They’re Leaving in Droves

Last month, the Barna Group published a study titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.   Researchers learned that there wasn’t one particular reason young people fall away from the faith.  Instead, they found a variety of themes, with 6 standing out in particular.  Here they are, followed by a little analysis from yours truly:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.  Young people involved in the study accused Christians of demonizing anything outside the church, of ignoring problems in the real world and fussing over petty details like the effect of  movies, books and music on youth.
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.  Young people are hitting the highway because they find church “boring” and “irrelevant”.  That’s probably not a surprise to most of you.  What might be is the fact that 23% of the subjects said “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough”.  Didn’t see that coming did you?  Sadly, 20% feel “God seems missing from my experience of church”
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.  30% of young Christian adults feel “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” and 25% say “Christianity is anti-science”.  In my time as a youth leader, I encountered this issue several times.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.  The world our youth and young adults inhabit is far different from the one older Americans grew up in.  The 60’s and 70’s were just the beginning of the overt sexualization of America and, as we all know, it’s made great strides in the last 40 years.  As a result, young people struggle with issues of sexuality and living up to the expectations of purity and chastity of the church.  Unfortunately, almost 20% say they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.  This is another area where the world has changed drastically from the one most older adults remember from their childhoods.  Just as World War II pulled America out of its isolation from the rest of the world, the global communications explosion has shattered that isolationism beyond any hope of repair.  Compound that with the lessons of tolerance and acceptance that are hammered into kids from infancy and you can see why young adults struggle with the exclusivity that has characterized the Christian faith for years.  Three out of ten of them (29%) say “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and just as many feel they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”  22% said “church is like a country club, only for insiders”.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.  I, myself, have struggled with this one.  All too often, doubt is not welcome in the Christian faith and neither are those who express that doubt.  Young people don’t feel safe in admitting that, many times, Christianity doesn’t make sense and they don’t feel comfortable asking important life questions.

What I see from the results of this study is that churches aren’t serving youth and young adults.  The world is changing at a furious pace these days and, if the Church wants to stay relevant, it needs to change with it.  That means those of us in power (and I’m not just talking about bishops, deacons, etc.) are going to have to examine our churches and ourselves and get rid of some things we hold dear and embrace people and things that make us uncomfortable.  If we want to make disciples, that is; otherwise, the status quo is just fine.