Have you heard of the "nones?" These are people who would mark "none" on a survey asking about their religion. In other words, they claim no religious affiliation.
Here's what should be a wake-up call for the church.
78% of nones grew up in church. This means that over 3/4 of people who don't affiliate with any church, actually grew up in church.
Something along the way caused them to walk away from the church. What was it? What would cause a person to grow up and walk away from something they were raised with? Why is the church losing the next generation?
There have been many surveys and studies done about why kids walk away from the church when they grow up. Let's take a look at 5 of the biggest reasons why kids leave the church.
Reason #1 - We aren't helping them find answers to the hard questions. I believe everyone who sticks with the faith goes through seasons of asking the "Why?" and "How?" questions. As we see a world full of injustices and brokenness, we can't help but wonder at times.
Why does a good God allow bad things to happen? Why are there children starving in some countries? Why do honest people die from cancer while people who are drug addicts remain healthy? Why does God allow a tsunami to strike and kill thousands people?
How can we now creation is true? How can know Jesus is the Son of God? How can we be sure Jesus performed miracles? How do we know Jesus rose from the dead? How can we trust God's Word?
When we don't equip kids with the right answers to these type of questions, they get to college or the workplace and their faith is devoured by the wrong answers. They encounter atheists and agnostics who challenge them with the questions we never took the time to explore with them.
Reason #2 - We are spending more time teaching them to "be good" than we are teaching them what it means to follow Jesus.
We're teaching them to "love themselves" more than we are teaching them to "love God with all your heart, mind and soul."
We're spending Sunday morning teaching them character traits...the same character traits they learn at school. Why go to church when you can hear the same thing outside of church?
And when they get older, they walk away from church since they have other sources that can boost their self-esteem without asking for 10% of their paycheck.
Rather than teaching kids the foundational doctrines of the faith, we're feeding them teaching that's as shallow as a comic book.
We're also teaching them that God is a divine therapist whose sole intent is to make them feel good and be happy...rather than teaching them we are first and foremost to bring glory to God through our lives.
They are growing up with us pushing slogans like "Sunday Funday" at them and then we wonder why they grow up and realize they can have more "fun" outside of church on Sunday.
Bottom line...we're conditioning them to think that it''s all about them. And then when they get older, they check out because if it's all about them...why spend Sunday in church, when you can be happier "worshiping God on a hike or at the lake or at the ball-field?"
Reason #3 - They can see behind the masks. As they grow up, they are taking notice of the church politics. They are taking notice of church leaders who say one thing and do another. They hear about the affairs of pastors though we try to shield them from it. They endure the church bickering and arguing and even splitting over petty issues.
They see their parents playing church. Attending because it's the social, acceptable thing to do, but with no real passion for Christ manifested at home during the week. During the week, the praise songs are replaced with cursing, gossip and hurtful words The Bible they saw opened at church (or on a screen) is not opened at home. There might be a quick, ritualistic prayer over a meal, but that's the extent of prayers in the home.
Hypocrisy causes the next generation to become disillusioned with the church.
We can't fool them. They can see behind the masks. And it births bitterness in their spirit and erodes their trust in the church.
There's nothing they can do about it at the time. They are still under their parent's authority and are made to go to church. But as soon as they are out on their own, they bolt from the hypocrisy.
Reason #4 - We are emphasizing rules over relationship. We mean well. We know the pitfalls that come from sin and we want to protect kids from it. So we emphasize "don't smoke, don't chew and don't hang with those who do."
In this environment, kids grow up being told what not to do. They know the list of "no's no's." But here's the problem. The list of "no no's is very appealing. And without something greater and more enticing than the list of "no no's," they will head straight to those "no no's" as soon as they get the chance.
Look what it says in 2 Corinthians 6.
"Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things..."
There's the "no no" part...the rules part. Don't touch this. Don't touch that. Don't do this. Don't do that.
As I said, the appeal to not touch is simply not enough to stop kids from indulging in those things. From the very start, with Adam and Eve in the garden, "do not touch" has made us want to touch the forbidden fruit.
The part we've often missed with the next generation is what the verse goes on to say.
"...and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
It's the relationship part that we fail to help them understand. You see, if the next generation grasps that there is a God in heaven who wants to be their Father, that wants to fellowship with them, that wants to spend time with them, that wants to have a deep relationship with them, they can be drawn to Him. It's having an intimate relationship with God that will keep them from walking away.
Is it easy to walk away from rules? Sure. And without a relationship with God, they will walk away from not only the rules and restraints, but from the church where they were taught those rules and restraints as well.
Reason #5 - We aren't helping them develop deep, long-lasting connections in the church. When kids only have shallow, surface connections in the church, those connections usually get cut when they head off to college.
I remember when I was growing up, there were godly adults in the church that invested in my life. I knew they cared about me and were praying for me. And when I went off to college, they would write me letters (this was before the days of email), letting me know they were still praying for me and thinking of me. When I had a break and went back home to visit, it was those relationships that had me heading back to my home church.
We are in an era now where kids are attending church maybe once or twice a month. And in many cases, when they are at church, they rush in for a quick, one-hour service. They don't have a consistent teacher or leader who is investing in them. Very little opportunity to develop deep, lasting relationships that will carry over to the time when they decide for themselves if they want to continue going to church or not.
It's easy to walk away when there is no one in your life at church...telling you they care about you and that you are matter to them and the church family.
So...how are we going to turn this around? How are we going to see kids follow Jesus and love His church for a lifetime. What we're doing is obviously not working in many cases.
A good starting point is taking a hard look at the 5 reasons above and making some adjustments.
What if...just what if...rather than doing what you see above...
We give kids room to grapple with the tough "Why's?" and "How's," while guiding them toward a deeper understanding of God's nature and character.
We help kids work through the hard questions and discover answers that will sustain their faith. *You can use the teaching series Pranksters to equip kids with a deeper understanding of why the Bible is God's Word and why you can trust it. Get more information and order it at this link.
We start teaching kids solid Bible doctrine so they have a well-rounded understanding of the faith we are asking them to subscribe to.
We start challenging kids to die to self and live for God's glory. We start showing kids the way to find your life is to lose it. We help kids see that it's not about them, but about being used by God to help others find Jesus. We use the fun we provide at church to point kids to what it means to follow Jesus.
We realize that kids won't always do what we say, but they will imitate who we are. So we start practicing what we preach and give kids a solid example and genuine faith to follow. We challenge parents to live during the week what they sing about and talk about on Sunday. As church leaders, we set up boundaries and safeguards that will keep us from the moral failures that damage not only us and our families...but also the faith of the next generation. We focus on the great commission instead of arguing over what color the carpet is or what style of worship music will be used.
We help kids develop a magnetic relationship with Jesus that will hold them close to His side. We help kids see Jesus in such a way that the allure of the world's temptations will be less appealing than what they can have in Him. We make living for Jesus so attractive that the world seems unattractive in comparison.
Adults in the church begin to invest in and build relationships with the next generation. Relationships that will continue when they go to college. Relationships that will cause the next generation to stay connected to the local church. Relationships that will be hard to walk away from. Relationships that will be a bridge that conveys the faith to the next generation.
Your turn. Do you agree with the reasons I've listed above? Why or why not? Why do you think so many kids are walking away from the church? What would you add to this? Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts and insight in the comment section below.