Youts in Revolt
Why Teens, Young Adults are Leaving American Churches
1) Churched kids and teens spend six of seven days each week hearing other people say how judgmental Christianity is, and that the Bible should be taboo.
2) Churches use outdated methods of Sunday School, rotating the same Bible stories year-in and year-out without relating the morals to daily living. When kids want to know why someone like Gabrielle Giffords was shot, they don't need another lesson on Noah's Ark.
3) Teens can only eat so much pizza at church social events before they see through this thinly veiled attempt at keeping them occupied and out of trouble.
4) Those surveyed say there aren't enough good reasons given for holding Bible beliefs other than "the preacher says so..." or "your parents say so."
5) Sometimes kids are routinely kept out of "grown-up church." From infancy to four years old, they're in nursery. Then they get "children's church" with a short Bible lesson, crafts and refreshments. For teens, a separate youth service geared to "their" music. By eighteen, they've never been expected to sit through a whole Sunday service. It's culture shock.
6) Young people can see that the Church in general hasn't yet been able to conquer racial reconciliation, domestic abuse and the rampant church divorce rate...sometimes in their own families.
7) Older generations won't blend a moderate amount of contemporary music with traditional hymns, to show young people that newer ideas are respected.
8) Or, the Church feels pressured to impress their younger members with new technological avenues. So they discard all the old hymns that were written out of peoples' struggles with life, pride and suffering. Thus, the newer generations don't hear about how God can help them through hard times.
9) Parents are expecting the church to teach what may fall within their own responsibility.
10) But then, young parents raised in the last twenty years have themselves grown up under the new pop psychology of never receiving or deserving any discipline or criticism. They've seen church become irrelevant. Now, as parents, they're hesitant to make (or even ask) their kids to go to church or develop a backbone in faith.
11) Lastly, everyone's too busy for church. There are too many other attractions in life.
- Though it may be true that more young adults are leaving churches these days than in previous generations, young adults leaving churches really isn't a "new" phenomenon. I was a regular youth group attender, both in high school and college, during the 80s. My family was members of a typical, small town church with strong evangelical, fundamental leaning. I imagine probably 20 percent of the people who attended those groups with me are still actively involved in a local church somewhere. The other 80 percent don't have any significant church involvement, and probably for some of the reasons this author outlines in her article.
- Now that is not to say these individuals are outright hateful toward church, like some internet atheist crank. They even may be politically conservative and watch Hallmark television movies; They just don't attend church regularly. If they do attend church, it is primarily for their kids' involvement or it is just a squeaky-clean, social club atmosphere they enjoy. Their faith as a Christian isn't real, so there isn't a genuine display of that faith in their personal lives.
- From what I can see, a major reason many young adults leave church is that churches don't have anything substantial to offer, especially in the area of solid biblical teaching. I fault the leadership for the most part, because they have reduced church services to two basic approaches that appear different on the surface, but in actuality are quite similar in the shallow handling of Scripture:
On one hand is the old-fashioned style where a preacher delivers an evangelistic sermon for thirty minutes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with evangelistic sermons, but every Sunday morning and evening? Additionally, there is no consistency with teaching the Bible. One morning he is in Judges 10, during the evening, Matthew 26. The next week in the morning it is Colossians 2, the evening, John 9. Basically three points and a poem are given (or he does what many preachers do these days: plagiarize a message from the internet), the preacher gives an invitation to the church members, the pianist plays a couple of stanzas from Just as I am, and we go home. A steady diet of this mediocrity every week, every month, and every year, will drive anyone away from church, let alone disillusioned youths.
Yet on the other hand is the modern style where church has become like attending a stage show in Branson, MO. There are lots of bright lights, contemporary music, church services start late in the morning or a person can attend the Saturday afternoon service so as to have Sunday mornings free for family stuff like baseball. The preaching, or better, motivational messages, are meant to be "relevant" but they generally cover the same themes over and over again for a few short weeks. Subjects like marriage, finances, raising kids, relationships, and overcoming stress and worry. That is not to say those are important topics, but if the leadership wants to be "relevant" in these societal areas the speaker must devote in-depth time to them, not 22-minute sermonettes punctuated with video clips of slum children in Brazil. A person must actually teach the Bible in order to make the Bible relevant.
- Lastly, the author is a bit off target with point #2. While I certainly agree with her that lame Bible teaching extends into even the Sunday school classes with simplistic, prefabricated curriculum from whatever denomination, she misses the much larger tragedy with this approach when the infallibility and authority of God's Word is undermined. If she means kids "don't need another lesson on Noah's ark" in the sense of a flannel graph image of a floating house with giraffe heads sticking out of windows, then I couldn't agree more. But the larger reason why kids don't take the faith seriously and leave church is because they don't take the Bible seriously as a divinely inspired revelation of God's redemption on display in real history. Contrary to what our author implies, I personally think the lack of lessons defending Noah's ark as a real, historical event rather than just a myth about a zoo on a boat, has profound ramifications on how young adults will perceive the authority of Scripture.
If the Bible is reduced to being a collection of ethical ideas to which we look to explain why a woman is shot by a crazy man, this nullifies its claims upon the lives of sinners. It's just a collection of morals competing with other collections of religious morals. It is no longer a divine revelation from the only true and living God who has clearly, and without doubt, put Himself on display in real human history and demands our submission to the Gospel He has established as the only means of reconciliation.