A workplace colleague recently engaged the young people of his church in a discussion: Why are your friends leaving the Church? Now, as a former youth-group leader I know that getting kids to open up and talk is not an easy undertaking. But on this topic the discussion was so lively that he took notes. And then he shared them with me, inspiring this list (in no particular order) of reasons why our children–and grandchildren–are choosing not to worship with and serve alongside an organized body of believers.
- I don’t agree with the politics preached from the pulpit.
Is God a Republican? Or a Democrat? When I worship with my church family, I feel pressure to vote a particular way once I turn 18. And that’s not right.
- Some of my friends don’t feel welcome here.
I have friends from another side of town. I have gay and lesbian friends. I have friends whose skin is a different color. I have friends with piercings and tattoos. I don’t feel comfortable inviting them to share worship with me here because I’m not sure they’d feel welcome.
- The leaders spend too much effort trying to seem cool.
Why does the pastor try to dress like a teenager? (He can’t pull it off.) I don’t need hipster adults; I need mentors who will inspire me and examples who will model for me the kind of person God wants me to be in 10, 20 or 50 years.
- I don’t feel respected as a person.
When adults see me in church, they don’t see a person; all they see is a kid. I don’t know everything, but I do know something. Do I have to wait until I’m 35 to be treated halfway seriously?
- I’m too tired from Saturday night to get up and go to worship Sunday morning.
Hey, I’m alive, I’m in college, and I like to have fun on Saturday night. Not drinking or partying but hanging out with good friends. Sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning. But my friends and I might go to a worship service if there was one Saturday night, like at 7 or 8 o’clock.
- The sermons are boring and have nothing to say to me.
Yeah, I know that parents with little kids need some help from their church. And my grandparents are having trouble coping with their empty nest. But what about me? I’m here too! I can’t relate the message to my life. And is it too much to ask that you include a video clip or visual aid–something!–to make the message understandable and interesting? I’m having trouble staying awake .
- Anyone older thinks they automatically can tell me what to do .
I get tired of people telling me what I should be doing, what I should be wearing, what I should be saying, without making the slightest effort to get to know me first and find out who I am.
- It’s full of people pretending to be something they’re not.
What good is going to worship on Sunday if it has no effect on what we do the other six days of the week? If it’s real, shouldn’t it lead us to make better choices throughout the week? Love more deeply? Live with more integrity? Serve with more compassion? I don’t see it happening; the church is a bunch of hypocrites.
- Shouldn’t it be about more than just a list of “Do This But Don’t Do That”?
Is that all there is to our faith? Is it just a bunch of rules? I desperately want something–or someone–to believe in. But all I hear about in youth group is what I shouldn’t be doing.
- Too judgmental!
I don’t feel loved and appreciated; I feel judged. I know I’m not perfect, but then neither are you. Can’t we both love one another and support one another as we fight our battles and work on our issues?
Maybe things haven’t changed too much. Matthew 23 tells us that Jesus had strong words for the church leaders of His day. He criticized them because “they do not practice what they preach” and [e]verything they do is for people to see”. They insisted on complete compliance with a heavy load of rules, but “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus called them “hypocrites”, “blind guides”, and “whitewashed tombs” who were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside.
So, how does the Church keep our young people from heading for the exits? (And, really, the reasons that young people give for abandoning organized church bodies are pretty much the same reasons that adults give for drifting away.) Let’s try these remedies:
- Be welcoming.
- Be caring.
- Be courageous.
- Be accepting.
- Be real.
- Be about relationships before rules.
- Be a role model.
- Be nice.
- Be Biblically sound.
- Be humble.