Skip to comments.Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church
Posted on 04/07/2013 7:22:38 PM PDT by hiho hiho
We all know them, the kids who were raised in church. They were stars of the youth group. They maybe even sang in the praise band or led worship. And then they graduate from High School and they leave church. What happened?
It seems to happen so often that I wanted to do some digging; To talk to these kids and get some honest answers. I work in a major college town with a large number of 20-somethings. Nearly all of them were raised in very typical evangelical churches. Nearly all of them have left the church with no intention of returning. I spend a lot of time with them and it takes very little to get them to vent, and Im happy to listen. So, after lots of hours spent in coffee shops and after buying a few lunches, here are the most common thoughts taken from dozens of conversations. I hope some of them make you angry. Not at the message, but at the failure of our pragmatic replacement of the gospel of the cross with an Americanized gospel of glory. This isnt a negative beat up on the church post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our what we believe page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.
The statistics are jaw-droppingly horrific: 70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate from High School. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church.
Let that sink in.
Theres no easy way to say this: The American Evangelical church has lost, is losing, and will almost certainly continue to lose OUR YOUTH.
For all the talk of our greatest resource, our treasure, and the multi-million dollar Dave and Busters/Starbucks knockoffs we build and fill with black walls and wailing rock bands the church has failed them.
The Top 10 Reasons Were Losing our Youth:
10. The Church is Relevant:
You didnt misread that, I didnt say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. Weve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as cool to our kids. Its not cool. Its not modern. What were packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world were called to evangelize.
As the quote says, When the ship is in the ocean, everythings fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, youre in trouble.
Im not ranting about worldliness as some pietistic bogeyman, Im talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian.
Were like a fawning wanna-be just hoping the world will think were cool too, you know, just like you guys!
Our kids meet the real world and our look, were cool like you posing is mocked. In our effort to be like them weve become less of who we actually are. The middle-aged pastor trying to look like his 20-something audience isnt relevant. Dress him up in skinny jeans and hand him a latte, it doesnt matter. Its not relevant, Its comically cliché. The minute you aim to be authentic, youre no longer authentic!
9. They never attended church to begin with:
From a Noahs Ark themed nursery, to jumbotron summer-campish kids church, to pizza parties and rock concerts, many evangelical youth have been coddled in a not-quite-church, but not-quite-world hothouse. Theyve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank. They dont see the full timeline of the gospel for every season of life. Instead, weve dumbed down the message, pumped up the volume and act surprised when
8. They get smart:
Its not that our students got smarter when they left home, rather someone actually treated them as intelligent. Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with deep thoughts of question and doubt. Many of these doubts have been answered, in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However .
7. You sent them out unarmed:
Lets just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? Weve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on deeds not creeds and encouraged them to start the quest to find Gods plan for their life. Yes, I know your church has a What we believe page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? Ive met evangelical church leaders (Pastors) who didnt know the difference between justification and sanctification. Ive met megachurch board members who didnt understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we dont teach the faith. Surprised? And instead of the orthodox, historic faith ..
6. You gave them hand-me-downs
Youve tried your best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you feel. You really, really, really want them to feel it too. But weve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You cant hand down this type of subjective faith. With nothing solid to hang their faith upon, with no historic creed to tie them to centuries of history, without the physical elements of bread, wine, and water, their faith is in their subjective feelings, and when faced with other ways to feel uplifted at college, the church loses out to things with much greater appeal to our human nature. And they find it in
Have you noticed this word is *everywhere* in the church since the seeker-sensitive and church growth movements came onto the scene? (Theres a reason and a driving philosophy behind it which is outside of the scope of this blog.) When our kids leave home, they leave the manufactured community theyve lived in for nearly their entire life. With their faith as something they do in community, they soon find that they can experience this life change and life improvement in community in many different contexts. Mix this with a subjective, pragmatic faith and the 100th pizza party at the local big-box church doesnt compete against the easier, more naturally appealing choices in other communities. So, they left the church and .
