The Top Reason Our Youth Are Leaving The Church

If you have Facebook there is a great chance that one of your friends posted a link to an article entitled, “10 Surprising Reasons Our Kids LEAVE Church.” If not you can and should read it here.

Did you catch the stat at the beginning of the article? 70 % of teens are leaving the church and only half are coming back after college. That’s awful! But it shouldn’t surprise us. We should let that stat motivate us to do something, but I don’t think that the 10 reasons listed are the real reasons teens are leaving the church.

I liked most of that article. I think the author has some good points that we need to think about and discuss as the church. BUT…

The list seems to be a bash against the contemporary church. The number 9 Reason listed is “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.”

The contemporary church is not the problem. In fact it was an attempt to answer the problems from the the mass exodus of teens leaving the traditional church. Oh and by the way sitting in between new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank has been sited as the reason someone has stuck with the church a grand total of 0 times.

Critiquing the contemporary church by saying it’s the problem is like blaming McDonald’s for obesity, guns for crime, and Twerking for Miley Cyrus. The problem with all of those is people not items.

Are there issues with the contemporary church? YES. There were issues with the traditional church. In fact there were issues with Jesus teaching. In a day and age where we are obsessed with church growth the founder of our faith left us with a bad example of what to do with a large crowd. Jesus ticked off a large audience by essentially saying “eat me” and caused them to stop following Him.

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” John 6:66

Look at what Jesus said about finding God.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

No matter what our method is, traditional, contemporary, or traditiorary (I think I just made up that word. It’s a mix between traditional and contemporary) the next generation will reject our methods. What works today will look cheesy and outdated to the next generation.

We can point our fingers and say that the model is the problem or we can do something about it. The problem is not the model. It’s people. People are selfish. People don’t need much convincing to leave the faith. People love to point the finger but are too lazy to be the solution to the problem.

It’s easy to look at other people’s attempts to reach people and crucify it. It’s a lot harder to actually do something about it.

At the end of the day I think that the list in this article misses the main reason people leave the church.

It’s because we are people. We are broken, selfish, distracted, pleasure seeking people.

Each generation will always rebel against the generation before it. And at the end of the day it all works and none of it works. Our best efforts will be used by God to reach many and many will leave no matter what we do.

Jesus was a great leader and yet eventually even out of Jesus’ disciples one of them betrayed Him, another denied He knew Him, and all abandoned Him. All but one came back but He still lost Judas. What if we crucified Jesus’ leadership by pointing to His methods that led to many people leaving? It would feel wrong and not get us anywhere.

We can’t expect different results than Jesus. People are going to leave. We shouldn’t be happy about it. We should do whatever we can to reach them and get them back, but we shouldn’t be shocked by it.

So what’s my point with all of this?

Let’s stop crucifying each generations attempt to reach people. Instead lets focus on discipling people. Church methods aren’t the enemy. Sin is. Selfishness is. Let’s do whatever we can to model loving Jesus. Let’s make Him be what church is all about. Let’s stop getting married to traditions and programs. Let’s be willing to abandon it all if it would win some back. Let’s learn from the past generations mistakes and embrace the changes the next generation wants to make. Let’s not be shocked when lots of people leave the church. And finally let’s not be okay with lots of people leaving the church.

What has helped you stay connected to the church? 

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Rob Shepherd

I am the full-time husband of a wonderful woman! I love being married! We are proud parents to twins, Hayden and Reese. In my spare time I am the pastor of Next Level Church. I have a relationship with God and it is an adventure. Oh and I wrote a book. It's called Even If You Were Perfect Someone Would Crucify You.

36 Comments

  1. August 27, 2013

    I have always been in church. There was only about 6 months where i didn’t go much. Even at my lowest, I always wanted to be in the church. Can’t really explain it other than that.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Larry, no doubt. Do you think that’s something that you can teach? How do we get others to have that same desire.

      Reply
  2. jebatthebeach
    August 27, 2013

    My week isn’t complete without it. If I have to miss I feel empty. It’s a habit that I don’t ever want to break.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Joan, I’m so glad that you are a part of our church family!

      Reply
  3. August 27, 2013

    Sometimes I don’t know why I go to church as it often makes me uncomfortable to be there given that I am not good around crowds. Sometimes I go to church and just know that it is where I am supposed to be. I think it is my relationship with God/Jesus that keeps me going to church more than any personal relationships.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Daniel, I’m glad you come. I enjoy our conversations.

      Reply
  4. Did
    August 27, 2013

    Very astute insight ROBSHEP!

    Reply
  5. August 27, 2013

    Three words about this post: Yes, yes, YES!
    For me, the community aspect has helped me stay connected. It’s a place where I can encourage and be encouraged. Where I can share my struggles and help others with theirs. It’s a place where I see and feel God’s love lived out, and I can’t help but want to be a part of it.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Thanks Larry! Community is so crucial! And yet at some point the next generation will rebel against our model of community and we will want to fight them over it. I see this a little bit already with people having community online. Others pushback like it’s not real.

