Feb

11

2013

Justin Taylor|11:18 pm CT

Top 10 Reasons the Church Is Losing Our Youth

Marc at 5 Solas:

We all know them, the kids who were raised in church. They were stars of the youth group.  They maybe even sang in the praise band or led worship.  And then . . . they graduate from High School and they leave church.  What happened?

It seems to happen so often that I wanted to do some digging—to talk to these kids and get some honest answers. I work in a major college town with a large number of 20-somethings. Nearly all of them were raised in very typical evangelical churches.  Nearly all of them have left the church with no intention of returning.  I spend a lot of time with them and it takes very little to get them to vent, and I’m happy to listen.  So, after lots of hours spent in coffee shops and after buying a few lunches, here are the most common thoughts taken from  dozens of conversations. I hope some of them make you angry. Not at the message, but at the failure of our pragmatic replacement of the gospel of the cross with an Americanized gospel of glory.  This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.

Here is his top 10 in reverse order:

10.  The Church is “Relevant.”

9.  They never attended church to begin with.

8.  They get smart.

7.  You sent them out unarmed.

6.  You gave them hand-me-downs.

5. Community.

4.  They found better feelings.

3. They got tired of pretending.

2. They know the truth.

1. They don’t need it.

Click through to read an explanation of each. Here’s his exposition of the final point:

Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community . . . you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that.  Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before?   The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be “relevant” to them would be a comical cliché if the effect weren’t so devastating.  As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ.  Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer.

We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on God’s graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, pragmatic gospel based upon achieving our goal by following life strategies.  Rather than being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross we’ve set our goal on being “successful” in growing crowds with this gospel of glory. This new gospel saves no one. Our kids can check all of these boxes with any manner of self-help, life-coach, or simply self-designed spiritualism . . .  and they can do it more pragmatically successfully, and in more relevant community.  They leave because given the choice,  with the very message we’ve taught them, it’s the smarter choice.

Our kids leave because we have failed to deliver to them the faith “delivered once for all” to the church.  I wish it wasn’t a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: “I’ve never heard that.”  I’m not against entertaining our youth, or even jumbotrons, or pizza parties (though I probably am against middle aged guys trying to wear skinny jeans to be “relevant) . . .  it’s just that the one thing, the MAIN thing we’ve been tasked with? We’re failing. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our kids.  Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.

HT: Scott Sauls and Matt Chandler

34 Comments

  1. Hello Justin,

    I think you inserted the wrong link to the article (the link entitled CLICK THROUGH). You probably wanted to direct us to this page of their website: https://marc5solas.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/

  2. Thanks for the article and your willingness to serve. I would however, recommend removing the last paragraph…it’s not on us to save kids, it’s not on us to change kids. We do things like coffee and lunches, we invest, we show up, we pray. Kids need the Gospel, not a guilt riddon adult that is out to save them.

    • I’m not sure what, in the last paragraph, would give you the impression that I thought it was our role to save anyone. As a Monergist, I certainly don’t believe that.

      The last sentence sums it up; Don’t let another kid walk out of your youth group without being hit with the full weight of the law and the full freedom of the gospel.

      Marc

  3. This hits the target for youth and for us! Thank you. If you answer questions, here is one related on Galatians 1:10

    Keller says the rhetorical “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or God?” is a question with an obvious answer. God! (Galatians for You p. 32. Tullian T. says he used to preach it that way but feels it goes against the whole context. What do you think?

  4. Good one!! channel of jesus

  5. 0. They discover they’ve been lied to about a great many things. For instance, that intelligent design is a good answer to evolution; that the earth isn’t really less than 10,000 years old; that Adam and Eve couldn’t possibly have been the first humans according to real scientific and archaeological data; that the Pentateuch wasn’t really written by Moses; that the evidence for most of the OT stories is virtually non-existant; that there’s no evidence that the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; that almost all modern scholars don’t believe (for very good reasons) that Paul did not write I and II Timothy and Titus; etc, etc, etc.

    I could go on and on about all the ways churches lie to children about about what is true and what is not, but at some point it becomes a matter of “Why bother”? A faith that is built upon so many false or dubious suppositions is not worth much. You can blame the internet, I suppose, for allowing kids to find these answers for themselves instead of relying on their churchs to tell them the truth. You can also expect the trend to continue in the Western world, I’m afraid.

