12 January 2007

Young Adults Leaving the Church

A recent report by the Barna Group reports that “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years.” Six out of ten young adults who were active in a local church fail to translate that into their early adulthood. More than a temporary transitional phase, the more disturbing fact is that this is persisting deeper into adulthood.

As the study notes,

“Even the traditional impulse of parenthood - when people’s desire to supply
spiritual guidance for their children pulls them back to church - is weakening.
The new research pointed out that just one-third of twentysomethings who are
parents regularly take their children to church, compared with two-fifths of
parents in their thirties and half of parents who are 40-years-old or more.”

Among the perspectives offered by researchers is this one:

"Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul - not
because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but
because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond
high school. There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country,
but the levels of disengagement among twentysomethings suggest that youth
ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation. A new standard for
viable youth ministry should be - not the number of attenders, the
sophistication of the events, or the ‘cool’ factor of the youth group - but
whether teens have the commitment, passion and resources to pursue Christ
intentionally and whole- heartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest."
Before any parents reading this exclaim, “How could our Youth Pastor have gone so wrong!?” this comment is added to this explanation:

"it’s not entirely surprising that deep, lasting spiritual transformation
rarely happens among teenagers - it’s hard work at any age, let alone with the
distractions of youth. And, since teenagers’ faith often mirrors the intensity
of their parents, youth workers face steep challenges because they are trying to
impart something of spiritual significance that teenagers generally do not
receive from home.”
I am thankful that our Youth Pastor understands this and has this heartbeat. Both of the practical findings the researchers suggest are strategies WCC is pursuing.

“Another shift," he continued, "is to develop teenagers’ ability to
think and process the complexities of life from a biblical viewpoint. This is
not so much about having the right head knowledge as it is about helping teens
respond to situations and decisions in light of God’s principles for life. Also,
we have learned that effective youth ministries do not operate in isolation but
have a significant role in training parents to minister to their own children.”

If you’re reading this as a parent, consider this a warning. If you’re reading it as an attender of this church, take it as a challenge to get personally involved in ministry to our youth. And, if you’re a teenager, know that we love you and want God’s best for your life. We undoubtedly make mistakes in how we seek to help you find and follow that best. But, I hope you see our efforts. And I hope you see Him despite our inadequacies and hypocrisies. It seems remote now, but your life will be shaped by your faith. Everyone places faith in something. We want you to have faith in Jesus not to carry-on a family tradition… not because we say it’s right… not to perpetuate an institution called the church… but because faith in Him is a faith well-placed. It leads into a life that is fuller and more meaningful than any other faith yields.

Down on the right-hand side of this blog under “My Favorites” is a link “Magazine for Music/Culture.” The magazine is Relevant, a magazine for by and for those twentysomethings I’ve been talking about from a Christian perspective. One of them writes from their perspective about leaving the church. It’s worth a read if this is something you’re thinking about. Click here to read the article.


Tim said...

I think it comes down to three things.

1. We need to re-think how we "do church."
2. Teens need to see genuine Christianity modeled.
3. Students need to know scripture.

I blogged about it here:

etoc said...

Thanks for the comment Tim. Only thing I'd add is a reciprocal phrase to #3 "and the scriptures need to know them." Truth needs to have taken intimate residence in the inner recesses of every part of their lives. Checkout Tim's blog for another study that says it may be even worse.