Over ten years ago, myself and a pastor-in-training attended an event that included a Q & A with two Seminary Presidents. My friend asked, “Why do kids who grow up in the church tend to leave the church? And what can we do about it?”
Great question! As a young pastor, I was excited to hear some wisdom on this subject. Drum roll please.... the answer ..... are you waiting for it?.... A: “Because young adults tend to leave the church for a while.” Of course, this man used a few more words than that, but said nothing.
Why would this man, who had been spilling wisdom to us all morning, suddenly become unhelpful on this question? Probably because anyone who has worked with, in, and around established churches for any period of time knows that this problem is almost universal.
Years later, I am ready to revisit the issue; having observed and thought about it a great deal, I have several ideas as to the “why” they leave. I only have a couple of ideas of what to do about it. I have no quick fixes. Why do young adults leave the church? (By the way, by “church” I am referring only to those evangelical, Bible centered, “good” churches --generally healthy churches, growing churches. I am not talking about sick churches or mainline churches, etc). I have seen several reasons.
Reason 1: They leave for college. This is rather simple, but if you don’t have a major university near by, many high schoolers take off for college, followed by marriage, job, and often a move.
Reason 2: They don’t know Jesus. Each person who grows up in a Christian family must come to faith for himself or herself. It is easier to go along with what your parents want when a child. When one is free to make his own choices, he may do a personal spiritual inventory and determine that there isn’t much devotion to Jesus inside.
Reason 3: They are sowing their wild oats. We may not want to admit this, but many Christian kids want to try out a worldly lifestyle for a while. If they know Jesus, they will eventually crash and burn and the Shepherd will lead them back. In fact, this had been the case of my friend who had asked the question in the first place.
Reason 4: Their parents are hypocrites and come across as “softly-committed-but-seemingly-good-church-folks” for many years. The kids see that there is no real joy, no real integrity to their parents’ faith, so they either a) reject the church and never come to faith, or b) they ditch the church for a while and journey out to find a more authentic expression of their faith.
Reason 5: Church tradition makes the culture unappealing. A young adult might be a true Christian, but is tired of being bored so he takes a break from church for a while, waiting for something that appeals to him. Or he or she will wait till marriage or children to come along, and then decide that they had better get with the program, because it is the right thing to do.
Reason 6: The Church has no desire to raise up young leaders or treat them as adults. This is subtle, unspoken, but real. The deacons or elders are all the same steady individuals they have always been. When they add “new blood,” the minimum age is 45. The thought that someone in his 20’s could lead a ministry or even serve as an elder is never entertained.
Reason 7: Poor Education in God. The Church leaders have taught the young adults from childhood that their God is different from the one the grown ups have. You can see when this happens because having been babysat through Sunday School, entertained through youth group, a young Christian often is launched into the adult world not knowing his Bible with any depth. He then will need to rediscover the joy of Christ through another path. He is immune to hearing from God in his own congregation.
Reason 8: The child’s parents failed to teach their children to cope with the difficulties of life through prayer and application of the Word. Setting the example is 90% of the battle for parents, but the other 10% is entering into the children’s pain throughout the years and teaching them to pray and apply biblical principles. Many Christians just don’t do this. They expect their kids to be Christian and do right and figure out the rest. So, they see a great God and have no practice in breathing obedience in and out when the hard times come.
Reason 9: The church doesn’t introduce Christian kids to a membership process as they mature into adults. Instead, we often assume that they are members because they grew up in the church. (I have been guilty of this in both my pastorates and was amazed that I didn’t see it for years. Working on the remedy now). Perhaps you can add some reasons I don’t have. Next blog? Suggestions for a solution.