Young people are leaving the church in droves and despite our many attempts to keep them, they continue to fall away. Growing up, my church had more than a hundred kids and teens running through its corridors, but today few of them remain in the church. For some time, many concerned Christians have sought to understand the reasons why young people leave the church. I believe that the answer is simple. They leave because they find no relevance in Christianity and most importantly, they have not fallen in love with God.
Christianity lacks relevance for many young people.To them, being a Christian involves nothing more than following senseless rules and participating in church services that are disconnected from their reality. Ask any teen in church about how they perceive Christianity and nine out of ten will most likely describe to you three things: the church service, good behavior, and telling others about Jesus. While none of these things are wrong, in and of themselves they have no relevance. Teens today are faced with multiple obstacles such as drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, self-mutilation, rising divorce rates, promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion among many other things. So the question is, How does the church service empower them to deal with this? What exactly is good behavior? Is it what the Pastor says? Or is it what society accepts? And why tell others about Jesus when our post-modern culture embraces the philosophy that there is no such thing as truth? When Christianity fails to answer these questions and fails to provide direction and practicality to everyday life, teens begin to see it as unessential to life. This sets the stage for disregarding God altogether and embracing the godless culture of the day. “What’s wrong with godless?” They might subconsciously ask, “God was never that important anyways.”
A friend of mine recently told me a story that I believe illustrates this point very well. He had just returned from a mission trip to Malaysia. During the trip he and several other students had preached to the local people. Among the sermons where many interesting topics, but for one student, as interesting as they were, something was missing. In her attempt to express how she felt she asked the question, “What does this have to do with the price of rice?” This question, silly as it may be, underscores the foundational flaw in our Christianity – irrelevance. In order to keep our teens in church we must demonstrate to them that Christianity is applicable to everyday life and that is has the solution to the problems of our lives.
While many teens leave church because they think it is not important, the greatest reason for falling away is that many have simply never fallen in love with God. In the Bible, the apostle John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” The idea is simple, Gods love for us awakens in us a love for Him. That love motivates us to have a relationship with Him. However, in the church we often seem more concerned in teaching our young people how to be good church members instead of helping them fall in love with God. For many, upholding the standards of the church is more important than leading young people to experience the love of God. The end result of this model is catastrophic because it fosters a spirit of division between the old and young generations. The old generation assumes the role of “good behavior police” while the young are left to feel incapable of ever living up to the standards imposed on them.
I once knew a pastor who would never speak to the youth. He had no relationship with them whatsoever and the only time he would speak to them was when he was correcting them for dressing inappropriately in church, and in my experience, having hair that was too long. This is a perfect example of trying to force teens in church to look and act like good church members while avoiding relationships with them that help them to experience the love of God.
Without the two foundational principles of relevance and love, young people are set up to fail in the Christian life. As Christians, leading the youth into a love experience with God and demonstrating to them the relevance of Christianity in our world must be our top priorities.
Further Reading: The Raw Church