Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 1

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the first in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Are churches overprotective?  As a Christian parent, my tendency is to want to protect my children from everything that is potentially harmful.  I don’t want my children to have any exposure to pornography, the occult, evolution, atheism, other religious ideas, or anything else contrary to the teaching of the Bible.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture where even the most carefully protected, homeschooled, and isolated young people will be exposed to all of these things and more, either as children, or eventually as adults.  We live in a relativistic, syncretistic, media-driven culture, and young people will be exposed to anti-Christian ideas and beliefs, whether parents and the church like it, or not.

Perhaps, rather than just trying to protect our children from the culture, parents and the church need to focus more on teaching children how to live out their Christian lives in the world that exists today.

Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

There is a very fine line between protecting our children, and failing to teach them how to live in the world without being worldly.  As Christian parents, we need to find ways to instill Biblical values and to contrast them with worldly values.  I think we too often just try to indoctrinate our kids with lists of “right” and “wrong” concepts, rather than teaching them to understand why some things are right in God’s eyes, and others are wrong.  The first approach is superficial legalism, which does not work, and is not Biblical; the second approach focuses on a deeper understanding of Scripture and its application in the world outside our homes and Sunday School classrooms.

I think the study is correct in its observations.  Many parents and churches do tend to “demonize” everything outside the church.  If something isn’t blatantly “Christian,” it’s evil.   We do tend to isolate ourselves and our children from the problems and realities of the world; and many of us do tend to focus on the negatives to avoid in the culture, rather than the positive things in the culture that we can use to change the world for Christ.

Don’t get me wrong – I am NOT suggesting that we give our children free reign to indulge in un-Biblical, sinful practices.  What I am saying is that most churches and Christian parents have a tendency to approach these issues in an isolationist, overly simplistic, legalistic manner.  We stay at the surface, rather than teaching young Christians to dig to understand Biblical truth in deep, insightful ways.  We teach “what” to believe, rather than “why” we believe, and “how” to apply Biblical truth in the sinful, fallen world in which we are called not just to exist, but to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Young people are expressing that “much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”  If this is how the Church is perceived, then we need to change.  A relationship with Jesus should not be “stifling;” it should be freeing.  In John 8:32, Jesus tells us, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” We should not be “risk-averse.”  Christian living is risky; but we can trust God’s sovereign control.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  The church should not be “fear-based;” it should be love-based.  John 4:17-19 tells us:

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

If we are to keep the current generation of young Christians involved in our churches, the church must adapt to meet the changing culture that our young people live in every day.  In doing so, it is critical we do not change or compromise the truth of the Bible in any way.  However, how we communicate Biblical truth, and how we apply it to a changing culture, must change in order to make our young people understand the relevance and significance of the Gospel.  Our job is not only to protect our children, but rather to make them into disciples, prepared to share the Gospel with the culture in which they live. 

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One Response

  1. I appreciate your post. It is good to know that there are people who are not afraid to examine this question. I did come from many churches that demonized so many things and people that it became unbearable for me. Unfortunately no one would listen. Thanks for your post.

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