Thoughts About A Generation Leaving the Church

walking_away Over the past couple of days, a topic of conversation has kept coming up.  Being a pastor in a local church, this topic is one that I am passionate about.  The topic circled around the idea that the church is losing young people at an alarming rate as they graduate high school.

If you're reading this post, then I'm sure you have heard the conversation in some form or fashion, too.  There are statistics galore out there to show that there is some truth to the statement that young folks are leaving the local church.  David Kinnaman wrote a book, You Lost Me, that discussed some of the statistics that the Barna Group had discovered on this topic.

I believe that there is enough fact to these statistics that it should cause the local church to ask some serious questions.  I have a theory that I believe might take the conversation in another direction.  I served the Lord through student ministry in some fashion from 1997-2011.  It was in 2011 that I felt the Lord moving me from just student ministry to the pastorate.  During my 14 years of student ministry service, I saw something played out time and time again.

I would watch as a church told its children's ministry and student ministry things like:

  • "Be creative"

  • "Meet them where they are."

  • "Show how the Bible is applicable to their lives today."

I saw nothing wrong with any of those things.  In fact, I thought that these churches were spot on with these pushes.  The trouble came when a child/student would graduate and enter the "adult ministry."  It was here in many of these churches that I saw the disconnect begin.  I would hear things like:

  • "That is okay for there (children/student ministry), but not here."

  • "It's time to put childish things away."

It baffled me that a church would allow a training/discipling technique to be used for a person for a potential period of 18 years, but then they would have to switch because it wasn't good enough now.  With this thought in play, what would the church expect?

I think while there are many people who are walking away from the local church altogether, all the stats of young people might not necessarily be leaving the church totally.  They might be leaving the church they grew up in.  They go through these children and student ministries that teach them about the faith in a manner that meets them where they are and takes them to where they should be.  Then, when they are told that "way" is childish (insufficient, wrong), then they begin to question the faith altogether or find a place that is similar to what they've grown up with.

I do not think this is about the "worship wars" (traditional vs contemporary).  Both avenues are desperately needed in our world today.  I think that it is more a question of what is our discipleship plan?  If it is good enough for children/youth, why wouldn't it be good enough for adults?

I personally think that it would serve a local church better to develop a discipleship plan that works across the board (children - senior adults) in similar fashion rather than having different styles and plans scattered throughout the generations.  I just have to believe that if this was done more effectively, then this "exodus" that we are seeing currently might be able to be reversed.