Young people are leaving the church in record numbers. Disgruntled youth declare, “Religion is not for me.” Raised in the Church their entire life, they simply walk away from their faith. They not only walk away but also seem to have a distaste for anything spiritual or religious at all. Is it pure rebelliousness? What is the driving force allowing them to turn their backs on their faith?
According to a study done by Life Way Research, 70%, ages 18-30-both evangelical and mainline—who went to church regularly in high school— said they quit attending by age 23 (Retrieved on 6/24/15 from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com). During transitional times in a young person’s life there is a disruption in attendance. Reasons for a drop in attendance include moving away to college, joining the military, studying abroad, etc. Most young adults do return at some point to their faith. If raised in a Christian home, it is very unlikely one is going to totally turn away never to embrace their faith again. Scripture tells us (and Mama’s around the world hold onto the hope), “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is older he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Yes. A number of “prodigals” do leave the faith temporarily. Nevertheless, they most likely return. There are some, however, who do not. Let us take a closer look as to why young people are leaving the Church….never to return.
The Prodigal Who Never Returns
If you talk with these downtrodden young souls, they are upset and vocal about their disappointment in their faith. They communicate deep seated, heart wrenching subjects disturbing them. Most of these issues have little to do with “relevancy of faith.” Relevancy of faith is a catch phrase used in reference to the church and faith being applicable to today’s world. Some do communicate irrelevancy as their reason for decreased attendance. However, it does seem as though it has less to do with relevancy and more to do with inconsistency. The God introduced to them is not the God who truly exists. There is misalignment between church and home.
Suitcases packed, they head to “Prodigal Son Land.” Before long, they have become refugees. Unlike the notable Prodigal Son parable of the Bible offering a beautiful illustration of redemption, there is no coming home for some. Some stay outcasts, continue to wander as self-made exiles— Church homeless.
What is Fueling the Fire?
In every church across America, topics such as music and styles of worship surface in an effort to try and “save” our youth. Before we know it, church looks and sounds like a rock concert. Music may save a few disgruntled youth for a while (at the expense of losing a few Senior Citizens). Pyroglyphics and elaborate light shows added to the services, may entertain for a season. However, whether our churches has the best lighting and surround sound is not in the forefront of these young people’s discontented minds. Connections between home and church are what are driving our young people right out of the church building….in full speed. They are driving away and Jesus does not have the wheel!
We are not losing our young people because of music or not incorporating the latest trends. (Though some may leave a congregation for some of these reasons), they are leaving not because of what is going on in the church. They are leaving because of the disconnection between religion and the real world….the real world being their own home.
In our kid’s formative years if they sense an inauthentic household where there is no continuity between faith and the goings on of their own home, there is a problem. When we smile, love on what another at church, yet treat our fellow family members with little respect, kids sense a “counterfeit religion.” Our young people do not want anything to do with inauthenticity. They crave genuineness. They want to see faith lived out. Religion in action. There has to be some connection between what the Pastor says from the pulpit on Sunday and how it is translated and lived out in their home. REMEMBER THIS POINT: Young people will hold onto a real faith…..not a phony religion. They will simply walk away in pursuit of what they perceive to be “real.”
The Perfect Parent Trap
Kids not only can “sniff out” a fake religion, they can detect a parent who is trying to be someone she is not. We are afraid to show our kids we are real and we make mistakes. We shelter them; create little shatterproof glass worlds where nothing can touch them. When kids are older and realize their parents are not perfect, (the parent has never been honest with their children about their struggles), kids have a very rude awakening. “My parents represented one thing to me my entire life, now they represent something different,” they say. “What else is not true?” Again, kids do not appreciate phony Christianity. Show your kids (at the appropriate age of course) you are human and humans fail. Let them hear you ask for forgiveness from God. Ask your children for forgiveness when you have wronged them as well. Let them see your repentant heart. Let them see the Jesus to whom you have introduced them to in action. He is the forgiver of all sin…even parental sin.
I am Weak but He is Strong
Our youth not only crave authenticity, connecting church to home, they want what we say about THEM to be authentic. We tell our kids too much they are exceptional. Please do not get me wrong. I love my three boys! When they do a good job they are praised. My husband and I respect and appreciate what each of our three boys brings to the table in the talent and gifted department. We praise God for their gifts! That said, my husband and I do not tell our children constantly how good they are and we do not tell them they are equally good at the same thing. If one continually strikes out at the ball field, we do not tell them how great they are at baseball in the hopes this builds “self-esteem.” Praising when no praise is due actually tells kids the opposite. “My parents actually have to make stuff up for me to feel good about myself!” What kind of message is that presenting?
My husband and I do not always get this right. This delicate parenting technique has taken some tweaking and we still catch ourselves when we are falling into the “let’s lump all of them as good at the same thing” department. As we continue to grow, we allow failure more and more. We allow each child to be successful but also embrace unsuccess. We tell them who they are in God’s eyes. Our children, fearfully and wonderfully made! We infuse “God-esteem” in them not “self-esteem.” We do not overload them with words that confuse them and make them feel good only for a moment. Kids are bright! They know when they are good at something and they know the value of lip service! Lip service has zero value!
My children have immeasurable worth and they are awesome because God made them. My husband and I try to use weaknesses as teachable moments. These teachable moments are opportunities for our children to see how God uses weaknesses as well as strengths to build character. We want to teach our children how to depend on Him as the Source of all strength. When my kids excel, it is because God made it possible! Their hard working contributions are a bonus making their gift better! There is nothing wrong with a good ‘Ol fashioned “Atta boy”….we all desire those. However if all your child hears is “Atta boy”, “Atta boy”….he internalizes the message to mean, “I did this on my own…without the help of God! Over praising is dangerous! The message young people get when you continuously tell them how fabulous they are, they say to themselves, “I do not need God”. Why would they? They are perfect as is….batteries included! We do not belittle or degrade, but my husband and I do not boost our children to super stardom status. We are all sinners saved by grace. We are who we are because of the grace of God and ALL we have comes from Him. Period.
College Students are not leaving our churches in droves because they have been brainwashed to believe in evolution at college (though some unfortunately take on this view). They have not left their religion solely because of a rebellious spirit (though at times rebelliousness does play a role). They haven’t even left because of the Church holding “old-fashioned” views in which they cannot relate.
Our young people are leaving the faith because the religious world you have created for them is visibly shaking. Their religious faith, rattled to the very core. As parents, we try to instill values, uphold religious traditions, and infuse morals. We are doing all of these things at the fateful expense of losing sight of whom we are even doing it in Honor of….our Heavenly Father! Until young people hold onto their own faith, grasp hold of God’s hand, and realize they need God for the “long haul,” they will continue to walk out of the Church doors and sadly we will hold the doors open for them. We can do very little to confine them when their faith in action has been restricted, confined to four walls their entire life….walls we have constructed for them. If they only knew when true and honest religion is lived out….it is impossible to slam the Church doors shut.
“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”—-A.W. Tozer
Grossman, C.L., Young adults aren’t sticking with church. USA Today.com. Aug 6, 2007. Retrieved 6/24/15 at http://.www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-08-06-church-dropouts_n.htm.