Is the Church Failing Young People?

jesus face palmEven though I don’t work with youth anymore when I saw “Youth Ministry – The Fifty Year Failed Experiment” by Fr. John Peck, I was intrigued. At some level, I’ve always known there were problems in the church and five years of youth ministry showed me those problems weren’t limited to the adults. I’ve pointed out that fact several times, an action that did not endear me with some of my brothers and sisters. But, I always approached the issue with idea of fixing youth ministry. After reading Fr. Peck’s article, I have to reconsider that idea. The problem is with the institution, not with youth, or even adult, ministry.

Just in case anyone is thinking “What problem?”, let me take a minute to show what I mean. The Barna Group conducted a five-year study which found that 6 out of 10 young people will leave the church either permanently or for extended periods starting around the age of 15. The study found there are 6 reasons for this. There are as follows:

  1. Churches are overprotective and isolated, demonizing everything outside of them.
  2. Their experience of Christianity seems shallow.
  3. Churches are antagonistic to science.
  4. Churches approach sex in simplistic and judgmental ways.
  5. Young people do not care the exclusivity displayed by the majority of Christians.
  6. Churches are hostile towards doubt.

Since this could be a controversial subject, I decided to verify these findings with an actual representative of young people. This was relatively easy, as there is a young person in my household and, today being a teacher work day, she was home. I ran down this list with my youngest daughter who is 17 and thus right in the sweet spot of this study. She agreed on all points. If you think there’s no problem here, get your head out of the sand.

Originally, I had planned for this to be a stand-alone piece. But, looking at this list, I can see that it’s not really possible to say all I want to say in one post and keep to a length that would be even remotely readable. Instead, I’m going to make this a series and address each point in a separate article. That breaks it up into easily digested nuggets and gives me something to write about for at least the next 6 days. Everybody wins!

Right now, some of you might be thinking this won’t apply to you because you’re not a pastor or a youth leader or have kids and nothing could be further from the truth. If there’s one thing I learned in 5 years of working with youth, it’s that they are constantly watching adults. All adults, not just their pastors, parents, teachers, etc. They’re watching us to see how we do this Christian thing and decide if they want to follow in our footsteps. And, right now, they don’t. In the title of this post, I ask if the church is failing young people. Because it isn’t giving them a true picture of what it means to follow Christ the answer to that question is a resounding YES.