarily buying quality. They believe that a brand equals quality, but sometimes a brand is just a name.
This group desires to be different and cutting edge. They want to wear the latest fashion before anyone else. They get pleasure from being different than the status quo. Young adults in this group thrive in the margins. They have to be different, and it makes them happy when they are recognized for their eccentricities. This group often pays a very high price, but the quality of their decisions fluctuates greatly.
Consumers in this group shop for the fun of it. They enjoy the hunt. For them, life is a quest for fun. Their decisions are based on what is going to bring them the most enjoyment. For this group price and quality aren’t even issues, as long as the end result is entertainment.
Price conscious consumers are defined by one question, “Is it worth it?.” Their desire is to get the most bang for their buck. They will consider the cost for a long time before making that final decision. Because they are more concerned with value than quality, they will be content with settling for lower quality if the price is right. Someone in this group might make the statement, “I’d like a college degree, but I don’t want to spend four years of my life to get it.”
These consumers do not plan their shopping at all. They make decisions solely based on what is in front of them at the time. This group is less concerned about price than any other, and as a result their decisions often cost them greatly. Someone in this group might suddenly decide they don’t like their job, and quit on the spot without another job lined up. This decision costs them a lot, and doesn’t bring much quality into their life. There is often much regret in this group.
This group has the desire to make good decisions, but they see so many options that they freeze. They have difficulty choosing, so they put off decisions in hopes that things will just work out. They are afraid that if they make a decision it will be the wrong one, so they just never decide.
Habitual shoppers buy the same products at the same stores, and very rarely vary their routine. They are happy with the way their life is, and see no real reason to change. This style can be positive or negative, depending on the habits in question. Someone who has good habits will be seen as faithful and committed. Someone with bad habits will be seen as self-destructive and unwilling to grow up.
It goes against the grain of post-modernist thinking to be defined, but I think that if we are all honest we can admit that there is one of these styles that a good portion of our decisions can fit into. There may be more than one that you can relate to, but there will be a dominant style. So the question begs to be asked, where do these styles come from?
The way we make decisions comes from the way we see the world. This is known as attitude. Yes attitude, that good old word from your younger days. I remember being a young punk, and my dad telling me that I’d better change my attitude. But attitude isn’t just a concern of a rebellious teen; it is what determines our perspective on life. It sits right below the surface in our brains, directing the traffic of our decisions. This is why two people can hear the same statement, and one person will take it as a positive thing, and the other will be offended. Our attitude determines our perception of the world.
So, where does attitude come from? I found several psychological studies that show a direct link between attitude and our personal values. Values are what is and what isn’t important to us. For instance if someone puts high importance on having warm relationships with others, then their attitude will be one of seeing the world as a place to make connections and their decisions will reflect this.
There are many effective psychological and social variables on decision-making style. One of these variables is personal values in that the basis of individual’s consumption behavior is the personal values. Why and how a person purchases have to do with the personal values. This variable is regarded as the power directing person throughout his or her life (Pitts, Canty, Tsalikis, 1985). For personal values, culture and social norms have important roles. The people learn these values from the society in which they live. In fact, there are the same values in each society or culture. However, since everybody has different psychological world and the social environment then the formation of the values differ. Personal values consist of establishing good relationships with others, enjoying life, being successful, social prestige and so on (Kahle, 1985). The values guide and affect attitudes, behaviors and judgments (Gutman, 1982). Thus values become both cause and effect of behaviour.
Through the process of analysis, a list of values was developed as a tool to help with psychological analysis (Kahle, 1985; Kahle et al. 1986). This list includes the following values: Self-respect, security, warm relationships with others, sense of accomplishment, self-fulfillment, being well respected, sense of belonging, fun and enjoyment in life. Your personal outlook on life, and eventually your decisions will be greatly affected by the importance of these basic values in your life.
This concept should not be foreign to Christians. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that as a man thinks in his heart, so shall he be. Read what Jesus says in Luke 6:45:
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
Who we are on the inside will determine who we are on the outside. This is holiness 101! But we still have one level to go in this rabbit hole of psychology and faith. Now we have to answer the question, what determines our values?
According to Kahle (1985), human values develop in the process of socialization. These human values change according to different position and experiences in the social structure. In other words, your values are determined by your relationships. Values gain or lose importance to you, because of your place in your social structure.
Think about this for a second. Imagine a young man that has no relationships that demand anything from him. He is a son, and maybe a brother, but these relationships do not place any type of commitment in his life. His parents and siblings are not dependent on him. To this young man, having fun may be the most important value in his life. This causes him to see the world as a place of freedom, and so, he can best experience that freedom, he buys a motorcycle.
Fast forward five years. Now he is married and has an infant daughter. His role in society has changed. There are now people that depend on him. This causes his values to change. Now security might be the dominant value. He sees the world through the eyes of doing what is best for his family, and as a consequence the motorcycle ends up in the front yard with a for sale sign on it.
Your decisions don’t just happen. They start deep in your heart and they will reflect the things that are most important to you. So, if our decisions are determined by our relationships, then there can be no more important relationship than the one we have with Jesus Christ.
By having a relationship with Him and His word, our values will be influenced. These values will set our attitude and give rise to our decisions. With respect to the psychologist who authored this study, I would like to add one more decision making style – Godly.
So in this time of your life don’t factor God out. I see young adults making decisions that are taking them away from God and the church, and it’s easy to be surprised and feel that the decisions just came out of nowhere, but the truth is the decision came about because of a change in their relationship with Jesus. My first question to these young adults is when was the last time you had a consistent prayer/study time in your life? At this stage of your lives, you are making decisions that are going to shape the rest of your life. Make those decisions Godly! Pray, read the word, listen to your pastor and your elders, stay a member of your church and get involved as much as you can, and let your values be shaped through these interactions
Colossians 3:17 say, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
This doesn’t mean that you can make bad decisions and slap the name of Jesus on them, and they will be good. This means that we are to represent the character of Jesus Christ in everything that we say and do. Representing the character of God with our actions is outward holiness. Outward holiness has to start with a relationship, which leads to inner holiness, which leads to the outward holiness. If we try to short circuit the process, then we create situations where the behavior is correct, but the motivation is messed up. They only way that we can glorify God in everything that we do, is to define our role in this world through Him.
1 Corinthians 10:31 so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
A relationship with God = Godly values = Godly attitude = Godly decisions = Godly life = More relationship with God.
— Joel Gray, Hyphen Regional Director