    • “You can blame the internet..” That is so many kinds of funny! Getting answers from the internet is like getting nutrition from a heap of cow dung.

      Apart from your abysmal analysis, your point is actually valid. Too many Christians and Churches teach slogans and cliches as answers instead teaching our children to wrestle, ask life’s hard questions, and giving them the meaty answers of our faith.

  6. Though I agree with many of these points, the fact that “parents” are not on this list is just wrong. It is their responsibility to shepherd and disciple their children and if kids are leaving the church (Deut. 6) they should take some (not all) responsibility. Kids are largely a reflection of their parents, who have the greatest spiritual influence in their lives so why are we blaming the church and not looking at the parents. Is the role of a parent to just drop your kids off at youth group, expect the church to spiritually raise them, and then blame the church when they walk away. I believe that’s largely what’s happening in these churches.

    • If these parents were told plainly how desperate things are and how glorious things could be for their children, conditional on parent’s obedience of faith, we would see these families get moving.

  7. AJG is wrong on most(but not all) of the points he raises, but his response highlights perhaps the most important reason youth are leaving the church: a rampant anti-intellectualism in evangelical culture. Like AJG, most American youth are ignorant of the various responses to the litany of issues he raises. Many churches are faithfully preaching and transmitting the Gospel, but giving their youth no reasons to actually *accept* the Gospel. There is a difference. In doing so they are ignoring 1 Pet. 3:15 (a verse which should be of primary importance to the church in times like these) and the apologetic examples offered by the apostles in Acts. Many pastors are no better. They can exegete the daylights out of a Greek text, but can’t even formulate a coherent thought when it comes to arguments for God’s existence, historical evidence for the Resurrection, the relationship of the Gospel to modern science, and so on.

    • AJG is wrong on most(but not all) of the points he raises

      Such as?

      • Two examples:

        “… that intelligent design is a good answer to evolution.”

        I’m no ID advocate, since I don’t think ID proponents have proven their case. But unlike many skeptics who are opposed to ID because it doesn’t meet their preconceived notions for what counts as “science” (although SETI somehow is, even though ID and SETI are very similar programs), I acknowledge that the field may grow and their arguments may get stronger over time. However, this quote seems to show you don’t understand the debate. ID is not opposed to evolution per se. In fact many ID proponents are theistic evolutionists. The issue is whether the emergence of life on earth was directed or non-directed. The mechanism itself is less of an issue, although within the ID camp you will find a variety of opinions on the mechanism (i. e. whether through natural selection or not). And that’s still a valid question. Just because the contemporary scientific zeitgeist is hostile to teleology doesn’t mean it’s the final answer on the subject, and they can’t ignore the evidence for ever. Although as I see it, evidence for teleology/design is much more pronounced in cosmology (through fine-tuning) than biology.

        “that almost all modern scholars don’t believe (for very good reasons) that Paul did not write I and II Timothy and Titus”

        So are you saying that if the scholarly consensus changes, then Christian youth should accept the contrary? That they’re supposed to base their beliefs on the latest consensus in the academic journals? That’s a false appeal to authority and it’s a bad idea. You wouldn’t base your beliefs on the academic consensus of 100 years ago in a whole host of areas. Why would someone do it today? It’s the actual reasons that matter, and the “very good reasons” you mention only work if you accept the various methods of higher criticism upon which these arguments stand. But in my mind these methods are mostly speculative, so they don’t get you very far in answering the question of Pauline authorship, for example. “The vocabulary is different in the pastoral epistles than Paul’s known works, so he couldn’t have written it!” That’s a curiosity, not a proof. See what C. S. Lewis said about critics who would try to do the same type of thing to his work. And of course Christianity does not stand or fall with the authorship of these books.

        As to many of your other examples, the facts are not all in to make a definitive case either way, so your “IT’S A LIE!” posturing is disingenuous. If there are questions about the historicity of the Exodus, for example, the historical and archaeological facts are not in to make a definitive case either way, so the Christian believer is warranted in accepting the biblical narrative. What’s important for Christian belief is (1) the existence of God, (2) the historicity of the Resurrection and (3) the facts of human experience that fit better with a theistic worldview than a naturalistic one (perception of moral facts, of beauty, of free will, etc.).

        • I’m no ID advocate, since I don’t think ID proponents have proven their case.

