The panic has been seeping in for a few years now. There are all sorts of statistics out there about “teens” leaving the church. Some say it starts around fifteen years of age. Others say 80% of the 19-25 age group will go out the door and never come back.The Barna group tells us 6 out of 10 of young adults will leave and never come back. Other stats contend that even the “regular” church goer doesn’t go every week.
In doing some digging everyone has a different reason they go and a different method to “stop the madness.” My favorites have been by those who are actually that “young adult” age. I thought it might be good to give some perspective from a family who has a college-age student, a High School student, two in Junior High, and a married couple in their forties, all dealing with life together. We are in ministry, but you know what? I get why students are leaving the church. I see frustration bubbling in my own home and wonder where it might go.
I think we forget that you don’t just show up one day and decide you hate church, walk out, and never come back. There is something that seeps in and starts the downward trend, then when they make the decision to walk away we are shocked.
Here are three frustrations my “churched” kids have:
They Have to Go Where the Parents Go:
One of my kids hates Sunday morning. It has nothing to do with our church. It’s pretty much anywhere, and it totally has to do with her personality. Small group discussions or interactive teaching are her thing. Sitting for a long periods of time taking in information honestly bores her. It wouldn’t shock her Dad and I if she picks more of a house church model given her choice as an adult. Most kids are not picking out their own church and aren’t talking to parents what they don’t like about the one they attend. Then they move away from home and don’t really know what they are even looking for. They may think, “I don’t love the one I came from, but I don’t know what I am looking for now.”
The Bar is Set Too Low:
That’s right, my kids want to have more asked of them. Students will reach as high as you expect them. They want to grow in their faith, and they want to learn to be leaders. The problem is we tend to play to the lowest common denominator in our ministries. This means our tendency is to have the attitude that teens are just complacent so we should constantly be trying to get them out of their apathy. What if we saw them as mobilized and then helped them reach that goal of becoming deeper followers of Christ and not just at youth programming?
Nowhere to Belong:
Students can go to church without ever feeling like they belong there. It has happened in the past to my own children. Outside of the youth setting no one really talked to them or asked them to be a part of anything. This makes it difficult for them for really feel like they fit into the larger body of the local church. Again, people tend to see them as the parent’s child. Sure they can take ownership of where they are involved with students, but what about really knowing they are not just wanted but needed as part of a larger whole.
Maybe it is really all summed up in the idea that too often teens have things to do at the church, but don’t really feel included. It makes it easy to treat church as one more activity that may or may not fit into their schedules. They miss the idea that fellowship, and corporate worship is for the whole body, including them. We once attended a smaller church for almost a year and no one outside their small group leader ever even said hello to them.
So here is what I believe can happen. A student leaves home for college or life after High School. They now can “choose” their own place of worship. As I mentioned, they don’t even truly know where to begin or what they are exactly looking for. Perhaps they try a couple of places and nothing seems to fit. They are busy, and stop trying. If they find a campus ministry, well that becomes “church” and the cycle of not “fitting-in” at a place that isn’t conducive to their age set continues.
I have no scientific proof here on anything. All I know is there have been days where I wonder if my own kids will be part of the masses that seem to not want to attend church anymore.
What trends (beyond what’s out there already) are you seeing?
*Shameless plug. Take thoughts from Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore, the “Four Acts Of Love” found within this book’s pages, and make sure to remember the students ARE a part of the larger body.