      Reply
  6. shepherdmim
    August 27, 2013

    I grew up in a family who claimed to be believers but were not regular church goers. On the rare occasions in which I was taken to church, I liked it. I saw something different that I longed to make my own. I wanted to be on the inside, not on the outside looking in. I wanted to make it my own, and not just be a guest or visitor. That was my goal and I never even think about what I am doing on Sunday. Church attendance is as ingrained as going to work on Monday.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Mim, Is that drive from God? If so that’s awesome. I wonder how others can get that same desire.

      Reply
  7. Scott H.
    August 27, 2013

    I don’t think the church is much different than every other mass organization in the sense that it is constantly evolving and no matter what, there is going to be some kick back and negativity. Everyone will have some way to break down a current “system” and say that it is bad, but the reason there is evolution is because things need to adapt to survive in their present state. Every day, things change and most of the time, it is an improvement on the earlier state. If the church did not evolve, it would become extinct. The church my grandparents went to is nothing like the church that their grandparents went to, but now, my grandparents want to say the church I go to is not really church and I bet that’s exactly what there grandparents said when they didn’t sit in a molten hot, one room building with dusty floors and wooden benches for 8 hours. I stayed away from church for many years and unfortunately, every church has the proverbial “sausage factory” behind closed doors and that really turned me off… But, ultimately, if God wasn’t happy with the direction His church is going, I don’t believe churches would be heading in the direction they are. In my humble opinion, wouldn’t you want to appeal to the masses? Wouldn’t you want to make church as digestible as possible to as many people as possible? I also think that there is to much responsibility being placed on the church. Church is not going to save you… Going to church is not going to save you. You have to take personal responsibility for your relationship with Jesus and you are the only person who can make that difference. Church simply facilitates the walk. You can spend 3 hours a night in a building, but if you aren’t taking it to heart, it doesn’t matter if it comes wrapped up in a V-neck and knit beanie or a 3 piece suit. You only get it, when you make your relationship with Him your own.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Scott, great points! It really does need to come back to pointing people to Jesus.

      Reply
  8. August 27, 2013

    Well said, Rob. Well said.

    Reply
  9. August 27, 2013

    Rob, if you can teach it, I have no idea how. Part of it is just want to.

    Reply
  10. August 27, 2013

    As I told you, I liked the post and make me think a couple of things:

    1) Parenting and relations: One key point to not loose the youth is to have strong family bonds that allow parents to transmit in a healthy and passionate way the commitment and joy of going to church. So we need to educate parents.
    My dad came from a very religious family, my did not. For whatever reason (I think point 3 below), she “won” and after we have the communion we stop going to church. We were free to do so, but not encouraged.

    2) Teenagers are difficult; they have strong believes only sustained by a few of their peers with a fundamentalist socialist appeal (w/o even understanding what that means). So when we see the Vatican with gold and the poor with hunger, they blame God and Jesus because of the injustice.

    3) There is a lack of interpretation due to ignorance that leaves to indifference because to be a son of god “requires so much dedication” that they do not know where to start, so might as well deviate the attention to something easier. We need baby steps to go through the process.

    I’m lost on where to start!

    4) “God is guilty”. It seems that 100 % of the times he is guilty for what happens to us. We are so angry, then disappointed that we refuse to follow him. our tragedies are easier if he bares with the fault. What we miss (and I got it a couple of months ago, after denying him for 20 years) that the closest you get to him, the easiest and healthiest pathway to heal, forgive and love.

    5) History: people keeps blaming The Inquisition. Some are still holding to the argument that because a bunch of crazy people act on the name of god by doing a lot of wrong and damage, religion is evil and stubborn.

    6) there is a misunderstanding of the true message around god and Jesus, since there is a trend to show the most irrational extreme out of context verses to condemned them.

    7) Lastly, church and religion are failing on giving those baby steps. Either you believe and come to church or you are not a true believer. We start to be afraid of failing and going to hell, so we give our back and pretend it does not exist. We are tagged as the “so called true believers” and that kind of frustrate / annoys us. Because more than often we commit a little bit everyday and not just show up a Sunday

    To wrap it up:

    Miseducation, Ignorance and lack of guide or point where to start (Baby steps).

    Though this reasons may not apply all to youth everything we do as adults,reflects on our children behaviors. So my opinion is that we parents have a great deal of guilt on this.

    I may have written beyond the scope of this post, but this are many of the things that rushed in my head after reading it.

    Have an awesome day,

    Diego.

    Reply
    • August 27, 2013

      Thanks Diego. I think you are on to something. Parenting is HUGE. When parents reflect a heart for God it does leave an impression on their kids. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Reply
      • August 27, 2013

        Sure, you are welcome. Anytime, everytime, you deserve 200%. Keep it up, because now you are one of my Avengers…you will find out more about tomorrow. Will tweet you about it……!:)

        Reply
  11. Shannon
    August 27, 2013

    I had mixed thoughts on the article – like you said, I thought he had some good points, but disagreed with some as well. What I actually liked best was in one of the comments on the article, and it’s what Diego said too – a lot of the problem is at home. If parents don’t take their faith seriously, kids pick up on that and don’t care either. I think the key to a lot of problems is being real – if kids see their parents (or other models) truly following Jesus, and are helped to understand their need for him and how a genuine relationship with Him works, I think their chances of sticking with the truth are much better. It’s made me think also about how churches need to help parents get involved with what their kids are being taught on sunday. Tell the parents what you taught the kids, and suggest some ways to help teach them more about it during the week (scripture reference for the lesson, etc). I’m planning to talk to our kids pastor about this this week actually, to see what they currently do, as Dominic is just starting to get old enough to have a lesson on sundays.

