Teens leaving the church is one of those blaring statements that not only concerns Youth Ministers but also parents, pastors and church leaders. Recently after returning from vacation I am going through my mail and I find our state denominational paper in my box. One of the headlines reads, "Southern Baptist Membership Continues to Decline". It talks about how we have gone from millions of membership to fewer millions in membership over the last few years. This is not good.
Why Teens Are Leaving the Church
Posted By Mark Gregston On June 15, 2012 @ 12:42 pm In boundaries,Finding purpose,fitting in,household rules,meaning of life,troubled teens
On matters of religion and the family, our culture fosters confusion in our teens. In a society that craves entertainment, teens have an aversion to lectures. They would rather not sit and listen to someone preach for an hour every Sunday. Church is seen as “boring” or “lame.” It fails to offer fun or amusement. Once the Sunday school curriculum moves past puppet shows into a more serious application of Christian principles, many teens abandon the notion that the church holds any relevance to their lives.
Our culture also preaches that church is antiquated. The cynics have concluded that pastors and church leaders are incapable of understanding the new sexual norms, modern media, changing gender roles, or even recent scientific discoveries. The Barna Group revealed that 40% of 18 to 29 year olds believe the church’s teachings on sexuality and birth control are outdated.
Whether or not the church has done a good job refuting this view or not, the growing perception among young adults is that the church is no longer in touch with the modern world.
Another reason teens are leaving the church has to do with the church itself. Don’t misunderstand—the point is not to bash churches or assign blame. There are many factors to the departure of teens from their faith. However, like a doctor who identifies the disease before treatments, if we can diagnose why teens struggle with church, we can better cure what ails them.
For many teens, church has become judgmental and hypocritical. On our radio program this week, you’ll hear one of our students from the Heartlight residential program explain that he left church because he felt judged and looked down upon. Kids make mistakes and misconstrue, of course, and they may feel like church unfairly shines a spotlight on their weaknesses. But this is also the most inclusive generation in history. The way they embrace diversity is remarkable and inspiring. However, with that commendable sense of tolerance, young people today struggle with the exclusivity of Christianity. Why does the church act like it knows everything? Who’s to say they have the market on truth or right? For them, the church looks like an elite country club, where those who don’t fit the mold are denied acceptance. (We have to do a better job of explaining the why of things within the church. Why we do VBS as an example. Reason? More people come to Christ through VBS than any other evangelistic outreach of the church. Communicate the why so students and adults will know why we do this.)
Of course, we know this is a skewed view of the church. Not all Christians are hypocritical or judgmental. I have been in churches where the members have been the most loving and divergent group of people I have ever seen. But because your son or daughter may have an immature picture of religion doesn’t mean we should disregard their concerns. We can shatter this perception by celebrating Christian models that disdain hypocrisy. Point out to your teen those Christians who are living changed and transformed lives. Jesus unleashed His deepest anger at hypocritical religious zealots who twisted authentic Christianity.
Sometimes it’s healthy to get your teen exposed to Christian missionaries or volunteers who are building houses in third world countries, adopting children, or digging wells in Africa. Show your son and daughter the transforming work of the church right in their own backyard and around the world. If your teen is struggling with the church, perhaps you can find someone who will take your child under his or her wing and develop a friendship with them. (This fall at our church we will be moving more into small groups and mentor ships for our students and adults.) Interviews with rebellious young people who eventually persevered in their faith report having a friendship with an adult who was not their parent in the church.
David Kinnman, president of Barna Group, conducted his own studies on this issue and revealed that churches that integrate vocation and faith have a better retention rate among teens. Kids want to see how Christianity converges with their aspirations to become graphic artists, civil engineers, biologists, lawyers, or doctors. So, when somebody comes alongside them and says, Look, here’s how that vocation lines up with our faith, it debunks the notion that says church is irrelevant. (If we have a student interested in banking or business we need Christian business people to come along side of them and talk not only faith but vocational life.) If the church holds any hope of engaging with today’s teens, we must deliver the consistent message that our faith speaks to every issue in their lives.
Sometimes it’s the culture, sometimes it’s the church, but many times, it’s the teen himself that makes the decision to shrug off church. Even in the best-case scenarios, it’s quite normal to find resistance from your teen on this matter of church attendance. Work hard at not taking it so personally, or as an affront to your success as a parent.
Start discussing this matter with your child long before he or she becomes a teenager. Start going to church as a family when the kids are small; show them that it’s not a duty, but a privilege; it is something your whole family is committed to. Then give your teen a timeline. I advise moms and dads to sit down and present a plan to their kids. It gives you a foundation to work from, and gives your teen a basis for freedom and responsibility for their own walk with God. It could look something like this …
• At 13, you need to go to youth group, church on Sunday, Bible study on Wednesday, and camp in the summer.
• At 15, you need to go to youth group and church on Sunday.
• At 17, you need to go to church on Sunday.
• At 18, we won’t make you go, but we would encourage you to go anyway, because church will equip you with life-skills, purpose and meaning. (I recommend that the last 6 months of HS, January on, to have them figure out what they can leave as a lasting legacy to their youth group. Passing of the baton so to speak.)
Just because more young adults are leaving the church every year doesn’t mean we need to keel to the trend. Some say, Relax, they’ll come back. But I’m not willing to be a passive onlooker as kids abandon the institution of the church. This is a battle that deserves a valiant effort that requires discernment, grace and skill. The community of believers is not only essential in a teen’s life, but in our lives as well. It won’t be easy, and it will take persistence, but with God’s help, we can instill values in our children they will one day pass along to their own.
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org/.
I hope you have enjoyed this conversation and have had some thoughts about how to better reach this generation. The church has to do a better job in stop the Teens Leaving the Church.