I recently read a great article at the Christian Post relating the findings of a survey studying how many young people we’re losing from our churches, and the possible reasons behind it. I have to say, I agree mostly with what is being said, but I think they only skim across some of the most important issues. Things that a survey may not be able to find. As one of the rare 20-somethings in church (although I’m only 20-something for one more year 🙁 ) I think I have a pretty decent understanding of where my generation has fallen away, because I’ve seen my friends among the fallen.
The fact is, we are bleeding. Most mainstream denominations have shown a decrease in membership over the last decade, or so. It’s a problem across evangelical Christianity. With the exception of Non-Denominational Pentecostal / Charismatic churches, who seem to show slight growth, the body of Christ is growing older and older. A few problems we can see evident from the survey:
According to ARG’s survey, 95 percent of 20- to 29-year-old evangelicals attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. Only 55 percent went to church during high school. And by college, only 11 percent were still attending church.
We’ll discount the 5% of children not attending church regularly, for now, because we must also assume that their parents don’t attend church regularly, and since 10 year olds can’t drive . . . well, enough said. Only 55% of teens attend church regularly during high school? Problem #1 is evident: the parents have failed, and failed miserably, in raising their children to serve God. In my upbringing, I wasn’t allowed to not attend church. When I started looking for a part-time job at 16, I wasn’t allowed to get a job that interfered with church. My parents, following a Biblical principle, trained me to put God and church first, and that God would bless and honor that sacrifice, and when I was older, I did not depart from that. If the Bible is always true, and we must assume that it is, we have that promise from God. Simply “giving up” on your kids’ souls and allowing them to stay at home and not attend church as teens (still children) is tantamount to burning the scriptures in front of them. We reinforce a wordly and sinful mindset: “If salvation was as necessary, God as good, Heaven as sweet, and Hell as real as the Bible says it is, then why would Mom and Dad just let me stay at home? It must be just some good moral teachings, and not real.” Who wouldn’t think that if raised up that way? We make them take baths, brush their teeth, study, get good grades, don’t eat too much junk food, etc etc. . . all great lessons that are necessary for life and health and wellbeing, but we shy away from making them attend church? We’ve started the problem there.
The article rightly goes into poor teaching in Sunday School, and the concept of teaching Bible “Stories” . . . a term I’ve always had a problem with. Sunday School is a great place to teach the foundations of faith, apologetics, why we believe what we believe. But instead it focuses on the seeker sensitive trends of relationships, emotional issues, morality, and “stories from the Bible.”
All of these are great pieces of the puzzle, the the parental lack of concern for their children’s souls is the largest piece, but I think the article misses the largest over-arching problem – our kids have never had an EXPERIENCE with God. It’s my experiences with God that I turn to when I go through seasons of doubt, trial, and even disbelief. There are tons of theories questioning everything about the Bible – if I’m going through a bad situation in life, and feel discouraged, there are plenty of people telling me that I can turn from God, because he may not even be there anyway. But it’s the experiences I had, and many of the most important ones were as a teenager, that keep me in the body of Christ. I was blessed enough to attend a church that moved its youth group from a fun / game -centered experience to a place for teens to encounter God, and have Him work in their lives. But the trend is the opposite. I see youth “ministries” with X-Boxes, Playstations, sports, games, and FUN FUN FUN, but very little Jesus. They don’t want to “turn kids off,” and want to give them a “positive” place to come and have fun and fellowship. Fun and fellowship is great, but should be a secondary concern. Will youth groups shrink if the focus shifts from super fun awesome times to Jesus? Sure. But if 50 kids leave, and 1 child comes to Jesus as a result, I think it’s worth it.
I feel that Youth Pastors’ success is judged on the size of their youth groups, many times, instead of things like how many kids get saved, or how many kids are involved in ministry. That’s such a tragic mistake. And I’ve met tons of youth pastors who have the spiritual depth and Biblical knowledge of a Lebanese child who has only heard the name of Jesus as a by-word in conversation. They’re focused on nurting emotions, at best, and on just playing games, and being a kid for the next 10 years, at worst. They are far from spiritual role models who exude holiness and righteousness as a lifestyle to look up. Quick question: Have any of you met a youth pastor (or pastor for that matter) who can come close to being able to say, as Paul did, “Follow me as I follow Christ?” Me either.
While the responsibility for raising Godly children rests on parents, ultimately, I believe a major shift can happen to reverse this trend if churches would change their youth ministries to focus on giving teens an experience with God, instead of just a fun time. Those experiences will guide them back to the faith, if they leave. God called it the incorruptible seed, which gets planted in them. The games, rock concert services, and worldly mentalities are just turning kids off to Jesus, if not the youth group. Jesus said if he is exalted, he will draw all men unto him.