Every few years I find myself writing about this subject. It is one that I care about very deeply, and with each year of ministry experience that I gain the more I learn about the realities of young people leaving the church. This is a problem that is not secluded to one denomination of Christianity or to a small group of churches. It is widespread, in fact, it is an incredibly well organized attack by Satan on the church. Let me share with you three reasons why our young people are leaving the church and what we can do about it:
They Do Not See Authenticity In The Adults Around Them
I believe this is the biggest reason why young people leave the church. If I were to be honest in my own self-evaluation, this may be the biggest contributor to why I am still in the church. My parents are the godliest people that I know. In addition to that, my dad has been my pastor for most of my life. My parents modeled what they taught and they did not act one way on Sunday in front of the crowd and a different way the rest of the week.
Sadly, however, many Christian children and teens do not have the same life experience that I have. Too often do we, as adults, put on our Sunday faces to impress everyone but then the rest of the week we act a very different way.
There are a lot of problems to us doing this, but one of the big problems with it is that we then allow our young people to associate the words “fake” and “church” with each other. It is not a stretch to say “The faith of Christianity is fake” after saying “the people at church are fake”.
What exasperates this problem even more is when “godly” people who preach righteousness to other people end up falling into sin themselves.
We must be so wary of how we behave ourselves! More importantly, we must be wary of our heart. Young people are looking for authenticity more than anything else, they are looking for something that is real. They are not looking for perfection, but they are looking for you to acknowledge that you are not perfect.
We will keep losing our young people as long as church is a display of our own righteousness and as long as we are not being real with our young people about our imperfections.
They Are Taught “Faith” With No “Facts”
It is important to teach faith. Because, as Scripture says, “without faith it is impossible to please Him”. But consider that one day a week our young people are being taught about faith, whereas the rest of the week they are being taught “facts”. Our young people are being taught a lot of falsehood disguised as truth, and that “truth” is backed by supposed logic and facts.We absentmindedly call the people of the Bible “characters” and the events of the Bible “stories”, and in so doing we subconsciously are telling our kids that the Bible is a book of fiction rather than fact. We have to show our kids that faith and facts are not enemies.
Someone told me the other day that teenagers are too young to be taught apologetics. I’m sorry, but I fear that if you start teaching apologetics to teens, you are already too late. We need to start teach the facts about our faith when our kids are a young age or else we will lose them as soon as they are given the choice to not come back.
Sunday school teacher, youth leader, let me challenge you with something… Your children and teens have some serious, nagging questions about the Bible and about Christianity. Do not belittle their questions and do not shame them for asking questions. Do the opposite, facilitate their questions, provide them opportunities to ask questions in a meaningful environment and then… ANSWER THE QUESTIONS! And if some of those questions challenge you and you do not know a good answer, you must with humility and authenticity say, “I don’t have a good answer to that, but I will study that this week and get back with you next week.” Does that take extra work? Yep. But it is worth it for the sake of our kids. If the Bible is true (which I firmly believe it is) then it should not be afraid of facts. LEt’s show our kids that faith and facts do not have to be enemies!
They Are Being Entertained
Children’s ministry, in many churches, has become little more than “baby sitting”. We sing some fun songs, play some games, give them a snack, and teach a short Bible story. Children’s ministry workers justify this because “The kids don’t pay attention during the lesson time, so we have to keep it short!” and “they need time to get their wiggles out”. What makes this problem even worse is when that mentality carries over into teen ministry. “What do you mean my teens don’t get a snack every week?” and “Why don’t we have a longer gym time?” are questions that are heard in teen ministries that are trying to do it right.
Church time is not entertainment time. It is time for them to learn truth. Now I get it, teenagers have a lot of options these days. They can choose to go to the church down the street that has a game room and their entire “youth ministry” time is playing video games or they can come to your church that focuses on preaching truth. If they had the choice, they would choose the games… because their teenagers. Be the adult! Right now they don’t have a choice. Take them to the “boring” church that is going to help them instead of the “fun” church. We have teenagers who have spent their entire life in church who barely know any Bible. A lot of that has to do with our focus on entertaining rather than teaching.
Just a final note on this: Teaching truth does not have to be boring. There are engaging and fun ways to teach truth. Disney uses the word “edutainment”, basically tricking kids into learning by making it fun. That’s awesome, we need that in children’s ministry! Ask yourself, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” Are you serving in children’s ministry to fill time or are you trying to impart truth? That is where the difference lies.
Our young people are leaving in the droves. Frankly, it really isn’t their fault, it’s ours. We can do better, we MUST do better. Parent, youth leader, pastor, please be authentic in your own walk with God, be willing to answer the difficult questions, and focus on imparting truth rather than simply entertaining. Those things will go a long way in keeping our young people in church.
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