          Show me a single peer-reviewed journal article detailing ID as a good explanation for biological diversity or origins. I’ll help you out here; there isn’t one. ID is creationism by another name. There’s no good reason to accept it. Even Michael Behe admits there is no workable ID theory that makes predictions, can be tested and validadted. It’s not science and is therefore in opposition to evolution which is the only scientific model in place to describe biology.

          The vocabulary is different in the pastoral epistles than Paul’s known works, so he couldn’t have written it!

          It’s not just the vocabulary as I’m sure you are well aware of but evading. The church model described in the Pastorals didn’t even exist when they were supposed to have been written. Why did Marcion put together the first canon composed of Luke and 10 Pauline epistles? If the Pastorals were truly Pauline, they would have been circulated and known about by Marcion’s day. If they were not, there is no good reason to assume they were written by Paul at all given that pseudepigraphy was rampant in the ancient world. Just because they claim to have been written by Paul is an extremely weak argument to use as evidence that they were. Is any of this ever discussed in churches today? Is there any reason to believe that a person who brought this up in an evangelical church today wouldn’t be labeled a heretic? The answer to both questions is no. So when the subject is ignored and young people finally get out of the stifling anti-intellectualism that is characteristic of today’s evangelical churches, is it any wonder they don’t come back?

          If there are questions about the historicity of the Exodus, for example, the historical and archaeological facts are not in to make a definitive case either way, so the Christian believer is warranted in accepting the biblical narrative.

          Why? Because evangelicals want to cling to an outdated doctrine of inerrancy? Certainly the documentary hypothesis may not be completely accurate, but it is a far better model than “Moses wrote them”. Also, when archaeologists uncover Canaanite ruins of places like Jericho or Ai and discover that Ai actually was deserted over 500 years before Jericho (instead of the short period in Joshua) or that there is no evidence of any kind of destruction or conquest, why should anyone continue to believe the Biblical account of these types of histories? Regardless, none of these issues are ever discussed or approached in churchs. They are verboten. When thinking individuals realize they have been told only one side of the story (and the much weaker side at that), they inevitably feel betrayed by the duplicity.

          Anyway, I’m just the messenger (along with scholars like Pete Enns and Kenton Sparks). I only report what is self-evident to me having worked with many college students in the past. Ignore what I have to say if you like, but I guarantee this problem isn’t going away.

          • But yet, evolution is not science since it can’t be observed as happening. It doesn’t fit the definition of science. Isn’t science, by definition, observing something and then being able to repeat it?

            As my PhD friend (teaches as large state univ in a scientific field) told me, the dirty secret in the scientific community is that everyone knows carbon dating is a joke. But they refuse to accept any other theories, so they cling to one they know is false.

            Riddle me this batman. Why do so many scientists believe that life on Earth was seeded by aliens? The answer is because they’ve seen the “evidence” for evolution and after doing so, they are looking for another theory.

            • But yet, evolution is not science since it can’t be observed as happening.

              That is absolutely false. I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but it is not from the latest scientific journals or books. Speciation has been observed in the laboratory for some strains of bacteria. Bacteria are the easiest to use because they divide so rapidly. If you want to educate yourself on this, I recommend Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”.

              Anyway, all you need to do is look at the human genome to understand that human evolution is a fact. If you’re really interested in the subject, I would recommend Daniel J. Fairbanks’ book “Relics of Eden”. The evidence for evolution in our own DNA is so overwhelming now that fossil evidence is not even required to demonstrate it.

              • AJG:

                I applaud the fact that your optics and instruments tell you that the evolution is true. Your optics also tell you the resurrection of Christ could not and therefore did not happen. I suppose you are also convinced that the laws of physics are eternal and unchangeable, why? Paul does his best to describe the New Creation in I Cor 15 and Romans 8. God gave him the optics to see these things “through a glass darkly.” Maybe someday he will give you the optics to see these things too. If he does, you will understand the difference between the optics of the fless and the optics of the Spirit.

                Shalom

  8. “Even Michael Behe admits there is no workable ID theory that makes predictions, can be tested and validadted.”

    I agree, which is why I said I’m no ID advocate. ID arguments are more philosophical than scientific. They may be good metaphysical or philosophical arguments, but it’s their scientific application that is lacking.

    “It’s not science and is therefore in opposition to evolution which is the only scientific model in place to describe biology.”

