Marc5solas Take on Why 20 Somethings are Leaving the Church

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After my post on why young people are leaving the church, several of you sent me the same link to what I think is one of the best written pieces (and most commented on 300+) in the current discussion on why young adults are leaving was written last week was written over at marc5solas. You can read Mark’s thoughts here. What makes his take so helpful is that he actually asked some young people and let us know what they said. I am sure he narrowed it down some and probably re-framed it a little in the writing in order to make 10 recognizable categories out of it, nevertheless, his list is solid. Here are his 10 reasons with a little of my own commentary on his excellent points:

10 – The church is “relevant”
On the surface, this runs counter to conventional wisdom that our young people really want relevant lessons that they can apply to their lives. They still want that and relevant is still important. What Mark is talking about here is the church’s construction of a pseudo-relevance that tries to look enough like the world to gain some interest but in the process misses the whole point of what faith is all about. The Gospel is always relevant. We just get in the way with our own versions of what we think is relevant and mess the whole thing up.

9 – They never attended church to begin with
Here he is talking about the insulation that comes from being in the “other church” we know as youth ministry. As Eric Brown has said, if you have a viable youth ministry in your congregation, you have two churches meeting in your building. Not only have we insulated them in our space (where we put them vs where we put everyone else)…we have insulated them against the world that they are about to be tossed head first into. Then they don’t know how to deal with it when it happens.

8 – They get smart
Man he nails it on this one…his main point here is once they leave the nest of the church and youth ministry, they finally encounter people who view them as smart and able to think for themselves. This one is about intellectual honesty and, as Randy Harris would say, epistemological humility. If we don’t give them room to safely ask their questions and wrestle with their faith before they transition into adulthood, chances are we will lose them the moment they have that space and don’t know what to do with it.

7 – You sent them out unarmed
Again, so true. He believes this starts with the leadership and works it way down. In other words, even the leaders in some of our churches are woefully ignorant of doctrine, scripture, etc and that ignorance gets passed down to those they teach. Again, let’s not get defensive when they ask questions, touch questions…it shows they are exploring and we need to walk alongside them when they do that. Otherwise they learn the Gospel is too small to take a serious question and they leave it. Who wants a Gospel that isn’t big enough to survive a question from a teenager?

6 – You gave them hand me downs
He believes we made faith too subjective, about our feelings. That is going to vary from fellowship to fellowship.

5 – Community
He thinks we provided the wrong kinds of community. That is probably true in many ways. That doesn’t mean community is bad or that we shouldn’t embrace it. Discipleship cannot happen outside of some sort of community. So I think there is balance here and he is rejecting the things that should be rejected when it comes to certain kinds of community…I just want to make sure we don’t throw out perfectly legitimate forms of community in the process. Even God lives in community with himself as Father, Son and Spirit and when he made Adam, realized the first thing that was not good in all creation…that Adam was alone. We need community. It is just about what we do in that community and why we have it that makes the difference.

4 – They found better feelings
This is nearly a repeat of #6. The only twist here is that he is now more talking about the church’s embrace of Christian Smith’s moralistic therapeutic deism.

3 – They got tired of pretending
This is so true. The positive way of saying this is that what they needed was an environment where they could be real about their life, their struggles, their questions, etc…authenticity and dealing with reality. Instead, they got more of a codependent, hide the elephant in the room and gloss over any negatives you may encounter kind of faith that is just not in tune with reality. They will and have run from that type of Christianity, as they rightly should.

2 – They know the truth
This is the old checkbox mentality…do this and you are good with us but do any of these things and you might as well never show your face again. Guess what, some of them did the naughty list stuff and took the threats of the church seriously and never returned. This one is about the church’s embrace of truth without the grace (see John 1:17 to find out how Jesus shows us we need both, together).

1 – They don’t need it
This is also about Moralistic therapeutic deism. The church is a place to learn to be good, not a place to encounter the resurrected Lord, the demands he places on your life and the life that comes through our connection with Him. They haven’t been taught why they actually need Jesus.

Thanks Mark for such a good list and such solid explanation. I hope you guys who haven’t read his post will take a moment and do that. Again, this is a complex issue and I am glad to see Mark engages in the issue in all its complexity and also in a way that is in touch with the realities of being a young adult in today’s world. To those of us in church leadership, this issue runs deep into the core of who we are and what we do and if we don’t want the same results in the coming generations, we have to evaluate what is going on. We have to determine what is tradition and what is scripture. We need to dig in and study for ourselves and pass on our knowledge to our young people. We have to fight with them and for them for faith. We need to serve them and with them and be served by them. We have to encourage and foster real, deep faith…that is NEVER formed solely in the auditorium or youth group class in 1-2 hours each week.

4 Responses

  1. I have mixed feelings about the post. I tend to agree with some of what he says but at the same time feel most of it doesn’t really matter. What I am seeing in places that are reaching many in that age group is that there appears to be a simple answer because they want to be about something. They (most of them) know that truth is out there and they are hunting for it.

    I am witnessing a number of ministries that are reaching them and giving them a reason to live a different life and they are buying in, in large numbers. They are finding out about His mission and His transformation. They are seeing their friends messed up lives changed. They are seeing those without hope find hope and a lot of joy comes as a result. They are drawn to the excitement. And none of the other stuff seems to matter anymore.

    They don’t seem to care about all the stuff he wrote about. They are so excited to be about something that they can’t wait to share it.

    They have found purpose for their lives.

    Their is a wave forming in the college-age and the Spirit is moving.

    1. I will post this here as well from what I said on the facebook post…

      Lynn, in another of the posts I linked to above addresses some of what is going on in the discussion. Everyone views the problem and solution through the lens of their skillset and passion. I am not saying that means you are wrong…evangelism works and you guys do it as well as any, but I do think though we have to be careful saying only this is the answer and every other context and minister with a different set if gifts/skillet better do it like me or emphasize what I emphasize. That doesn’t mean I am downplaying evangelism. We do lots of it and have grown a group of young adults for 6 to nearly 100 in 6 years. We had over 100 visitors at Northwest on Sunday and there wasn’t any special event to bring them in. We reach out very intentionally. Hope my point here makes sense and is heard through live and respect for what you all do.

  2. Also, Bible classes in Christian colleges and schools where there is a correct answer which is the opinion of the professor does not make for a positive experience. When debate and discussion are nixed and students are scared to ask a question, the end result is get out with a a decent grade and forget the material. When questions aren’t answered with a legitimate answer and the student can see that the learned professor/elder/teacher is either repeating a canned answer out of fear of his chair/dean/elders or dismissing the question, then the student gives up on getting an answer and turns to the internet for an answer. Look at Patrick Mead and how he answers questions that people have. He is one of the few ministers out there who will answer questions with decent responses without criticizing the questioner.

    1. Jim,

      What you are talking about is creating a safe environment where people can explore their faith and identity out loud through asking their very real questions. We have to create that environment very intentionally. Shoot people down = unsafe to journey with you. Allow freedom to be uncomfortable or not have the perfect, safe answer every time and be alright in that space for a while = the ability to move ahead on the journey with them.

      I wrote this a few years ago and wouldn’t right it exactly like that again if I had to do it over but this fits with what you are saying –

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