Barna’s “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church”

No doubt you’ll see references to this article all over the place this morning. Barna’s research group did another survey that tried to figure out why people leave the church after the age of 15. With a 17- and 13-year-old daughters at home, this is a concern to me. And those of you who shepherd congregations and likely just started another round of junior confirmation instruction must have your concerns as well. Here is a summary of the “six reasons”

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

What I notice in this list –and see in my kids — is that even teenagers have substantial questions, and that the church is not a place where those questions are being answered. Notice a theme — “shallow,” “science,” “simplistic,” “doubt.” All six of these “reasons” are expressed by seminary students, BTW. Perhaps laser-tag and pizza isn’t what kids want. But neither slapping a Bible passage down nor giving the bullet-point answer from the stuff at back of the synodical catechism is likely to help., either.

How do we help our young people think and act? How do we foster an environment where they can voice their doubts, where they don’t feel like they’re no longer Christian just because they have doubts, and bring them to places where the Spirit works through his means, in spite of their doubts?

Thanks to Rev. Bob Herring and his blog for bring this to my attention.






5 responses to “Barna’s “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church””

  1. Don Avatar

    In our high tech low touch day and age we need faithful parents, pastors, and other adults investing time with our kids. We need to repent of our busy life styles and be more intentional about the small group God designed the family. Family Adventure and Recreational Ministries (FARM) wants to help families reconnect with each other and God’s Word. Shut off the Computer, turn off the cell phones, sit down and have a meal together.

  2. Don Avatar

    Has anyone read
    Courageous Fathers of the Bible
    by Biermann, Joel

  3. Mike Hall Avatar
    Mike Hall

    I think this is a problem that probably goes back much further than when a kid reaches 13. I have noticed that parents seem to teach their kids growing up that the most important things in life are getting a good job, buying a house one day, getting good grades, and being somewhat socially adjusted at school. Those to me seem to be many of the priorities parents have and if God fits into that somewhere well that’s good but not as important as the grades, social life, and sports. When was the last time you heard a parent concerned because their kid didn’t talk about Jesus very much or didn’t pray all that much? But wait until junior comes home with a D or didn’t get all the playing time he “deserved” in a little league game or is in his mid 20’s and still working a minimum wage job, then all of a sudden the concern is off the charts. This post isn’t meant to diminish the importance of grades or anything but to point out what I perceive as the main focus of many parents. I hear too many who have a cavalier attitude about the fact their teenage son doesn’t want to go to church but God forbid he decides to quit the football team or who will tout how great their kid is if they become valedictorian/sports hero/or accepted into a prestigious school but don’t speak with the same pride or enthusiasm if their child is just average in school or in a job but faithful to the Gospel and the scriptures.

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      I hear what you’re saying Mike. So how do we help the parents?

      Several pastors have emailed and spoken with me about this post — what I’m short on, and apparently most of the church hasn’t figured out, is what to do now. One pastor mentioned the old Walther League — is that a viable style of engaging young people? What are others doing?

      If you didn’t see this little piece in the NY Times, take a look. Pretty scary stuff about how young people in America process “right and wrong.”

      One quote: “Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

      Here’s the link

  4. Mike Hall Avatar
    Mike Hall

    I think that is a very telling article and to me the overarching theme that ran through it was that the young people interviewed seemed totally confused on how to deal with morality and had no guide whatsoever in how to make choices. Sometimes I felt like the ones saying “well I guess it’s how you feel about each situation” might have been tempted to end that quote by saying “I wish someone would show me otherwise.” I think his quote “In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America” hits the nail on the head. Parents, churches, schools seem to fail over and over about having the guts to teach kids right and wrong and even common sense. For 2 years my wife has worked in registration at the local hospital and she sees so many young people, girls especially, who come into the ER with a sick kid who have no idea what to do when their kid has a fever, have no husband to rely on, and can’t even spell half of the registration form. I think part of the problem is that people don’t see the church as a refuge for folks struggling through life but as place that will only say “look at what you did wrong” rather than a place to find God’s love and walk with folks who will care about them and be interested in them.

    In terms of what works I wish I had those answers but I do know a handful of the things that have worked for us here. We did a men’s retreat this past summer and we made a point of inviting our junior high and senior high aged youth to be a part of it. They all really want to go had they had a blast. They really enjoyed being around other Christian men and wanted to hear what they had to say and wanted us as a church to take an interest in their lives. I try to stay in touch with our youth through texting or facebook, which I know some folks don’t always love, but I think we have to face the reality that this is how people communicate and it’s important to meet them on that level. Another thing I notice in the folks at our church is that they genuinely try to be interested in the lives of our young people and our youth are glad that they take an interest. They want people to ask them how things are going, they want to be included in things the adult members are doing and they want to do things at the church. Maybe part of the problem is that we always want to send the kids off on their own or act as if we need to do everything for them when all along they just want to feel included with everyone else and want to do serve in the church just as the adults do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *