Part 1: Young People Are Leaving the Church. Why?

Christian Leaders See the Exodus

Maybe you’ve heard the news, read the research, or witnessed it for yourself.  Teens and young adults are dropping out of church in record numbers.  Here’s what church leaders are saying.

“We are losing the vast majority of teens raised in evangelical homes by the time they finish their freshman year of college.”  (Baucham, Family Driven Faith, p 7)

“Two out of three of our empty-nest parents have at least one child not walking with the Lord.” (Rienow,

Most Christians in their 20s and 30s “are pulling away from church, are spending less time alone studying their Bibles, are giving very little financially to Christian causes, are ceasing to volunteer for church activities, and are turning their backs on Christian media…”  “we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it.”  (Ham, Already Gone, pp 24, 25)

“We are losing more and more of our own children to unbelief.”  “…generational faith transference is in serious decline.”  (Bill Hybels, Foreword, It Starts at Home)

“Perhaps for the first time in church history many of those most inclined toward belief–our own children–are actively rejecting or passively abandoning the faith.”  (Bruner, Stroope, It Starts at Home, p 20)

Are they falling away from Jesus, from the church, or both?
According to the latest research, the answer is “both.”  In a new book, You Lost Me:  Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, Barna research director David Kinnaman exposes five myths and realities about today’s young dropouts.

He reports that only “one out of nine young people who grow up with a Christian background lose their faith in Christianity,” a group he describes as “prodigals.”  Oh, not so bad, you might think.  Only 11 percent?  That number, however, represents an estimated five million eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-old ex-Christians!  (p 70)

Four in ten, however, the “nomads,” wander away from the institutional church.  They still call themselves Christians, but are less active in church than they were in high school.

Another two out of ten “feel lost between the ‘church culture’ and the society they feel called to influence.”  These young people were categorized as “exiles.”

If you’re doing the math, you’ll see that these two groups, nomads and exiles, represent 60 percent of this age group.  So, Kinnaman concludes, “the majority of young dropouts are not walking away from faith, they are putting involvement in church on hold.”  In other words, “most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church.”  (p 27)

How long can these young adults stay separated from church and maintain their spiritual health?  How long can they put their church involvement on hold before some transition from nomad or exile to prodigal?  Each journey and story is unique, but there’s a reason we’re encouraged to stir up love and good works, assemble together, and exhort one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Only “three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties.”

Read more about the five myths here.

A study conducted by America’s Research Group (, based on 1,000 interviews with 20- to 30-year-olds who once attended conservative and “evangelical” churches, documents the exodus of young people from our churches and confirms “a huge disconnect taking place between our children and their church experience.”  In their book Already Gone (Master Books, 2009), Ken Ham and Britt Beemer conclude, as well, that many who are leaving the church are not walking away from their faith.”  “Over half of the people who have left the Church are still solid believers in Jesus Christ.”  (p 65)

Why young people are falling away
They have a different take, however, on the reasons for their departure.  Although many people assume that students are lost in college, “almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school,” while “about 40 percent are leaving the Church during elementary and middle school years!”  (p 31)  Why?  They credit the beliefs, and doubts, of young people with the decision to drop out.  Their research shows that 39.8 percent of these young adults first had doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible in middle school, and another 43.7 percent first had doubts in high school.  (p 32)

The problem:  “Our entire culture (including secular schools) is aggressively teaching the apologetics of evolution and secular humanism.  They teach our students how to defend a humanistic worldview, and they model that worldview.  They show all the reasons that what they are teaching is supposedly true.  The secularists are teaching our children how to defend the secular faith, and connecting it to the real world–and here we are in churches teaching wonderful Bible stories and reinforcing in their minds that they can believe the secularists and that the Bible is not really connected to the real world.”  (p 49)  The result of secular teaching on evolution and the age of the earth is affecting how we view Scripture, and undermining of the authority of the entire Word of God, not just Genesis.  That compromise with the Word leads to a “slippery slide of unbelief” in many of the Bible’s basic teachings.

Furthermore, their research shows that Sunday school really isn’t helping in this area, and Ham recommends renovating our children’s (and adult’s) ministries.  He promotes teaching biblical apologetics at every age level so that teachers as well as adults, teens and children can successfully defend the basics of their Christian faith and answer the skeptical questions of this scientific age, an area where we’re failing now. (p 48)

In addition, Ham encourages parents to not delegate the responsibility for the religious education of their children to Sunday school or other programs.  “This is your job,” he writes.  “If your parents shirked their responsibility for training you spiritually, you will need to break the chain of biblical illiteracy and spiritual irresponsibility in your family tree.” (p 51)

Another reason:  Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is “a pretending to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : a pretending to be more virtuous or religious than one really is” (Merriam Webster, online, defined for kids)

When David Kinnaman, author of UnChristian, studied what 18- to 29-year-olds believed, he discovered that the majority of them felt Christianity was hypocritical, because “the version of Christianity they experienced was something that was ‘done’ only at church and not at home.”  On Sunday mornings “they were put into church programs, but when they went home, there was no faith talk, prayer, Bible reading or any other form of Christian living.  So for them, Christianity was just something where you act, dress and behave one way at church and then go home and act, dress, and behave completely different.” (p 29)

George Barna says it this way:  You cannot home to raise a spiritual champion unless you love God with all you heart, mind, strength, and soul. That commitment must be clearly seen through your life before you can hope to have children who embrace that objective.  And they must see you investing in your own spiritual growth before they will accept the importance of their personal commitment to becoming a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ.  Anything less will strike them as hypocrisy–and undermine your efforts to move them to higher planes of maturity. (Revolutionary Parenting, p 18)

(Continue with Part 2: Fathers are Failing their Children!)

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