Why Are Young People Leaving The Church?

We have changed the music. We have shortened the service length. We have stopped holding Sunday night services and Wednesday prayer. We have renamed, reinvented and rebuilt the way we do church. We have introduced technology as a way to interact. We have loosened our dress code, become more lax about showing up late, leaving early and missing a week or two here and there. So why are young people leaving the church?

Maybe the problem is with them not the church.

I guess we could blame the generation. It is in fashion to say they are lazy and rudderless, lack moral and ethical principles but that is a copout, after all it was our generation that raised them so who really is to blame? We could blame the general moral decay in society and the cultural shift from Christian values but historically the biggest growth in church attendance has come when the Christian values were in opposition to the culture. It started on the day of Pentecost and continues today in countries where Christianity is forbidden.

Maybe it is because we don’t provide enough teaching on why Christians are right.

I am not against understanding the scientific and historical evidence that backs up the foundations of Christian faith, but is this really the solution? It is almost impossible to attend a church without hearing a sermon series or small group discussion on apologetics. When it comes to youth, I would even suggest that it is possible they have heard the arguments in favour of Christianity so often that they have become suspicious that we are trying to cover something up.

There must be things we can try to keep the young people in church.

Although I do believe that how comfortable a person feels is influenced by the way a church communicates, interacts and engages them, I do not believe that people will give up sleeping in on a Sunday morning for this reason alone. As a matter of fact, I think the continuing decline in attendance by younger people even though we have made substantial changes in the way we do church is proof that these changes aren’t addressing the problem.

I am blessed!

My three children, 27, 25 and 20 years old, still attend church, one left for a while but now they attend church almost every Sunday. The fact that I am a pastor and have pastored at some very dysfunctional churches, should have led to them leaving the church for good but they are committed and involved. I would like to take the credit but I am not sure that I did anything different than the parents of those who no longer attend church. Truth be told…

…I may have been one of the worst examples of a Christian as a parent.

I can think of very few people who parented like I did. I love my kids and always have. I want the best for my kids and tried to express that as they were growing up. I wanted to be kind and caring, the type of father that everyone wants to be but in that area I fell short. I want to be careful not to paint a picture of a tyrant but at the same time I don’t want to understate the failing I had when it came to controlling my temper. I have to admit I often fell short when it came to calm reactions. All this should have led to my kids, or at least one or two of them, giving up on their faith and leaving the church, but it didn’t.

The easy, Christianiese response is to say it was the grace of God.

God has shown His grace and mercy to our family but I think using this type of language to describe the positive outcome of an imperfect upbringing suggests that others who have not experienced the same outcome have somehow missed out on God’s grace. It suggests that what happens in life has no affect.

I guess you could look at my family’s continued church involvement as proof of Calvinist election/predestination theology if you are so inclined. If you are so inclined then you already have your answer to why young people are leaving the church which leads me to ask, “Why are you even reading this blog post?”

I know it is just a theory but I think I have a possible explanation.

I can attend a movie, show people my ticket stub to prove I was there, explain the plot, describe the setting and go into detail about each character but that doesn’t make me a part of the story, just a spectator.

We have a generation that has been to the show over and over again. They know the plot and the cast but they have never personally met the lead character. They have been told a love story but never fallen in love themselves. They have been armed with all the facts as to why they should believe and enter into a relationship with Jesus but they have never actually encountered Him.

Why did my children remain in church?

They encountered the living God personally (I know this is just a theory based on personal observations). No information, regardless of how plausible or well-presented can replace that. They were encouraged to experience God, not just know about Him but know Him. Unlike many of their church friends who were taught emotionless logic and scientific fact while being warned to avoid emotionalism, my children experienced God in a very real way. They knew that they knew God and no one could take that away.

We can’t base our beliefs on emotions and experiences but we can’t embrace our beliefs without them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

17 comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately David. Just recently had a conversation about it with my husband, in fact. I think you hit the nail on the head at the end. Those who keep on with God, I think, are those who “experienced God in a very real way. They knew that they knew God and no one could take that away.” And even if they do stray, they will never fully get away from that. I love your honesty here. It’s good to know that I was not the only imperfect parent!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Children, students, families and the elderly usually have church programmes to cater to them. But not so much young adults in my experience of church in the UK. I know as young adult Christians our emphasis should be on how to serve the church, but if young adults don’t feel served by the church, maybe that’s why many leave…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally agree – we have told people that the church is not there for them they are there for the church, to serve – it isn’t an either or it’s both – how can you encounter God in church if you are not supposed to get anything out of it? Great comment – thank you

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You are indeed blessed. I have one out of two sons who has a personal relationship with his Savior. The other blames me for trying to shove God down his throat. Of course, when you reject the message, how else would you see it.

    I have heard from educators that prayer in allowed in US schools, just not from the staff. Yet, the children get a different message. When I grew up, I got the message at home, at school, and at church, along with Scout meetings. Many of our youth today do not get the message at any of those places. Yet, God is sovereign. Those whom He chooses will get the message regardless of the barriers.

    Liked by 1 person

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