Most people have heard the statistics a million times. “after you graduate from high school 80% of you will never set foot back into church.” this is often said with a certain overtone of blame toward those who choose not to attend church after they have graduated. My question is, if the numbers are that staggeringly high doesn’t that point to a problem with the body as a whole not the people who are walking away from it? Are young adults really choosing to walk away, or are they feeling pushed out, and are they really walking away from the Church as a whole, or just the institutionalized system of previous generations? this is in no way an exhaustive list of reasons for young people leaving the church, but rather my observations and opinions.
1). Boredom. I’ve heard this over and over talking with teens, and 20 somethings. most of the time people who are in church in their teens have grown up there, and they have a sense that they have it all figured out. Most pastors or senior church members would simply shrug this statement off as teenage arrogance. usually mumbling something about youth being wasted on the young and going about their day. However, I would say that many teenagers do have the entire system figured out. they may not have their faith figured out, but in the years that they have been in church we haven’t left them with anything that says they need the church to figure out that faith. think about it Sunday morning starts out with some sort of small group where we discuss living for God, or being a witness in our daily lives, or something similar that may or may not sound similar to the previous series of discussions. then we go off to church where there are lots of familiar songs. Then the pastor gets up and gives a sermon he may or may not have given last year, but that parts ok because no one remembers it from the year before. then you leave feeling “uplifted,” for like an hour. it’s not that hard to figure out, and it gets stale quick
2). Endless Bickering about things that don’t really matter. this my also be the reason there are over 40,000 different Christian denominations and counting. Christians seem to love to argue about everything! We argue about worship songs. we argue about how to dress. we argue about which biblical translation is the most “inerrant” (but that’s a blog for another time). I’ve even heard arguments about what color the carpet should be. Young Christians are sick if it, but often they don’t feel they have a voice to fix it so they just leave.
3). Youth are discouraged from asking questions. often church leaders try to silence a young persons question or give a quick text-book answer that doesn’t get to the heart of what the question was really about. I think many times people often get comfortable in their routines and bubbles to the point that anything that pushes that boundary is uncomfortable and unwelcome. High School and College encourage just that! it’s a time to ask questions and transition from simply excepting what you are told to being able to know why these things are true. If we simply expect future generations to except the way it’s always been because that’s the way it’s always been we are heading down a road to extinction. Christianity will survive, but if we choose to be so rigid and trite with our answers to important questions our favorite traditions my not.
4). We are scared to death of “The World” and yet we try so desperately to mirror it. This can be seen in Christian culture as a whole, but is especially true with youth groups. this is the EVERYTHING HAS TO BE CHRISTIAN COMPLEX. Yes we are to be set apart from the world, but that’s set apartness is supposed to empower us to help transform the world in the same way the Holy Spirit has transformed us. We are to go out and transform the world through a renewal of all things. This is what Jesus was talking about in the garden when he prayed Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We are to be a people whose focus is to welcome the kingdom in here and now, in the present! Not just have a place to go when we die. this idea seems to have taken a horrible turn somewhere along the way. Rather than renewing the world we seem to try to make our own version of everything, but with a Christian spin on it. This method has become more like a fun house mirror. it’s sorta the same thing but not really. Rather than being scared of the world we need to be ready to embrace the world, and all its flaws helping heal what needs to be healed, and knowing when to leave good enough alone.
5). We’ve become too safe. In my opinion this is the biggest opposition standing in the way of young people staying with the church today. They are leaving because they haven’t been challenged. Jesus has some pretty radical teachings.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:43
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
“You have heard that it was said, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:38
It’s apparent that the teachings of Jesus are definitely challenging, so why aren’t we? What if churches simply challenged people to live up to the teaching of Jesus? Maybe rather than simply fundraising to build a new sanctuary or another building we committed to love our neighbors, and matched every penny that went into a building project with money to dig wells in a developing country, or opened up that new building to give people a place to sleep that might not have one? We need radicle programs that stand in opposition to the self centeredness and materialism of the world rather than mirroring it.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:25
If we start to challenge younger generations not to simply believe the right things, but to lose their live in devotion to Christ, and to their neighbors to the point that they can truly be called Christ-like. then we will have challenged them to their full potential, and in my opinion rather than walking away even more young people will be attracted to the church. because they will be able to see that we truly do have something to offer!
Lord, help us to see where we do not look like you. grant us wisdom to listen to your voice no matter who it comes from young or old, and give us a willingness to follow your Holy Spirit, even if it means letting go of our old traditions, and getting rid of the carpet all together. Amen.