4. They found better feelings:
Rather than an external, objective, historical faith, weve given our youth an internal, subjective faith. The evangelical church isnt catechizing or teaching our kids the fundamentals of the faith, were simply encouraging them to be nice and love Jesus. When they leave home, they realize that they can be spiritually fulfilled and get the same subjective self-improvement principles (and warm-fuzzies) from the latest life-coach or from spending time with friends or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be truly authentic, and they jump at the chance because
3. They got tired of pretending:
In the best life now, Every day a Friday world of evangelicals, theres little room for depression, or struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. Kids who are fed a stead diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) who doesnt pragmatically serve Gods great plan for your life has forced them to smile and, as the old song encouraged them be hap-hap-happy all the time. Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we give them credit for. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. The church is full of hypocrites. Why? Even though they have never been given the categories of law and gospel
2. They know the truth:
They cant do it. They know it. All that be nice moralism theyve been taught? The bible has a word for it: Law. And thats what weve fed them, undiluted, since we dropped them off at the Noahs Ark playland: Do/Dont Do. As they get older it becomes Good Kids do/dont and as adults Do this for a better life. The gospel appears briefly as another do to get saved. But their diet is Law, and scripture tells us that the law condemns us. So that smiling, upbeat Love God and Love People vision statement? Yeah, youve just condemned the youth with it. Nice, huh? They either think that theyre good people since they dont do any of the stuff their denomination teaches against (drink, smoke, dance, watch R rated movies), or they realize that they dont meet Jesus own words of what is required. Theres no rest in this law, only a treadmill of works they know they arent able to meet. So, either way, they walk away from the church because
1. They dont need it:
Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community you dont need a crucified Jesus for that. Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before? The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be relevant to them would be a comical cliché if the effect werent so devastating. As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ. Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer.
Weve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on Gods graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, pragmatic gospel based upon achieving our goal by following life strategies. Rather than being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross weve set our goal on being successful in growing crowds with this gospel of glory. This new gospel saves no one. Our kids can check all of these boxes with any manner of self-help, life-coach, or simply self-designed spiritualism and they can do it more pragmatically successfully, and in more relevant community. They leave because given the choice, with the very message weve taught them, its the smarter choice.
Our kids leave because we have failed to deliver to them the faith delivered once for all to the church. I wish it wasnt a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: Ive never heard that. Im not against entertaining our youth, or even jumbotrons, or pizza parties (though I probably am against middle aged guys trying to wear skinny jeans to be relevant).. its just that the one thing, the MAIN thing weve been tasked with? Were failing. Weve failed God and weve failed our kids. Dont let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.
An initial question: Whose definition of church are we using here?
And what is that definition, exactly?
Why yours .. of course. :-)
He is using “church” to refer to the “church universal”
You might also read his “about” page —
Until they settle down and grow up and understand why Mom and Dad went to church.
Snarky, but you make your point ... for whatever it is worth.
If you want more about this, you may want to consider getting the book “Broken: 7 Rules Every Christian Should Break” by Rev. Jonathan Fisk. He really gets into how Satan uses his lies to get people into false faith.
well I found your ‘question’ kind of snarky. so answer snarky with snarky I suppose :-)
Really? I just wanted to know under what definition we would be operating on this thread so as to know how to respond. No snark. Just looking for clarity. But, if clarity is not desired, so be it.
The question of “church” and what it means is by no means a small matter, as a perusal of ecclesiastical (I know, just a fancy word for church, but one that plainly reveals the original meaning of the word) history will readily make clear. These days among church goers in the USA I don’t think anything can be commonly assumed in regard to understanding and definitions. This is part of the reason we have so many denominations and, even, non-denominational “denominations.” I put the last word in parentheses because non-denominationals seem to believe that because they say they are not denominational, they are in fact non-denominational. I doubt any denomination ever started with a different conviction.
So, again, if that is snark in your book, I guess it is snark in your book.
Have you ever noticed how many hateful atheists there are on the Internet?
Three sons all gone from home, none practicing a faith in Christ, to my knowledge.
Can't disagree with the "reasons", would add some of my own, including a youth minister who was unfaithful to his wife and publicly and painfully resigned, in front of the church and youth.
I don't judge this young man whatsoever, however it is evident that when young people look up to a leader in the church and that leader's sin of adultery follows behind him or her the obvious is going to happen in effect cause disenchantment with the gospel, the church, you name it, among the youth.
My guess is it is because of something called ‘free will’, and the normal tendency of man to hate God. Faith isn’t carried on the X or Y chromosome.