    As I have already pointed out, many ID advocates fully accept current models of evolution. They just don’t think the process was undirected. One can fully accept the mechanisms described by contemporary models of Darwinism, with the one caveat being that the random mutations are not actually random.

    “It’s not just the vocabulary as I’m sure you are well aware of but evading.”

    I guess next time I should be sure to address every single argument for non-Pauline authorship of the Pastorals. Anything else would be “evading.”

    As to your Marcion argument, why do you assume that a late writing is the only explanation of Marcion’s omission of the pastorals? Marcion was a theological partisan, so he had plenty of reason to only pick those books which he thought contained right doctrine. Tertullian says as much in his screed against Marcion.

    Your tendency to spike the football based on tendentious arguments puts you in the same camp as fundamentalists who offer cheap reasoning in favor of their pet views. My point was that from a historical and archaeological perspective, the jury is still out on many of these issues, so it’s foolish of you to prematurely dance on the grave of your theological opponents based on a very thin evidence base.

    “Why? Because evangelicals want to cling to an outdated doctrine of inerrancy?”

    No. Because in the evidence of conclusive historical or archaeological evidence, Scripture’s claims are closer to the actual events than we are, and can themselves be used as a source of evidence, barring any significant defeaters.

    “Regardless, none of these issues are ever discussed or approached in churchs. They are verboten.”

    I agree. I wish they would investigate these issues more. Christian scholars discuss these issues at great length, however. These discussions rarely make their way into the pulpit, unfortunately.

    • I guess next time I should be sure to address every single argument for non-Pauline authorship of the Pastorals. Anything else would be “evading.”

      I apologize for that. You’re right that that was painting with too broad a brush. Then again, your assertion that I was wrong on most of my points was incorrect. In fact, you mentioned two out of a list of ten and did not even demonstrate that those two assertions were incorrect. My first assertion was that churches state that ID is a good answer to evolution. It is not as it is not even a theory in any sense. Nothing you wrote contradicted that. My second assertion was that almost all modern scholars believe that Paul did not author the Pastorals and they had good reasons for thinking so. That is a true statement. Nothing false about it.

      So you have failed to demonstrate that any of my assertions were incorrect. The point is that evangelical church leaders are afraid of revealing too much to their congregations, so they ignore, shield, or discipline those who dig deeper. That’s a stifling environment and very few want to return to such an environment when they have tasted true intellectual freedom

      • Sorry that should be “a list of about ten”. Seven actually. :)

      • “I apologize for that. You’re right that that was painting with too broad a brush.”

        Thank you for acknowledging this.

        “Then again, your assertion that I was wrong on most of my points was incorrect. In fact, you mentioned two out of a list of ten and did not even demonstrate that those two assertions were incorrect.”

        I’ll take this as an expression of personal opinion on your part, since you haven’t actually addressed most of what I have said in response to your points.

        “My first assertion was that churches state that ID is a good answer to evolution. It is not as it is not even a theory in any sense. Nothing you wrote contradicted that.”

        You are expending quite a few calories to argue against something I haven’t actually claimed. My point was that you seemed to have an incomplete understanding of what ID actually entails, especially its relationship to evolution. Again, you haven’t addressed my counterarguments, so I will take your claim of my objective wrongness as yet another example of prematurely spiking the football on your part.

        “Nothing you wrote contradicted that.”

        I wasn’t trying to contradict that claim.

        “My second assertion was that almost all modern scholars believe that Paul did not author the Pastorals and they had good reasons for thinking so. That is a true statement. Nothing false about it.”

        The groupthink-sourced results of higher criticism and guesses about Marcion’s motivations are not sufficient to establish their conclusion. Therefore they do not have “good reasons.” Therefore your statement is false.

        “So you have failed to demonstrate that any of my assertions were incorrect.”

        Repetition without justification does not help your case.

        “The point is that evangelical church leaders are afraid of revealing too much to their congregations, so they ignore, shield, or discipline those who dig deeper. That’s a stifling environment and very few want to return to such an environment when they have tasted true intellectual freedom.”

        We agree on this point. Churches don’t want to do the hard work of defending Christian beliefs, and it does cause people to leave the faith.

        • We agree on this point. Churches don’t want to do the hard work of defending Christian beliefs, and it does cause people to leave the faith.

          I think we’ll leave it at that. I doubt either of us will see eye to eye on much else. we agree that the anti-intellectualism and the fearful shielding of most churches today is harmful rather than helpful. If Christianity is strong enough to stand on its merits (and I do not think it is), then questions should welcomed and addressed instead of repudiated. Thanks for your time.

