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Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church

Most of us are concerned about our children.  We hope and pray as they grow up that they will stick with the faith we tried to instill in them as they grew up.  Much of this “education” we leave to the Church, however, which isn’t always successful in making our hopes and prayers come true with our children.

I came across an essay by a guy named Marc Solas about this very point.  I don’t know much about him but he makes some good points that all of us in the Church should consider.  Let me quickly add that many of the points which he makes do not fully describe the church I currently attend, or have attended or pastored in the past, but all his points should give us something to consider as we seek to be the church God calls us to and further seek to preserve our children in the faith.

The essay, Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church, by Marc Solas is reprinted below without edit (though I did leave out all of his pictures -too distracting for me!):

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Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church

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 I’m 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 isn’t 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 facts:

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.

Half.

Let that sink in.

There’s 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 Buster’s/Starbucks knockoffs we build and fill with black walls and wailing rock bands… the church has failed them.

Miserably.

The Top 10 Reasons We’re Losing our Youth:

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10.  The Church is “Relevant”:

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT.   We’ve 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.  It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”

I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m 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.

We’re like a fawning wanna-be just hoping the world will think we’re cool too, you know, just like you guys!

Our kids meet the real world and our “look, we’re cool like you” posing is mocked.  In our effort to be “like them” we’ve become less of who we actually are.  The middle-aged pastor trying to look like his 20-something audience isn’t relevant. Dress him up in skinny jeans and hand him a latte, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant, It’s comically cliché. The minute you aim to be “authentic”, you’re no longer authentic!

9.  They never attended church to begin with:

From a Noah’s 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.  They’ve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank.  They don’t see the full timeline of the gospel for every season of life.  Instead, we’ve dumbed down the message, pumped up the volume and act surprised when…

8.  They get smart:

It’s 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:

Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith.  How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s 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? I’ve met evangelical church leaders (“Pastors”) who didn’t know the difference between justification and sanctification.  I’ve met megachurch board members who didn’t understand the atonement.  When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don’t teach the faith. Surprised?  And instead of the orthodox, historic faith…..

6.  You gave them hand-me-downs

You’ve tried your best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you “feel”.  You really, really, really want them to “feel” it too. But we’ve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You can’t 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…

5. Community

Have you noticed this word is *everywhere* in the church since the seeker-sensitive and church growth movements came onto the scene? (There’s 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 they’ve 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 doesn’t 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, we’ve given our youth an internal, subjective faith. The evangelical church isn’t catechizing or teaching our kids the fundamentals of the faith, we’re 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, there’s 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 doesn’t pragmatically serve “God’s 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 can’t do it. They know it.  All that “be nice” moralism they’ve been taught? The bible has a word for it: Law.  And that’s what we’ve fed them, undiluted, since we dropped them off at the Noah’s Ark playland: Do/Don’t Do. As they get older it becomes  “Good Kids do/don’t”  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, you’ve just condemned the youth with it. Nice, huh?  They either think that they’re “good people” since they don’t “do” any of the stuff their denomination teaches against (drink, smoke, dance, watch R rated movies), or they realize that they don’t meet Jesus own words of what is required.  There’s no rest in this law, only a treadmill of works they know they aren’t able to meet.  So, either way, they walk away from the church because…

1. They don’t 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 don’t 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 weren’t 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.

We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on God’s 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 we’ve 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 we’ve taught them, it’s 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 wasn’t a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: “I’ve never heard that.”  I’m 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).. it’s just that the one thing, the MAIN thing we’ve been tasked with? We’re failing. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our kids.  Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.

Marc

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This essay can be found in its entirety (pictures and all) at Marc5Solas.wordpress.com.  I haven’t read any of his other posts and don’t know anything about him, so I can’t give an endorsement or caution about his other posts.

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13 comments on “Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church

  1. so how would you make them stay in church?

    xoxo / vicki

    • I think if we live authentic lives, teach the Word properly and give them an opportunity to ask the hard questions.

      • Thats great! I was also one of them, treated the church like a airport. I use to come and go. Just because I couldn’t relate to it and everything seemed so “perfect”! The people that work in the church must understand that no one is perfect, we all have problems and come from different backgrounds. Talk about your struggles to the youngsters make them feel welcome and a place where they can be vournable and eventually open up. Be humble! I been there myself. Always had someone nagging on me, staring at me. How would that person even breath?
        I stopped going to church…back went back again( by the grace of God) but some people just don’t !

        Xoxo, Vicki

  2. Hey Daryl, have you read Already Gone by Ken Hamm & Britt Beemer? It is a great book on this subject.

  3. I think you left out a whole category of reasons why people leave the church and faith altogether. It has no explanatory powers. God did it just doesn’t work when there is science explaining exactly how stuff works. Religions can’t even get the dates right for their own holy days in many cases. What you’re trying to teach kids is stuff without facts, just emotions and ideas. It’s nothing better than philosophy and children want explanations. They need to know how the world works. God did it is not an explanation. Magnetism and electricity are not magic. The real answers to life’s problems are most often found in science because life is based on science now. Many kids have a phone and a computer and the information of the Internet (read world/human species) in their pocket these days. God did it is not an answer.

    • myatheistlife: Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to comment!

      Clearly we approach this from vastly different world views. Obviously I disagree with most of what you say, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider your view as valid. Many of the young people in the church are hearing what you’re saying from various sources and some are even beginning to adopt some of those views.

      Our conclusions will obviously be different, as well. I take your comments as another area to help our kids better understand the Bible while I would imagine your suggestion would be to jettison the church as quickly as possible.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Daryl

      • As it happens I don’t think you have to jettison the church. I think it will be empty when believers start learning science and how to find facts about the world.

