Why are our kids leaving the church?

7 02 2013

We don’t give them a reason to stay.

We’ve now seen numerous research clearly showing that when our kids leave high school a large number of them are leaving the Church. We have even had research asking them what they want or think they need in church. And now I am hearing if we change the way we worship, get bigger and more screens, newer music, better entertainment, speak their language, meet them in their culture, they will then stay around and not go seeking it somewhere else.

As we continue to pontificate why this is happening we should consider all possibilities. I will try to shed some light from where they are going. I was a campus minister for twelve years and still train and plant campus ministers and ministries. I am constantly exposed to the college-age level.

I regularly get phone calls from campus ministers and inevitable the discussion turns to: “How do I get my church kids to engage in our ministry?” They will go on to explain a very common problem of spoiled kids who will not show up for events, classes, retreats…etc. Regardless of the answer I give, the problem is the same as the problem of them leaving the church. These kids think Christianity is about them. Here are a few things that I feel is causing the problem. ( and there are other reasons as well.)

Most of our youth ministries operate from a model that is completely focused on the kids and their parents. What they like, want, feel and think. This has caused our youth ministries to be focused on two things: keep the kids entertained and keep them safe. Everything is focused on those two requirements. Our summer camps are for them, our classes are for them, and everything we do is for them. The only evangelism they ever see or hear about is either; Invite your friends or support our mission work in some foreign country. At best you will see the youth ministry travel somewhere to do some sort of service project. But even that is run through the filter of entertainment and safety. If they go and paint houses it will be about having fun and not about reaching people in the neighborhood and telling them why they painted the houses. You will not see them engaged in the fight over souls. How can that produce anything but selfish kids? And that is what it is producing.

Now before you get mad at the youth minister keep in mind that this is what he was trained to do. This is what our colleges taught him to do and it’s what he learned when he interned with a youth ministry over the summer, AND if he didn’t run it this way the parents would get mad and he would get fired.

The solution to the problem is to change the focus of youth ministry. Our kids need to learn that youth ministry is not about them. They need to learn about; dying to self, expanding the Kingdom, advancing on the enemy, becoming mighty warriors for Christ. They need to learn there is a mission that they have been called to that is bigger than the world has to offer, that their lives have purpose and meaning. That the God of all creation has called them into an epic battle that has eternal consequences.

For example; what would change about summer camp if in order to go you had to bring a friend who was not a part of your church? What would happen if you required your youth to bring a friend in order to go to events like Winterfest? What if we actually challenged our youth to be about the Lords mission?

But for all that to happen the parents also need to exemplify the same focus. Be about the same mission. Because the truth is, they are just as spoiled as their children. (And that is a discussion worth having in itself).

We cannot keep the saved, saved by focusing on them. We have tried that for almost 50 years and it is not working. All it is doing is making selfish, spoiled parents and children.

The second reason they are leaving has to do with a simple question; Where do they go? Most of our churches don’t have a ministry in their age bracket. Research shows that there are less than 130 active college-age ministries in the church of Christ in the United States. This is strange indeed when you consider the research that shows that about 85% of all conversions come from the 18-30 year old age bracket. So this shows that the average church not only has no ministry for their graduating kids to go to but that they also are not seeing their own church engaged in the battle.

The bottom line is that we are not giving our kids a reason to stay loyal to the church.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe we do need to upgrade the way we worship in most of our churches. We do need to be more relevant to the culture we are in. But the reason we need to do these things is not to try to please our kids. That’s just self-gratification and that’s sick.

Simple put: We need to return to being the Church and that means being about His mission. When our churches engage in the battle and start fighting the hordes of hell for the souls of mankind…our kids will want to be all about that and will stick around to see what’s next.