Monthly Archives: April 2013

WHY YOUNG PEOPLE LEAVE THE CHURCH AND HOW TO STOP IT

Statistics reveal that the majority of young people who grew up in church leave it soon after graduating from high school, and most of them will never return. I’ve seen some statistics that speculate that the rate could be as high as eighty percent. This shocking reality should cause us to take a long, hard look at how the church “ministers” to youth.

Why do they leave? While I’m not a professional statistician or sociologist, I have interacted with young people and observed how the church relates to them, and I have come to conclusions that won’t be very popular with some.  Here they are.

When our kids are elementary school age, they go to Sunday school and Children’s Church which is great. However, what are they taught? By the time they reach fourth or fifth grade they have heard the story of the Walls of Jericho, Jonah and the fish’s belly, the parting of the Red Sea, Joseph and the many colored coat, and David and Goliath a zillion times. Oh, the story is presented in a more advanced level as they get older, but it is still the same story. By the time our kids finish elementary school, they have been storied to death. And they are bored.

Then they get to junior high and high school and join youth group, which is great. But what do they get in these gatherings? Silly games, greasy pizza, and a brief devotional that is as shallow as a wading pool. They are taken to stadium events once a year where there is a smorgasbord of continuous high tech emotional hype including blaring music, skits, games, and speakers that have the corner market on “cool”. These speakers dress like a sixteen year old and talk the latest “lingo” as they feed our kids a rah-rah message. At the conclusion of their talk, kids, who have been swayed by all the emotional hype, come forward by the hundreds to “surrender” their lives to God, not having a clue what that means. They come back to church the next week chanting “God is cool” and give the appearance of being transformed from the event. However, within a couple of months they are right back to who they were before the attending the event. While these gatherings do impact some kids, the vast majority are ultimately left unchanged.

Then they leave for college, the military, or jobs, and church is all but forgotten. I believe there are two main reasons for this mass exodus.

First, they have never been challenged in their faith. They haven’t been taught theology and doctrine and thus are clueless on what they believe and why they believe it. When challenged by a college professor or coworker about matters of faith, specifically Christianity, they can’t answer. Then doubts creep into their minds and they see no great reason for their faith. They never had anyone explain theology and how it relates to all matters of life, and have not dug deeply into the Bible. Their church experience has left them empty, and they find no relevance in following Jesus.

Second, they have not seen authentic discipleship lived out by adults in their lives – at church or at home. They see the adults in church bickering about the color of the carpet, the loudness of the music, and the length of the pastor’s sermon. They see adults who gossip, criticize, and live lives that are unholy. Young people are very impressionable, and when they see adults clueless about their faith and living like the rest of the world they think “Jesus really doesn’t make a difference, so why should I follow Him?”.  And they plunge headlong into the “goodies” the world dangles in front of them.

We are losing our kids to the world, and we scratch our heads in confusion and anger and wonder why. My friend, we have failed our kids both intellectually and practically. But their is hope.

I strongly believe that we need to teach our young people theology so by the time they graduate high school, they have a firm grasp on what they believe and why they believe it. Our kids are hungry to know truth, and we must be the ones to teach them. A few years ago I was invited to teach at a local church’s youth group. As I started to my lesson, the discussion took a fascinating turn. The junior and senior highers started to ask deep, penetrating questions about spiritual issues and how these truths impacted their lives. We went straight, without a break, for almost two hours. These kids were hungry. They had questions that were not being addressed at their church, and they wanted, and needed, to have answers.The adults in church basically said “just believe’, and wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer their questions. I also had the privilege of leading a Bible study in a high school (before the school day began) for three years and found these kids to be hungry for truth and knowledge (evidenced by their willingness to get to school at 6:45 am for the study).

I’ve been told that we can’t bore our youth with theology and deep Bible study. I couldn’t disagree more. There is nothing boring about learning about God and how His precepts shape our lives. Too many kids have been told what not to do without explaining the biblical reasons why. A young woman came to me once and said she had always been told not to engage in sex until after she was married, but was never told why. The pat answer of “because the Bible says so” didn’t satisfy her question of “why not?”. So I opened my Bible and, going systematically through Scripture, explained why God limits sexual activity to marriage. After I was done and answered her questions, she looked at me and said that no one had ever explained it biblically before.

My friends, we must take the risk to teach biblical theology to our young people. Ignorance of theology and the Bible is ignorance of God. And ignorance of God leads to chaotic, messed up lives.

The other thing we must do is to live out discipleship in our own lives. Our kids need to role models in church and at home who show them what a follower of Jesus looks like. They need to see passionate, sold out, surrendered believers who love Jesus and who desire to live out biblical Christianity in all aspects of life. I’m not talking perfection, as no one is, but true, humble followers of Jesus who know what they believe and why they believe it, who apply His Word to their lives as they walk on the journey of holiness, and who openly repent when they blow it. When they see the impact Jesus has on the lives of the adults around them, it will hopefully impact them.

Will these two measures guarantee that our kids will be strong, uncompromised followers of Jesus? No. We are fallen human beings and some will choose not to follow. However, I believe that if we do these two things, we will dramatically lower the mass exodus of young people from church that we are currently experiencing.

My friends, lets turn the tide and start giving our kids what they really need. We’ve lost way too many. Let’s resolve to lose no more.