Why Youth are Leaving the Church

Recently I was asked to comment on the subject of why teens/young adults are leaving the church in record numbers.  Books have been written on this subject, but it is a topic that is close to my heart for many reasons – most importantly that I curently have 4 teenagers in my house and nothing frightens me more than the prospect of my own children walking away from the faith.  In truth, this keeps me awake at night sometimes, because I see the huge vacuum that exists in the church, specifically in 18-30 year olds and it is my passion to see this vaccum closed.

Recently I read David Kinnaman’s book, “You Lost Me.” (Barna Research Group) http://amzn.to/yVyMzC   Through extensive research, Kinnaman cited a wealth of data and told sobering stories of kids who left the church and why.  I believe this book is a must read for anyone who shares concern about this topic. 

After reading the book, I paused for reflection and realized that as a church we have a lot of work to do to see these gaps that are widening every day, closed.  I finished the book around the same time that Presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a statement along the lines that higher education was to blame for this dropout in churches.  The opinions on the exact causes and solutions to this problem are many and varied. 

Books, blogs and election year soundbites aside, there are no simple answers, but one thing is for certain:  the church will survive.  If what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16 is true (and I believe it is), nothing will prevail against the church.  That does not, however, give us permission to go laizze faire and not face this issue head on. Rather than cite the opinions of others, I will give a few things from my own experience that I believe this generation needs.  These all have their root in a wide variety of issues, so I will not elaborate, but rather leave these points open for further discussion. In most cases, I submit we ave done a poor job in these areas.

1.  Youth Are Hungry for What is Real (authentic).  (Real worship, real relationships, real opportunities)

2.  Youth Are Seeking Formats to Find Answers to Difficult Questions – Real answers, not proof-texted easy answers to major worldview challenges they face in school and find on YouTube.

3.  Youth Are Eager for Involvment in Meaningful Projects that give feet to their faith.

4. Youth are desperate to be encouraged and equipped by the church to use their gifts, talents and passions in the marketplace, not just in the church. 

I’m sure I could elaborate for pages on more, but I’d like to use the above observations as a basis for discussion and I welcome your input.

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6 Responses to Why Youth are Leaving the Church

  1. Michael Martin says:

    I in no way consider myself youth but according to this article I am (18-30) and I can agree with this completly especially 3. Youth Are Eager for Involvment in Meaningful Projects that give feet to their faith. It bothers me to no end that we (the churc) are not doing anything to share our faith. A “Harvest Fest” once a year is the only “outreach” many church’s have and it is not enough. The Jehovah Witness’s and the Mormons are out everyday and The Christian people fail to knock on one door a year. Watch Matt Maddix interviews a Jehavah Witness on You Tube and you will find it very insightful.

    • Tracy says:

      I agree completley Michael. I’m well past the age group being discussed but my adult children are in it. It’s time to put faith into action outside the four walls of the church. Has anyone been saved at a “Harvest Festival” has membership increased. We need to be making real change in peoples lives. I know my kids aren’t interested in passing out candy at booth but they will go pass out food boxes.

  2. I am not in the age group of (18-30). I see the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons out on the streets and knocking on the doors of people, including my own door. What I see more is how the Mormon Church is willing to help others and give of themselves.

    I do not see the Christian Church in the United States of America willing to give of themselves to others outside of the Christian Church. There are kids starving in our own neighborhoods. Shall we be an example that Jesus Christ our Savior is or shall we be an example of those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ.

    If this divided generation looks at the Body of Christ as dead pew sitters, what kind of accountability will we give at the judgement before God, in the near future.

    I miss those days as a youth, when the tears fell on the altar of God. There were both Youth and Adults crying out to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit moved.

    What has happened to the American Church?

    • Tracy says:

      Right on Bob! We should be feeding them physically and spiritually but sadly chrisitanity with a small “c” has just become a Sunday morning thing. We need to put Christ back into the American Church.

  3. Deborah says:

    As someone who just turned 30, seeing many of my friends go in, then out of church… they all used to say the same thing to me, “Christians are the worst people and biggest hypocrites and God is just someone made up to make you feel better.” I used to think it was just their excuse, but consistency made me think deeper. Picture this: you are 20 years old, busy with college, working part-time to help out, and you’re about to turn 21. Your friends from work and school want to party… everyone a little older from your former youth group is out doing the same. What’s the difference? Then you go to church, the worship is low-key and almost depressing, the message is about evalgelizing the world, and then you hurry out to lunch. Why in the world would any young person WANT to stay? Where’s the passion? The presence? The hunger of those around?
    As a Christian, we are to be transformed unto the likeness of Christ. Besides all the good things Jesus DID; what came first for him was that he communed with the Father. Sure, we might pray a little and think we are close, but honestly, how many times can we say we truly commune with the Father? To know his heart, to walk in the annointing of the Spirit that has been sent to us. Jesus said to die unto oneself is gain. Can the church really DIE to self? I know we can. A body of believers so desperately in pursuit of God and the kingdom of heaven will cause us to die to self out of a love for Him. I can’t stay away from sin just because I am told to, I have to WANT to stay away it because it grieves my heavenly daddy. The pull of the world is strong, I won’t lie. Most of my generation is sitting in a bar every other night socializing their life away. They have nothing else to LIVE for. When the church disciples it’s congregation like the early church… striving to learn from and please God, encountering His presence… those who want a “real” Christianity will stay.
    I tried from 11th grade on to help a friend get saved because she “wanted what I had”. She accepted Jesus, but had no good youth group to go to (everyone was starting to drink and be promiscuous). The youth group had “fun” events, even wordly swing dancing lessons, and yet not one of our friends stayed in church. We all graduated and parted ways, but I ended up in a different little youth group with leaders in love with the Lord and on fire for His will. We WORSHIPED, we prayed, kids flocked to the group and dropped their wordly lifestyles overnight. Demonic realms fled from the presence of God. We ENCOUNTERED the living God and it was the most FUN I have ever had. I would never be the same. I am ruined for God, and everyone who knows me, knows that, and they know its real.
    Years later my same friend came to a home meeting with a bunch of us then young adults and we sought God’s face and He poured out. She too, was never the same. She went home and got her atheist husband saved, along with his parents, and they now all serve the Lord and have for years.
    I don’t mean to ramble on, but I have seen the fruit of people who are whole heartedly “sold out” for God. The difference has been clear. I stayed.

    • Jon says:

      Deb your story really hits point 1 of this blog piece. Authentic worship and relationships have to play a role in closing this gap. I’m praying that my current series on Daniel’s life will demonstrate to everyone including our young adults how they can navigate the challenges of the day and still stay “abandoned” to God.

      If you get a chance, you should read Kinnaman’s book that I mentioned in the piece. It’s not for the faint-hearted which I’m confident you are not. Thanks for your great response. I wish more people in the church (Fountain) would start discussing this stuff open and honestly. God bless

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