Why Are Our Kids Leaving The Church?

Ostrich-man-head-in-sand-1Facing the facts –

This has been a long time coming. I have mulled over for months now. Typed and retyped. Several others have read it in order to give me guidance and direction. It wasn’t easy. Namely because I am calling out myself first and foremost with every tap of the keyboard. Know that I don’t take the subject, nor written content lightly. If you feel like I’m pointing a finger at you, know that I’m pointing 3 back at me.

We might as well face it. It’s no secret that the church’s retention rate of graduating High school seniors is plummeting. It’s a well documented fact. Josh Evans contends in his article How to Keep Students in Church After Graduation, that somewhere around 80% or more of students who grow up in the church leave within two years of graduating high school. The stats vary up or down depending on who put them together, but it’s fairly plain to see it’s simply a mass exodus.

There are any number of articles (Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church; The Church Failed Millennials, Just Not In the Way You Think It Did; Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church; Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church; Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans; 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church; and the list could go on – just google it…everyone’s got an opinion) giving any number of reasons as to why students are leaving, or in some cases staying, and their antidote on how we have or should go about keeping them. Everyone has the answer.

Over the past year I have spent countless hours reading the articles and the statistics, contemplating what I have done in the past and what I’m doing in the future, talking with peers and mentors, praying, studying, planning, lying awake at night, etcetera, simply looking for an answer. What I do impacts the lives of students, obviously, for better or for worse.

Unfortunately, a lot of what I have read is just a band-aid on a hemorrhage. All in all, I can confidently say that no one has a nicely packaged, quaint, concise answer to the dilemma – But that’s what happens when you work with people. It’s not easy, nor simple. There are just too many variables, too many things to distract teenagers attention away from their purpose and drag them down the road of self-love and fulfillment; only to leave them empty in the end. Sometimes I wonder if the Amish are on to something. Maybe we should just join them.

What I do know is that it’s a lifestyle and it begins at home. I can’t expect my son to know and act a certain way if I don’t model that behavior for him. I can’t expect Him to read his Bible every day if at some point he doesn’t see me doing it. If he sees me skip church to go to a basketball game, sleep in, or just chat with someone while I send him on to Bible study, what’s he going to do when he can make his own decisions? My actions just spoke louder than anything I could ever tell him. By skipping worship or Bible study I’m saying “church” is something I do when I don’t have anything better to do. Kids model the behaviors they see. My son mimics my behaviors, good or bad – words, actions, vice’s, etc. Your child is a mini-you and they will act like you. (As a side note, that said, you, as a parent, can only do so much. At some point you no longer make their decisions for them. They make their own choices and they have to live with the consequences of those decisions.) 

As for my job…Ephesians 4:12 states “…equip the saints for the work of the ministry…” It’s not my job to raise students spiritually. Biblically speaking, that’s the job of the parents. My job is to equip them to do ministry. It is meant to be in addition to the teaching that happens at home. How crazy/arrogant would it be for me to think that I could meet the spiritual needs of each and every student in a large group setting in only a couple hours, at max, a week? Let’s get real, I have trouble enough keeping up with my four.

And while we’re being honest, how are you preparing your child spiritually? What are you doing to help them grow in their relationship with Christ? Are you equipping your kids for success in the world? What about their relationship with the Savior? Are you equipping them for success by Raising Kids the World Will Hate? It’s a tough job. There are so many thing vying for their time as well as yours. But I can only do so much in the allotted, minimal amount of time I have with them each week.

No matter how you cut it, parenting isn’t easy; it has its ups and downs, and some kids are easier than others. At the same time – although contrary to the popular belief that I shoot free throws, plan trips, and take naps on my couch all day, my job isn’t a walk in the park. We need each other. Somebody smart once said “Doing student ministry without parents is like driving a car without an engine.” The family was designed to be the foundational spiritual unit. Together we can teach the what it means to be like Christ.

So, what’s the answer to helping kids grow in relationship with the Father and ultimately keeping them involved in that relationship and church in college and beyond? Invest in them at home. Redeem the time you do have. Don’t squander it away. Invest in them now.


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2 Responses to Why Are Our Kids Leaving The Church?

