In February a blog I read, Marc5solas, posted “Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church.” It has half a million hits. Since it addresses themes discussed on this blog, people are asking what I think of it. Answer: He hit the ball out of the park. Marc probably stretched a few points to add up to ten, but that post was a home run. Why?
While the Evangelical church “wins” kids with “wow” (lights, bands, fog) and community, the Mainline is winning them with social justice and community. These are two sides of the same coin:
- Neither Evangelicalism nor the Mainline give students an articulatable ground for faith other than “God is for me.”
- Both Evangelicalism and the Mainline pander to the “me, me, me” of the age. We even do it with the most other’s-centered thing we do: service projects. Listen to people gush about serving, “I felt soooo good giving that guy a sandwich!” We neither do nor teach about alleviating the conditions that lead to suffering or “teach a man to fish”- because it isn’t about the people, it is about us and our feelings. Which leaves us with…
- Faith as a feeling.
- We reinforce this self-centeredness by segregating students away in youth rooms to entertain them, sending the message that they are a market to be pandered to. (See “Mormon Bishop to the Megachurch“)
- We give students a list of behaviors to follow for God (which are inevitably external and political).
Moralism and social justice without Salvation by grace are nice results with neither the motive behind nor the power therein. Feelings without a grounding in the nature of God or the costly gift of grace is empty emotionalism. The gospel isn’t “you can do it.” It is “You can’t do it. Jesus did. Surrender your life in gratitude to the only higher love worth reorienting your life around.”
There is one more reason kids are leaving the church that plagues the mainline: While the Evangelical church is investing untold millions in the wrong things, at least they are investing in their young. We can’t muster the energy or money to send the message that we care. The years from birth-to-20 are more than 25% of the average life expectancy. Ask yourself what your church’s total budget for people from birth-to-20 is. Is it 25%? I’ll bet it isn’t close. I know of a church whose choir discretionary budget is 100x the youth discretionary budget. Yes, 100 times! I know of a church in which the music minister makes more than the two paid staff for youth and children make. No wait, the music minister’s assistant makes more than the two full-time staff for youth and children make-and one of the staff members is ordained. If you are in the Mainline chances are good your church spends more money on custodial than children. We spend more on our trash than our kids and then wonder why families went somewhere else?
Why are we losing youth? Wrong message. Wrong methods. Wrong investment.
As my dentist says, “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away.”