Why do young people leave the church?
Recently I have been involved in several conversations where those involved are worried or frustrated about the declining attendance of youth in their church. In fact, there is something to this. In 2007, LifeWay Research conducted a poll of over 1000 young people that was later reported on in USAToday.
I have put together my thoughts on why young people are leaving the church. Some of it is based on the outcomes on the survey and others based on observation and my own discussion with young people about church.
Issue 1 – Foundations
Although 30 percent of respondents cite the irrelevance of church as the reason for leaving, I believe that when you drill down in the other reasons, this reason will impact a greater percentage. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear,” 1 Peter 3:15. Kids are very curious and want the truth. They are quick to discern when things do not make sense. If God is God, then we need to understand the foundations of our world. A few such major issues are that of dinosaurs, the ice age, Noah’s flood, age of the earth.
Kids hear one thing from church about our origins and another thing in school. Because schools today have an atheistic world view, their interpretation of the facts (fossils, global warming, etc) are inconsistent with the truths outlined in Genesis.
I spoke with a lady this morning that said concerning dinosaurs, “We were taught that dinosaurs were a clever deception of the devil, and so that is what I taught my kids.” So I asked, what do you do when you take your kids to the museum and the large T-Rex id displayed in the lobby? Do you grab your kids by the hand and drag them past it telling them not to look?
As parents, we are the spiritual guide in the home with the Bible as our authority. When we do not have an answer, or when the answer ignores the facts and our children become confused when they here atheistic interpretations of the facts in school. When the secular world view gladly answers the questions about any or all of these issues, it undermines your parental guidance and replaces the authority of God with the authority of the secular and atheistic world view.
I asked her, “do you know what the Bible says about the dinosaurs?” She said no.
The Bible does not use the term “dinosaur”; but neither did anyone on the planet before 1842. The term coined by Richard Owen in 1842 to mean “fearfully-great lizard”. So when someone says the Bible doesn’t mention dinosaurs, this is not true at all, the Bible just didn’t use the term “dinosaur.”
Job 40:15-19 –
“Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; He eats grass like an ox. See now, his strength is in his hips, And his power is in his stomach muscles. He moves his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are tightly knit. His bones are like beams of bronze, His ribs like bars of iron. He is the first of the ways of God.”
Job goes on to describe other animals that God made that clearly are not with us anymore. But the point is that God created everything including animals that were extinct before the flood, and those that are recently extinct like the Quagga or the Thylacine.
Issue 2 – Hypocrisy
There may be in some churches a lack of communication when it come to the great controversy. The enemy will use those around you and where you are at a particular moment to cause you to want to leave the church or to be aggravated at something happening among church-folk. Hypocrites in the church is a good thing, praise God. Just like liars and cheaters and other sinners. I prefer every hypocrite to be in the church where there is hope, and forgiveness and life-changing Spirit of God.
When there is a lack of understanding about the battle that is raging, we criticize others. “.. we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12. We need to consider the catalyst that brought that sinner from outside the church. Yes, something made that sinner recognize their need for an about-face in their lives through the life-changing power of God. Then that sinner actually chose to enter into a church of other sinners. They could have been repulsed by us, but through it all, they came and they stayed in the church. This requires our contemplation and prayer.
Discussing the battle, the great controversy with our children helps them to recognize people struggling with consistency in their lives as they move from one way of living to the radically different way. Inevitably they may fall or fail, but because of their budding or growing relationship with God, they get back up, they come back out to church. We should not be a stumbling block to these people. When you recognize a hypocrite in the church, you must also identify your own sin of judgement.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2.
Issue 3 – Creeping Compromise
I had a discussion with a friend years ago about leaving the church we attended and going to a different church further our of town. He was emphatic that it was critical for him to switch churches because of his daughter and that if he didn’t make the move, he would loose his daughter spiritually.
Entire churches make decisions to add small entertainment components to church service to attract and keep young people. When this compromise in introduced, it is hard to reverse. In some cases, church service is indistinguishable from going to an intimate concert. Music, a powerful influencer, starts to sound more secular and the difference between what should be holy and what is secular is small.
I saw their daughter today at an church event, adorned with all manner of jewelry and makeup. Is it possible that our young people are already gone because some churches have become the gateway drug to secularism? 2 Corinthians 6:14 …’what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?’
Issue 4 – Trusting the Word of God
There is often a disconnect between hearing the Word, attending church and singing hymns, as opposed to loving the Word, seeking God, living Godly, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, and trusting God’s promises. In fact, most Christians can point to several things this past week that God has done for them that is undeniable. However, in our day-to-day decision making, Seeking God is not first on our minds and often He is not second or third. We tend sometimes to rely on our own understanding and means. God is often the tool that we use when all else fails and we are desperate.