  1. Hannah says:

    Great blog, Andy! And you speak truth! We have a job as parents to model for our kids what it is to walk with Christ. We really need to invest in our kids (and our adopted kids from church!)
    As a now young-adult (I’m kinda out of college age now though) I feel like I have a different understanding why kids leave the church. I didn’t want to go to church last week. At all. I was hoping Joey would sleep in so we wouldn’t have to go. Now, we are struggling with finding a good church home (even though we thought we had found one). But church for a young-adult who is ready to step in and serve in a new place sucks. Cause most places don’t welcome you with open arms. It’s hard to find community. And we leave a great community with youth group. Where there is fun and games and all our friends. We leave that atmosphere to a new place where adults aren’t willing to let us step in and serve, cause we’re so young. We’re still figuring out life so we can’t serve on committees or lead a small group or teach or whatever, especially if we’ve left home and are at a new church. So if we were an active involved member of a youth group, we’re thrust into a church (of our choosing of course) where there’s not really a place for us. There’s no more fun and games, community is with old people, which we haven’t interacted much with (I love old people though! Just speaking in general) and so we feel like we have no community cause there’s not many people our age. We are not welcome to step in and do things.
    This church Joey and I thought was a good fit, we’ve been trying to join for a few months now and have to wait on a membership class. Joey loves to teach, but has been told that “maybe” in the future there will be a place for him. And we can’t really get into a small group and there isn’t one that isn’t gender divided so we can’t do it as a family.
    We’re going to do more searching, but it would be easier just to not go. Find somewhere else to serve outside the church and not have to fight the battle. Find our community where we will be more accepted.
    Well, lots of rambling, but your post really got me thinking as to why I choose to stay in church and why it’s a battle to want to leave.
    Well, I choose to go to church cause Jesus went. He never really did anything in the synagogue but he was always there. And I’m sure he was tired of watching the white-washed tombs teach. And if He can deal, I can deal. And this us something my dad modeled for me.
    Well, I hope some of this could help with how to keep youngsters in church. We need more for us on the young adult side! We want to serve and be involved! But parental modeling and involvement is huge too. Otherwise I probably would have given up. 😊
    Always thankful for you friend!
    I also would add that when someone new comes we either leave them alone so they can connect how they want, which makes them feel distant, or we immediately try to put them somewhere based on some comment. For example, they say, I helped with youth at my last church, so we respond, great, you can help here, come meet the youth pastor, but we never find out where God is calling them to serve or what they are needing currently (like maybe they need a break from youth or have a desire to serve somewhere else). We need to invest in all ages of people to walk with them and help them grow.

  2. clayton says:

    I would like to add a few comments: being a youth pastor seven years, running a homeless/runaway shelter for teen for a year and a1/2 and having my own son has taught me a few things.
    I would like to say you are absolutely right everything you wrote above, but I would like to go one step further. The family is the first line of responsibility when it comes to raising godly children. But God also designed those families to be part of a larger community.
    That larger community God designed to operated in power. I would say the other reason we are losing our kids is because the “Church” rarely looks different from other social clubs: the current day “Church” has little power. The “Church” is designed to be set apart from this world and be different. All through Scripture, there is demonstration of God’s miraculous power – healing, unquestionable divine intervention, supernatural provision, etc. Most of which is tremendously lacking in the “Church” today.
    I heard a story of a witch coven that when their teens come of age, they take them to a “Church” so they can see the ‘other side’ and let them make a decision whether they want to leave the coven or not. Of course, they have grown up being taught how to access the spirit and see real results. They have access to real power in the spirit. Of course, their access is illegal, selfish, evil, etc – but the truth is – they have figured out how to access the spirit realm. We have been given legal access and a strong invitation to walk in the spirit and have supernatural demonstration of power. A few months ago when my son was sick, I was grieved because I couldn’t think of one “Church” that I could go to, find the elders, have them lay hands on my son and see him recover. We are conditioned to go to the doctors first, then say a quick prayer and hope for the best. I’m not saying doctors are bad, we go to the doctor – all I’m saying is that for every real need we as a family have, we go somewhere else besides the “Church” to get those needs met and our children are watching.
    The second reason kids are leaving: the “Church” has abdicated much of her responsibility within the community. We do a fair job of taking care of the poor, but what about the other areas of influence within the community. One example is that many churches offer ministry to alcoholics or drug addicts, but what about our young entrepreneurs? We tell them to go off to a secular college and learn how to run a secular business. How about a mentorship program with retired professionals paired up with college students in that same field! Many of the opportunities of growth our youth see within the “Church” revolves around running sound, ministering to the poor, or doing missions. Only 3% of Americans are in full-time ministry, and 97% of the time we are highlighting only that 3%.

    I guess you can probably tell that I as well am concerned about the youth. Your absolutely right, it does start at home, but it’s a culture issue (whole Church), not just the family, not just the youth pastor, etc. Oh, I have so much more to say on this. Bless you and I pray you are making a difference in your congregation – don’t give up or be discouraged.

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