Musings On Why Young People Leave the Church

I’m reading a book about why people leave the church after graduation. It’s called You Lost Me. There’s a statement in the beginning that caught my eye: “He and his bandmates were ‘all really embarrassed by and ashamed of a lot of the [Christian] subculture we came from, but not necessarily ashamed or embarrassed by the beliefs we had.'”

The interesting thing about this statement, and others I have heard similar to this, is that young people do not usually reject Jesus. They reject the expression of the Christian faith in their local Church. This tells me that there is something wrong with how we are expressing our worship of Jesus and our witness of the power of Jesus on earth. I am slow to throw everything we call “religious” out with the bathwater, but I have some thoughts on this issue.

I think young people in general are interested in a more genuine expression of faith in Jesus. They are tired of hypocritical people telling them to straighten out their lives. Of course there are exceptions, but I have found that as young people start to discover that they can think and make decisions for themselves, they begin to reject the way their parents and grandparents express their faith. They somehow see through the façade of religiosity, and become uninterested in what the church has to offer. They label the previous generations’ faith as “lame” or boring. 

When young people take the time to read the Gospels and discover for themselves what Jesus called his followers to, they see a disconnect between the Scriptural commands and the reality of the local church. Jesus called his followers to give up their lives, to be completely devoted to following Jesus. Yet, when they look around, they see church people chasing lusts for money, sex, and power. They are confused by the stark contrast between the people who are supposed to be following Jesus and what Jesus actually called his followers to. Thus, they reject the church out of frustration. 

I have some thoughts about how to bring forward a solution. I am interested in this being an ongoing conversation, so forgive me if these thoughts need some fine-tuning.

The first thing I need to do as a youth/family pastor, is to invite young people, parents, children, to a genuine expression of faith in Jesus. I need to model it for them and choose to reject false religious practice. I cannot put forward a solution without having it consume my life first.

Second, I have been feeling this pressure to move the “youth group” into an experience that more accurately reflects what Jesus invited his followers to. This seems like an obvious step, but for some reason I don’t see it modelled very often in youth groups I have witnessed. I want to experience with the youth and families a real relationship with Jesus, and express our experience with Jesus in a way that reflects what Scripture says.
So, just what should the “youth group” truly be doing if we are to obey Jesus? This is the question I want to shape the future of the youth group with. It needs to be answered in a way that move us toward being a witness to the power of Jesus, rather than just being part of a “Christian” club. 

The main problem with youth group as I have seen it, is that it tries to compete directly with secular clubs and activities. I am not interested in doing that. It creates a problem in the minds of youth. It tells them that there are things in life that are sacred and things that are secular. 

In other words, they are told to behave like Christians at church activities, but it inadvertently gives them permission to ignore their Christian convictions at non-church activities. They truly do not see a problem with this because it is the behaviour modelled for them everywhere they look. However, I am interested in shaping all our experiences, whether “sacred” or “secular”, by the power of Jesus. Regardless of what we are doing, we should be witnesses of God’s presence and power in the way we engage with our activities. 
This will help to solve two problems. 

First, it will show the youth that their involvement in extra-curricular activities is an opportunity to express their faith (and not just by trying to convert their soccer coach or teammates!). It will show them how to engage with those activities in a healthy way; how to be a witness to the power of Jesus everywhere they go. 

Second, it will prepare them for entering into the secular world with a strong and healthy sense of identity as a Jesus-follower, and to not be embarrassed by it. Their behaviour will begin to reflect their faith regardless of the activity they are engaged in. 

I am excited about the future because I am confident that God is interested in expressing his power and witness in the world, and not just on Sunday morning or during youth group activities.

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