I mean no disrespect. But I really thought you were being flippant. The question was a broad question and wasn’t aimed at any particular denomination ... therefore one would assume it would deal with all churches. Not sure where you are going. I guess you could limit it to what I call real bible-believing churches but even there people have different opinions. That’s why there are 14B different churches :-)
I belong to a very conservative PCA church. My wife is Catholic but has been seeking other churches. This morning I got to go to a new one she is trying out - an Episcopol church. It was OK but I read their intro which says they welcome people of all races and sexual orientation etc. I thought “hear we go”. Then I look up and one of the female deacons is obviously a dyke. There is no other explanation for a haircut that short in the back. Wife prefers a more liberal church so she may stay. I wanted to puke. I’ll stay put where I am. :-) Cheers
thanks for posting.
Went to church & religion as a youth. Got a Bible and started reading it. I soon released I didn’t believe it.
And that’s probably the number one reason people leave the church, They just don’t believe.
So are you a doubting Thomas? Unless you can touch it, you don’t believe??
Do you believe in the sun, the moon, the stars, the conception and immediate soul of a baby??
You can’t touch those things. Yet I bet you beleieve in them.
Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:
Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.
Importantly, like any “customer survey”, why they *say* they didn’t like “the product” may not necessarily be the real reason why they don’t like it.
I have what may be a good analogy, from a (good) US history teacher. In most high school history classes, the students have a complete disconnect with the subject matter, from before the American Revolution, until the class is near the end and talking about current events. Then finally they have something they can connect to, something they at least know something about, that relates to where we are now.
So he decided to do something different, with exactly the same content. He decided to teach his class beginning with current events and going backwards in time.
But even then, eventually there was a disconnect, at about the start of the US Civil War. So instead, to make connections to early US history, he used large subject blocks, like “the history of slavery in the US (from start to finish)”, and “the history of US transportation”, etc.
When children are first introduced to religion, they really have no clue to what it’s about. They don’t grasp the lifetime of abstracts, like religious art, music, history, and learning, the adults share.
They have a hard time grasping five years in the past, much less 5,000 or more. Likewise, the Middle East is an enigma to them. Typically it can take years of study to get a real grasp of what is going on here.
And “monkey see, monkey do” is an awful introduction to faith. “Pray because I say so.”
This is why church school arose in the first place, so that children would get some help figuring out what in the world is going on here?
And why in the world did the Bible end, since so much that matters has happened since then?
the media, culture, schools and government are against us... even a lot of “churches” are against us
the Bible says we will be a small oppressed minority in the end
Alright, it is almost bedtime around here. But now you are speaking much more with “plain talk,” pardon the use/abuse of your moniker, than before. I will try to give you in plain talk an explanation for why I asked what I asked.
The church, the “ekklesia,” that is, those who remain in the world but are “called out of” the world, for that is exactly what the word means, are identifiable in a certain real sense. While it is certainly true that the individuals who belong to Christ and thus to the “ekklesia” are finally known only to God, it is equally true that they, as individuals, continue to seek the presence of God in this world, in which they are confined until called home to heaven, in order to have His assurance regularly that they are His and that their home is in heaven. In other words, they seek Him in whom they trust in order that He might strengthen and sustain them in the faith once and for all given to the saints until they pass through death into life.
The question is, how does one find the presence of God and, thus, the “called out,” the ekklesia, the household of faith, the brethren, the saints, and all the other synonyms the Bible uses to describe this body of which Christ alone is the head? How one understands the Bible’s identification of where God is to be found in the here and now of this world, will largely determine where one will attach oneself denominationally. For some denominations answer this question better, that is, more scripturally, than others. Objectivity in this matter must come from God and His word and not from our feelings and inclinations, which are fallible.
At the same time there is another problem that besets all the denominations. They are all filled with fallen, sinful humans, whose weaknesses and sins can cloud and darken the objectivity of God’s clear and certain promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation for Jesus’ sake. So, you see, one starts with the doctrinal statements of the various denominations and then one has to put up with the failings of the individuals, clergy and lay, in those denominations. But in all things, one is always inclining his or her ear to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the preaching, teaching, and sacraments, which voice, He assures us, His sheep do indeed hear and follow. (John 10)
I am sorry if this is a little long. I am just trying to be careful.
There is but one church (ekklesia), one Lord, one faith etc. (Ephesians 4) But the devil, the world, and our own flesh (i.e., inclinations, weaknesses, etc.) have made what is simple so very much more difficult, even as Jesus and His apostles said would be the case.
