Why are young people leaving the church?

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:

  1. Neither Evangelicalism nor the Mainline give students an articulatable ground for faith other than “God is for me.”
  2.  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…
  3. Faith as a feeling.
  4. 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“)
  5. 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.”

Buh, bye.



14 thoughts on “Why are young people leaving the church?

  1. Observations from someone who works with youth: As you know, I am working with mostly youth that are refugees from Africa. They want to be involved in church and activities having to do with church. What’s the difference? Most of them have gone through horrendous experiences before coming here or their parents have, and they have a need to be part of the church. They want to learn about Jesus. The want to be involved in baptism, special masses, funerals. I can relate to them because I went through the death of my husband at a young age. I had just finished treatment for cancer and had a baby right before I began cancer treatment. I had always been a church goer, but I became more involved after these tragedies. I think there was a need for Jesus in my life more than ever. I think that is what many of these refugees have that other youth don’t have. There is also a wanting to give thanks for being able to continue our lives. I’m not sure how that is transcended to others, but I think we keep trying.

    • I suspect the horrors of war act to magnify what is present in every human heart. I believe the desire to belong to God, to be able to articulate the faith, to worship fully as a member of the community of faith, the body of Christ, and to be involved with God to change the world and extend God’s kingdom is in us all.

      You are one of my heroes Lynn.

  2. When we look at comparisons like the one you have given about the choir assistant’s income compared to those caring for the spiritual development of youth and children…we then SURPRISINGLY ask why aren’t there experienced, long-term, mature veterans in youth ministry.

  3. Anglicans and Episcopalians sometimes become too “snobbish” and fail to provide a healing atmosphere in which all can participate. The Eucharist is great but Eucharist with anointing and laying on of hands for healing is dynamic. “Body ministry” is the Body of Christ ministering to itself by healing, comforting, listening and doing. The young as well as old respond to this.

    • Excellent comment, John! many of the most powerful liturgical services I have been to do that sort of “body ministry” on the way to or from the altar rail in a time of praise and thanksgiving. It seems a logical extension of the bread taken, blessed, broken and given. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  4. Has anyone considered the obvious? The younger generation has access to more information via the Internet and they are realizing that Christianity is a Bronze Aged myth full of superstition and dogma that is not based in fact. Like all religion, Christianity tries to bully people into thinking they have a disease and then “sells” them the cure. I believe it is this generation who will finally top the scales against religion and throw off its chains on humanity forever. The world will be a better place for it.

      • No, believe it or not, there are more than a few people who read this stuff on the Internet and feel the need to point out the obvious. If my comment is similar to any previous one, it is coincidental.

    • Thanks, Carrie. Fun to see people I know from the non-cyber world chiming in. Warning: You may find resistance. People on church staffs are the ones reblogging rebuttals. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Are priests killing the church? | the gospel side

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