    Reply
    • August 28, 2013

      Thanks Shannon! I appreciate your thoughts!

      Reply
  12. Crystal
    August 27, 2013

    I grew up attending church regularly, but it was really just a family tradition more than something I truly connected with. Through college, I stopped attending church regularly. I did not see a need for it, and honestly did not find it relatable. I think the key is making relationships and finding that sense of community. Over the past year, I have finally found that sense of community at church. It is truly life changing. Getting plugged in as soon as possible makes a huge difference.

    You nailed it with this line: “It’s because we are people. We are broken, selfish, distracted, pleasure seeking people.”

    I can admit, I am a selfish person. I think my primary reason for falling away from the church at times was because my ‘needs’ were not being met. I did not feel like I was getting what I wanted out of the church experience. Of course, looking back, I can see that I was putting much effort in to achieve those things. I think with church, like anything in life, you get what you put into it. Church has become a much more rewarding experience for me because I am investing my time in people and activities.

    I don’t think this is something that is necessarily teachable, but it can be fostered by the environment. As a church we can welcome people with open arms, keep an open mind, and just be real.

    Reply
    • August 28, 2013

      I praise God that you are at our church! You rock Crystal!

      Reply
  13. August 27, 2013

    Realizing my complete and utter need for Jesus has helped me stay connected to the church. I like a quote by Jim Eliff: “It’s hard to believe a man will take up his cross and follow Jesus if he won’t take up his keys and drive to church.”

    Reply
    • August 28, 2013

      Matt, that’s a great quote!

      Reply
  14. Faith
    August 28, 2013

    I am one of those that have always gone to church. I think I skipped one Sunday in college, and of course, my Mom, who NEVER called me the entire time I was in college, called that morning I skipped! LOL My dad was a pastor at a pretty large, but not mega, Southern Baptist Church. It was just part of our life. We went to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesdays. I can’t imagine life without church. One of my sisters’ still attends regularly, the other one doesn’t any longer. Other than her husband becoming completely turned off by the church and “christians” (he went to seminary, and then got his doctorate and teaches religion courses at a university), I think she’d probably still go, but I don’t know for sure. We don’t really talk about it.

    I hope our kids will always stay involved in church, they love our church and our pastor, and I think if they can find one like it, they would continue. At least, I hope.

    I don’t know if it’s really something that can always be taught by example, but that’s how it became a part of my life. I never felt dragged, and at one point, I didn’t want to go to one of the regular activities, and when my dad found out I wasn’t going, he was mad at first, but then he listened and was o.k. with it. My parents really did a good job of knowing the battles to fight, and when not to fight. I can’t imagine life without church, and never even considered NOT going on a regular basis.

    Reply
  15. mary Ilgenfritz
    August 28, 2013

    I can’t wait to go to church! I NEED Jesus and NEED to thank him through praise weekly with like people and daily on a more personal level. I know if our youth would just give him a chance or anyone who does not go to church, they would never regret it,and I’m sure wished they had started coming sooner in life!

    Reply
  16. August 29, 2013

    Amen, amen, amen. Great post and the last paragraph nailed it on so many levels.

    I work PT for our church and it’s interesting for me to view our mission through the filter of my daily corporate job.

    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  17. August 30, 2013

    Man….Way to go Rob, now I feel as guilty for not going to church as I feel about not sending you a Chipotle’s gift card for your birthday! 🙁

    I like church, but feel the Pastor is just not hard enough on sin, at least not his preaching style is hard on sin. And since I kinda have such a short attention span, I kinda doze off somewhere inbetween worship and sermon. Maybe because I am heading to church right after Chipotle, I dunno….

    Reply
  18. August 31, 2013

    I love attending church. I was raised in a Pentecostal Church, then years later we helped start a non-denominal Charismatic church. Then my hubby got sick, and can’t be in crowds so he worships at home. Life happens, and I now attend a traditional church where the service, the songs are all different to me, but the people love me and I am able to share my stories once or twice a month.

    Reply
    • August 31, 2013

      Oh yes, I caught you at Rick’s Shortcuts

      Reply
    • September 1, 2013

      That’s great! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story! That’s awesome!

      Reply
  19. September 2, 2013

    Oh, yes! I like this post! Thanks for cutting through all the fat and getting straight to the meat of the topic. You brought up a few things that are really important for our churches to remember like this:

    “Jesus ticked off a large audience by essentially saying “eat me” and caused them to stop following Him.”

    I’m pretty sure that if we analyzed Jesus’ ministry up to the crucifiction we would have all kinds of critiques and suggestions for why things went so bad.

    Btw, here’s a stab I made on the same topic http://sukofamily.org/?p=2594

    Reply
    • September 2, 2013

      Great stuff! I enjoyed your post!

      Reply

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