So, in summary, when one laments those who “have left the church,” the question becomes what have they left? Did they leave that which was only a pale and weak shadow of the church or did they leave the place where Christ, the Good Shepherd, was to be heard speaking plainly and clearly the blessed Gospel of forgiveness and thus leading onward to heaven?
This is a question worth deep meditation on the part of all who would be called Christian, even all who feel the emptiness within that can be filled only by God.
That was the reason for why I asked what I asked.
Well, it is late. Time to shut down for the night.
7. You sent them out unarmed:
***Even the kids who stay in church are unarmed. They have as much of an idea of why they’re christian as the average muslim thinks of why they are muslim. Neither of them can explain their belief in a rational fashion to someone outside their faith. Eventually they end up trying to browbeat newcomers into their belief system rather than treating their questions with intelligent respect.
What turns me off from most churches is the judgmental holier-than-thou behavior of some people.
It’s firm confirmation that it’s not a true church.
There is another option which many will not want to hear is that they heard the Gospel and have rejected it. No one wants to think that of their kids. It must always be our fault. We think if only they could hear the Gospel like we di that they would react and believe. Maybe they reacted and rejected instead. When I first heard the Gospel I ran like heck. It took me 10 years to come back to it. Some it may take a lifetime and some never will.
It’s upsetting to think that the precious angels we put so much time and love into would reject us and reject the truth. It is the story of the ages. God does not have grandchildren only children.
If they never do accept and follow Christ when we are long gone and overjoyed in the Lord’s presence it is he that will hold the heartache of memories of the lost - we will no longer remember or mourn.
LOL. I am the mirror opposite. I wasn't raised in a believing home and never went to church growing up. Was curious and bought a bible to read. I realized this was the first unadulterated truth I had ever been exposed to in my life. I never looked back.
Actually God is moving in the church. Check out Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill church Seattle. 1000s of young unchurched in atheistic Seattle are showing up at church every week.
My son was raised in church and he doesn’t care to attend church right now either, and he may not for a while- but I am not in the least concerned.
We pray together, (on occasion), he has been baptized by his own choice- and he lets me know that he has his faith still.. and you know what?
He belongs to God, not to me.
I actually believe every word in the Bible. God has got this one.
As a Mom, I plan to support his as he grows into adulthood. If he never goes to church again, that is his business.
The way the emergent/progressive church is taking over, God isn’t in church anymore - anyway.
Reason 0: You sent them to public school.
Most government schooled kids graduate and stop going to church, on the order of 80%.
Only about 10-15% of homeschooled graduates stop going to church when they leave home.
Want your kids to stay faithful? Keep them in church and at home while their faith is forming.
Sounds to me like he’s left the church, but remains in The Church.
Today’s generation is the most Scripturally ignorant and morally confused and lacking in conscience that America has ever birthed, yet until they reach the secular seminaries ( college), they are relatively open, but open to most anything, and someone will reach them (and is, atheism is growing fastest).
As for why they leave, although perhaps it is implicit in the accommodationist and “deeds not creeds” points, what should be #1 is the lack of strong anointed preaching that works by the Holy Spirit to convict sinners of their damned destitute condition, as law breakers in the eyes of an infinitely holy and perfectly just Almighty God.
And whose life will send them to Hell, not heaven, being utterly destitute of any merit that would gain their escape from their just and eternal punishment and gain them eternal life. And who thus must look toward God for the mercy which is in only found in the Christ, who “once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but resurrected alive by the Spirit (1Pt. 3:18).
And thus by abasing themselves and trusting the risen exalted Lord to save them on His expense and credit, they will find salvation, being washed, sanctified and justified. And which faith decision is shown in baptism, confessing the Lord Jesus in “body language” (not that baptism itself makes one born again) and then living it out.
I have often basically told souls after giving them a gospel tract (which opens the door for an explanation), “God looks at your life and says, “the things you did will send you to Hell,” but He looks at what His Son did and says, “what My Son did can gain you Heaven.”
But the work of an evangelists is not simply to tell them how to be saved, but to bring them to the place Isaiah was when He saw the Lord Jesus (it was: Jn. 12:34ff) high and lifted up in His glory, and thus cried, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
And as he found,
“The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. “ (Psalms 34:18)
This message should be preached everywhere, but the church service is usually most conducive for conversion, insomuch as the atmosphere is heavenly and the preaching exalts the Lord by the Spirit.
