How To Reach a Lost Generation 5: 25 Reasons Young People Are Leaving the Church

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I was inspired by this post on Millenials Leaving the Church to make my own list of reasons why they are leaving. There are many more but this is a start. It is good to be aware of these issues because they point to something deeper that needs to change in our very paradigm of what we view church to be:

  1. They see a disconnect between the biblical mission of the church and the actual activity of the church. In other words, they don’t see how the church is really advancing the kingdom of God.
  2. There are generational/cultural gaps that were worsened by the popular use of youth groups. The church has become segregated by age and the groups that need each other most have no connection.
  3. Traditional church is more institutional than it is missional.
  4. If an outsider were to try to list the priorities of the church they would say we are about worship and Bible study but little else. A typical church has 3-4 times for studying the Bible in a given week but ZERO ways to serve the poor, take care of widows and orphans, and other equally biblically viable ministries and missions.
  5. We have balance issues. 95% of the activity of the church is geared toward less than 1% of the week, that special hour of corporate worship on Sunday. They want a faith and teaching that translates into the other 99% of their life.
  6. The church “experience” doesn’t seem to reflect real life or the early church at all.
  7. Older Christians think they want things to be less biblical but in my experience it is actually the opposite. For example we encourage them to read Acts to find out what church is supposed to look like and they wonder why the church isn’t more like that.
  8. They don’t understand our church lingo. We use all kinds of words that they don’t understand. That gives a feel of us vs. them.
  9. We don’t offer transparent, real environments where people are free to explore life, faith and their identity.
  10. We squelch anything that makes us feel defensive. In doing so we push them out in the name of defending the faith. We don’t even give them a chance to converse over our differences. Sometimes they even get shouted down if they question anything.
  11. Our communication is broken – what the older group thinks communicates well does not connect well with the young adults. This is true in preaching, teaching, worship, you name it.
  12. We expect them to come to us instead of us taking initiative to reach out to them.
  13. We expect their faith to expressed in ways faith was meaningfully expressed 50 years ago. It may not look the same and we need to realize that and embrace it as long as it is still in the confines of what is biblically (not traditionally) accepted.
  14. We don’t often realize where the boundary is between scripture and tradition. We put them both on the same level in some areas and that is distasteful to them when they feel tradition has become scripture.
  15. We don’t give them a voice. They need a seat at the decision making table, especially in areas that affect them. How do we expect them to ever lead anything if we hold the reigns over them so tight?
  16. We don’t give them freedom to make mistakes and learn how to reconcile things afterward.
  17. Fear…fear of change, fear of anything different, fear of losing control. It is all an illusion. Did we ever really have control of things in the first place?
  18. The adjustments we make to reach out to them are still on the surface and don’t run down into the deeper issues. We think if we just sing newer songs that they will want to stick around. That just doesn’t cut it if there are deeper, unaddressed and unhealthy issues in the church that are the real reason they are disinterested. Faster songs won’t heal an unhealthy dynamic in a congregation.
  19. Leadership that is not willing to disseminate control and responsibility.
  20. The assumption that we had them in the first place. Some never made their faith their own.
  21. They leave when the focus is church and perpetuate a system over Christ.
  22. When the emotions are not allowed to reflect the reality of the situation. This includes things like a lack of celebration. Big things happen in the church…a lost person is saved and no one seems excited. It just doesn’t add up so it must not be real. They will leave.
  23. The structure of the church and its activities don’t match up with real life. There is no lament. The order of worship has too much order. Life is messier than what we put on on a given Sunday. Let it happen when it needs to happen.
  24. We babysit them instead of expect them to be engaged in a mission bigger than themselves. Getting babysat for fun activities won’t cut it.
  25. Trying to compete with the world, in worldly ways. The truth is, if what we offer them is about just having fun we will never compete with what the world and their non-Christian friends can provide them. But if it is about spiritual depth, connection with God and eternally impacting others…we have something to offer they will never find in the world.

What reasons have you experienced in the lives of young adults?

0 Responses

  1. Once again, right on target, Matt.

    And I would say pretty much the same reasons that Boomers and X-ers have been ‘leaving the church’ (back to your “leaving the church” v. leaving the Christ discussions.) And again, I for one, have ‘left the church’ (church of Christ) — but mos def not the Christ — for almost all of these reasons, for a church that is actually doing what the ‘Brotherhood’ has claimed to do for decades. It’s far from perfect, and sometimes somewhat messy, but hey, it’s working.

    You and I both know that when a group of God’s people stop doing what He’s called them to do, He’ll raise another group and bless them, instead.

    I pray and hope for you and your efforts the best, my brother.

  2. Leaving the catholic church is, at least, a step in the right direction. Let them dry out, if you will, from the rituals and graven images and costume holymen. Next, asking Jesus to come in to them is the next step. While involved in catholicism, one is blocked from the living Christ by dead men that are dubbed saints, all of the catholics of course. Not just catholic church, but any religious system, cause they all cant save. Salvation is between you and Christ, not some guy in a costume.

  3. Yeah, that’s pretty much the problem. Seems almost impossible to fix without starting all over. Pretend we didn’t know a thing about “church”, read our Bibles, and just start all over
    without ever remembering how we used to di church before. I wonder what and how different things would be then. What would it look like, and would those 25 problems be eliminated (or at least, greatly minimized).

    1. That is how the restoration movement started in the first place. Some guys looked around and said what in the world, how did we get to this point? Let’s open up our BIbles and see how this is supposed to go and do it. 200 years later we need to do it again.

  4. from a more cynical, edgy POV: it has less to do w/ the church & more to do w/ the cultural milieu.

    26.) Economic realities. Young people are graduating & not getting the start to their careers that they’d hoped for.

    This has all sorts of adverse affects on people.

    27.) Virtual connectivity. People have all sorts of digital connections with people. They’re simply not as lonely & in need of companionship in ways that the Church used to provide.

    28.) Virtual escapism. Pornography, gaming, sports, fan fiction, you name it. Hobbies are deeper & way more complex than ever thanks to the internet. Sex is easier to access & cheaper than the way the Church prescribes. People would rather self-soothe into these forms of escapism rather than confront their own spiritual corruption in community.

    There are probably more. In terms of how the cultural climate has made this “out of season” (2nd Tim. 4:2) for helping people come to obey the Word.

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