There is nothing more powerful for a child or young adult to see God work in someones life and to see the recognition in that person that God is faithful. Jesus, when about to raise Lazarus from the dead demonstrated this best: “Father,I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” John 11:41-43.
It is not enough to be Christian or believe in God, but to have faith in God’s unshakable promises and stand on them before others. Believe that God’s guidance, even His reproof are for you to have life, and have it more abundantly, and living this faith in the home with love and patience and meekness,is a powerful witness to all who observe.
Trust God in your home. Not in words only but in everything you do and every decision you make. Trust God, He is faithful. Trust God in your home and in every aspect of your life believing that all things work together for good to those that Love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. Children witnessing the relationship between you and your creator will want to also continue in faith throughout their lives. They will know that unplugging from God, being detached from the Vine is isolating and is destruction.
Issue 5 – Relationships
The Poll indicated that Fifty-eight percent of church dropouts selected at least one church or pastor-related reason for leaving church. Most common was, “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical” (26 percent). Another 20 percent “didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.” (LifeWay Research.com).
We are called to be like Jesus and to be His disciples. However the very people we are meant to witness to are the very people we despise. We are sinners, saved by grace, yet we hate sinners. We criticize people base on their sin, yet we ourselves are sinners. In fact, Jesus had a problem. He saw people yearning for a Savoir and he was compassionate toward them all. Yet He was criticized for spending time with sinners. In many cases He physically touched them to heal them. If we were alive when Jesus lived, would we be a disciple or a Pharisee?
In correction, Jesus rarely spelled out someones sin. With the woman caught in adultery, He never called her an adulterer, but said go your way and sin no more. The rich young ruler, Jesus never called out his sin and never said directly what he lacked, but told him to sell all he had and follow Him. Yet often in our churches, we are eager to call out someones sin and in most cases interrupt the work that God is trying to do in their lives.
When this is experienced or witnessed in the church, it may make the sinner feel that the church is too good for them and they fade back into darkness.
If all of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents, then how much should we rejoice when one sinner comes through our church doors? Notice, Luke 15:7 didn’t say that there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner completely stops sinning. Repentance is step one. So when the repentant sinner walks through the door, they may not look, speak or act like career Christians but we should rejoice all the same and welcome them.
This not only the way we are to treat people when they walk through the church doors, but how we are to treat people at work, in the mall, on the crowded subway. Where every you encounter another person, let your light shine. Be a Christ follower. Demonstrate love and a sincere yearning for everyone to know the God we serve and a loving God who changes lives. And this life changing ability is so demonstrated in your life.
Lastly, we are Christians together. We may see a day when we will suffer persecution together. Let’s not be isolated at church, sticking to our comfortable groups. Be a blessing to someone at church the next time you go.
Issue 6 – Prayer
A pastor I enjoy listening to, Henry Wright, once said that the amount of Holy Spirit that we currently have in our lives is not sufficient to take us through the time of trouble. Now I know he was speaking about the time of trouble that will come upon this earth, but I have seen in my own life that the amount of Holy Spirit that I currently have is not sufficient to take me through the times of trouble in my life. Times of devastating change, lost job, major accident or other upheaval that might impact me.
Consider Job, how many of us would stay faithful like Job, and how many would after a while be like Job’s wife who suggested Job curse God and die. Sometimes the stress of life can be too much and we find ourselves crying out “How long, Lord. How long will you leave me in this pain and misery. Do you not care that I perish?”
Pray. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26. So Pray! Speak with God and let your life by prayer filled. Our communication with God should be never ending and for all things. God promises that He already knows what you need and just wants you to ask in faith.
Youth that leave the church is not just a church issue. It is indicative of how God is impacting our homes and our lives every day. Our children may decide to leave church because of what transpires at home. Over or under zealous parents, or those just indifferent to the Word of God tend to produce teenagers that want to run from the unattainable standards or become apathetic, seeing the church as out-of-touch with modern reality.
Love is proof that we are Christians. Love in the way we treat others, our children, our partners, coworkers and strangers on the street. Love tells a visitor the condition of the church. Love. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35. Love should be experienced and witnessed by our children so they can also share Godly love toward family, neighbor and stranger.
Be sure you have answers for your children to explain Biblically things they learn at school. If the foundation of “In the beginning, God created…” can be eroded in their minds, church will be irrelevant. Make sure your children understand the great controversy because this explains why the world is the way it is and how God will bring an end to this madness. Resist compromise and the slide to secularism. Trust and teach trust in God’s word to your children and show them how God is working in their lives also. Pray without ceasing and develop relationships between you and each of your children, and encourage friendships between your children and other youth in the church.