But lacking this preaching and subsequent regeneration, souls simply have religion at best, and most will fall away or will be inert.
However, this conversion must be followed by discipleship which teaches sacrificial commitment and surrender to and prayerful dependance upon the Lord, versus the world, flesh and devil, and which confronts, in meekness but boldness, the issues which challenge the basic faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3
> 11. Kids only went to church became Mom and Dad said so. Now that they are out of the house, they stop attending.
Until they settle down and grow up and understand why Mom and Dad went to church.
Well put. Sort of like “conservatives are former liberals that have been lied to, one too many times”...lol
melsec, unfortunately, you are right on both counts. You raise issues no one wants to think about and that there are some who hear the gospel - perhaps many, many times - and reject it.
There is another hard truth that many don’t want to hear. Many churches in the U.S. (and I’m sure other places) have so corrupted the truth either to the left or to the right while trying to make it contemporary and understandable (i.e. trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit for Him) that they lose its meaning completely. In such cases there is only enough Christianity left to inoculate the young against Christianity. That is to say, young people spend time in a church that is either post-Christian or so pale a version of Christianity as to not be and walk away thinking they know what Christianity is while in fact they never did.
I would guess the majority return when they have children. I did.
But why don’t you believe?
I’ve enjoyed reading the posts from all 3 of you. I was somewhat like cc - raised in strict catholic discipline but when I was 13 yo my folks started requiring an additional hour on Sunday for family Bible reading out loud in a circle one by one. took me another 5 years to make my ‘peace’ with Jesus and another 33 still figuring out what it all means...
Got a scripture to back-up the one below, melsec? I’ve heard it plenty but never straight from the Word.
“If they never do accept and follow Christ when we are long gone and overjoyed in the Lords presence it is he that will hold the heartache of memories of the lost - we will no longer remember or mourn.”
I’m trying to hold fast to the one [paraphrased] ‘train them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord and they will not depart.’
I hope and pray for all - esp. my kids and other loved ones - but I see more reasons for doubt than unbridled joy - I think it’s mostly b/c of the current state of US cultures.
I do hope we’ll see every liberal begin repenting soon over the Sanctity of Life and of Marriage - rather than this sick embrace of abortion and sexual perversions.
Great post. I am going to get with the teens I work with at Church and get some feedback.
A social gospel saves no one , it’s has no power to change lives . Most churches have forgotten this and have been infested with hirelings who themselves are not saved .
We are looking at an America today who is the product of an infestation of a social gospel . Most will say yes Jesus was Messiah but turn around and say that they think they deserve to go to heaven because they have been good people .
There is no power in that gospel to transform anyone’s life because they totally miss the point of why Jesus died for them on that cross and why they needed him to. There is no salvation without true repentance and the realization that you are a sinner who needs to be saved .
I agree as a nation we have become almost totally illiterate of what the Bible says . Most just a few bits and pieces with no idea of how to put those pieces together and that includes most who sit in our pulpits .
Nothing will change here until the people repent and well the nation doesn’t think it needs to and sadly they think they are blessed because they live better than most of the world (well that will soon change at the rate we are going)
And that is ALL we are asked to do!
Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.
1 John 3:21-24
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps Gods commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
Yesterday's sermon: Luke 18:9-14 (niv)
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
My child prayed for ME!
and it's in the church; too!
As a teacher; I've found that it's not as hard to teach something that IS in the Bible; as it is to UNteach something that AIN'T there!
There are a few verse that alude to what I have said but nothing concrete - maybe others would be better at that. I just know that every tear could not be wiped from my eye and that joy would not come if I knew and remembered that my kids would not be with me in the Lord. I cannot rest now seeing through a glass darkly what awaits for us but also what waits for those who reject Christ.
For both my boys I wonder at times where their heads are and if they even believe any more.
Yes they have been affected by poor doctrine from churches and by feeling looked down up by hobnob Christians who looked down their noses at them, but they know the love of Christ and they have heard His voice calling them I am sure.
And were your child’s prayers answered?
*nod* Gnashing of teeth comes to mind , and when you show them what is written the just get madder