      • Well, we’ve got a wee arrogant laddie here, don’t we? A little learning is a dangerous thing and that’s pretty clear with AJG. The highest achievement of reason is to know it’s limits and you’re not there yet, it would seem. You think you’re intellectually “free” when in reality you’re simply intellectually arrogant. There are plenty of refutations of all the points you make and you know that and I certainly can’t show that decisively in a mere comment on a blog. At the end of the day, being a Christian requires submission of the mind to the authority of the Word. If one can’t do that, then one is well on the way to being a non-Christian.

  9. First sentence in the third paragraph from the bottom should read, “Because in the *absence* of conclusive historical or archaeological evidence …” Apparently when I get into a heated debate I forget how to type. =)

  10. Number 4 on the list is spot on in my experience. “They found better feelings.” So much of Christianity is various circles in just emotionalism. Some churches and camps people send kids off to seem to only try to get an emotional response out of them. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for emotions to be in the mix. But kids are wanting something that will last, and emotions don’t usually last.

  11. Horrible Blog! I disagree with it 100%!
    Again, responsibility goes from Parents & it’s placed on Pastors. It is not our Job to do anything! We must give back to parents the proper role they play in their child’s life.
    Please Please Watch this Video: http://vimeo.com/26098320

    • Manny,

      As the author of the article, I think you may be creating a false dichotomy. I’ve never advocated that all instruction be the responsibility of the Pastor. Scripture is clear in charging me, as a father, with instructing my children. However, the church is called to preach the word, make disciples, and administer the sacraments. Surely you aren’t suggesting that the church has no role?

      Marc

      • But why were “parents” not on this list. They don’t have a role spiritually within the church? Or they were #11? Or their doing such a great job? My experience is that kids are a reflection of what they see at home.

  12. At the risk of adding fuel to the fire, the comment about carbon dating is such an old saw that a first year undergraduate would shake their heads. Such statements are the reason we are losing some of our children.

    Be very cautious about making such statements such as “I heard this from a science friend.” Please, please do some reading and not rely on old talking points from decades past. Be a Berean. http://www.reasons.org/articles/how-trustworthy-is-carbon-dating

  13. I’d like to hear Marc’s qualifications for writing this article. I didn’t see any citations, no research to back his claims, and no experience other than coffee shop conversations. Some of us youth pastors have decades of experience, grad school theology degrees, and read enough books on youth ministry to write our own book.

    I apologize, but my suspicion is that here’s another armchair quarterback. This is the same article that gets written every 3-4 months. He heard a statistic (no citation – beware the over-hyped stat http://bit.ly/bNzbUg) and does nothing to help and build up ministry to youth, just speculate on what’s not working. If Marc is a pastor, parent, researcher, or otherwise qualified to write this article, then I’ll appreciate solid evidence behind his conclusions. Unfortunately, while I am sure that those 10 things above are responses that he’s heard from a smattering of college kids, this article will in no way be authoritative as I try to decide how best to spend the 60 hours+ a week trying to reach teens for the Gospel.

    Fellow youth and church workers… if you’d like solid suggestions backed up with great research, might I recommend “Stick Faith” by Dr. Kara Powell and Chap Clark, “Soul Searching” by Dr. Christian Smith, or “You Lost Me” by David Kinneman. Also, CPYU gives some reasons that are purely environmental(http://bit.ly/gzBQbv). Let’s stop cursing the darkness and start giving youth workers, churches, and parents real tools to help their young people experience faith outside of their teen years!

  14. Two words

    Ken Ham

    Three words

    Anti Science fundamentalism

  15. David
    I fear you may be right.

  16. The other night on the TV show “Jeopardy” I watched the high school championship competition. The contestants were answering questions in every category except in the category of the Bible. No one knew what the father killed in the story of the prodigal son when he threw a feast for his son who came home. They also had no clue as to what flowers Jesus referred to in his teaching about not worrying. I’m praying that our teens will read the Bible and study it at least as literature!

    • Flyaway:

      Read it as literature inscribed into history by the Sovereign God who wishes to be known.

      Bruce

  17. [...] From Marc at 5 Solas comes a thoughtful, and perhaps rightly provocative, list of the top ten reasons our kids leave church. HT: Justin Taylor [...]

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