        Critical thinking is a problem for biblical literalists – We know that to appear to hold the sun still for a battle would require the earth to stop rotating. There is a marked absence of evidence for a global flood. Rainbows have a physical cause… and so on. The church expects you to believe stories of magic and miracles and plagues but then says ‘Harry Potter’ is bad. I’m not sure how you would spin that kind of problem to make it ‘okay’ without ripping on the credibility of the book as a whole.

        The youth of your faith don’t have to read my blog to get this information. It’s in that bible you have them read. Right there in the first book god lied to Adam and Eve about when they will die. Even a 3rd grader knows what a lie is.

        How do you spin this stuff so it doesn’t look like lies and fairy tales to young people?
        That’s an honest question.

        • Let me start with Harry Potter. I’m not familiar with those stories at all, just wasn’t interested and my kids weren’t either so I didn’t explore them much. But I think the reason many Christians were/are against those stories aren’t because of the supernatural occurrences compared to those in the Bible, but see the source of Harry Potter’s power being dark or demonic, which the Bible teaches we should avoid.

          Actually, we don’t consider it “spinning.” We believe that God is omnipotent so aren’t surprised by what He is able to do. In our critical thinking, we don’t have a problem with a supernatural force working events contrary to natural laws. For example, since we believe God created the earth, we also believe that He is able to design it in such a way that the physical causes of rainbows exist. As creator, He can use what He created as a “sign” to Noah.

          As for God’s promise that Adam & Eve would die if the eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, being informed by the rest of Scripture we can see that He was speaking of spiritual death, which all who have rejected God are living in. Spiritual life, then, is living as a follower of God, having entered into a relationship with Him.

          Considering the flood, some would contend there is evidence found primarily in: 1) fossils of sea creatures found way above sea-level; 2) evidence of a rapid burying of plant and animal life; 3) A couple of things about sediment; and several other evidences. These can usually be found on websites which support the Biblical narrative.

          The sun standing still . . . not sure about that one. Every few years there’s an e-mail that goes around that NASA found a missing day, but this isn’t true. Could something else have happened which appeared as though the sun stood still? I don’t know.

          Few people claim that the Bible is a Science book, though many believe what it says is true. Often times, what is reported is as it appeared to pre-modern authors which means something different to us in an age of science.

          Let me say, though, that there are many Christians who would complete agree with you about all of those events (and others) being just metaphorical stories or myths, but still take the message from them that God wanted to transmit. I wouldn’t let apparent conflicts between Science and the Bible keep you from exploring a personal experience with God.

        • I find it very troubling that the stories have to be interpeted. The books says Adam will die but you use other passages to interpret it so that it doesn’t mean die. This is but one example. The stories are not written in the style of allegory and fable. They are written as fact. Even if you figure out a way to make them look like allegory it ruins the thought that the book is inerrant. Did the 2 she bears really kill 42 kids, or is that just a scary bedtime story? Did Jonah really live inside a fish for 3 days? These are minor issues.

          When you purposefully work to avoid figuring them out and just work on the personal relationship with Jesus you have essentially created a new religion. You kind of have to. We work on Sundays. Gender equality is mandated by law. Slavery is illegal. That is not so in Paul’s world. Each small step away from the “bible as fact” pushes the church toward accepting science which says these miracles and wonders are not so, they didn’t happen or there is a physical explanation for them.

          The more common such scientific information is the harder it is to sell the stories in the Christian bible. The attributes of god are logically incompatible and it is quite possible to see god as the progenitor of all that is vile and evil in the world.

          The point I’m trying to make is that you’ve overlooked real reasons that people are leaving faith behind. Actual truth and science contradicts what the book says. Science explains the world around us where faith says god did it with magic. If you’re sick, you can pray all you want but if you want to get well you have to go see doctors. Can you see the dichotomy there. Real answers do not come from the church or the book. People don’t want wrong answers for life. Many if not most atheists started as theists but when they went looking for answers for life, they found the answers from the church completely unsatisfactory and wrong. That process is gaining a lot of traction and simply doubling down on the new religion of “personal relationships” with Jesus won’t work. Wrong answers remain wrong answers.

          All of the contradictions and problems solve themselves when you realize that there is no god and the book is not truth. While you believe the book to be true you have to settle with being confused about the world and happy that it was made with magic. When you believe in magic it leads you to burn witches. Being religious does not make you good. You have to be good first. All the youth of today have to do is watch the news to see what evil religious people do. All that money for the church and the prayers and good intentions don’t seem to stop people from being evil. In short, it’s not hard to see that religion doesn’t work. This is why people are leaving the church. There is no secret agenda or conspiracy to do away with religion. There IS an agenda to learn the truth about the world around us and find the things that work and things that don’t. The search for truth is what is putting people off from faith.

          When you try to discuss what is happening, why people are leaving faith but you don’t face these facts, you are deluding yourself. It’s almost as if you don’t want to know the truth?

          We may never agree on these things. I just wanted to perhaps give a bit of insight on why I see people leaving faith.

  4. Reblogged this on Theology in Overalls and commented:
    This touches upon some of themes from my sermon, “Christian, Holiness, Missional: Core Values in the Church of the Nazarene.”

  5. Children are not being fed the truth. and I think in a sense we created this because we give the idea that if you do a work (like attend children church , or sing in the sunshine choir) you are a Christian and that is further from the truth. When the children grow up and become to old to sing in the kids choir or even attend the home church, then the work- relationship with God is gone and the feel as if they fell form grace.

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