Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why is it so hard to reach young people?

I just finished reading one of the best books I've read this year.  You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman explains why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking their faith.  It is a sobering book that examines why so many 18 to 29 year old Christians are walking away from the church.  The author is president of The Barna Group who has interviewed countless individuals and poured over numerous studies to understand what has led so many of our young adults to abandon the faith in which they were raised.  One of the reasons I found this book so interesting is that one of the most frequent questions I get from the leaders of smaller churches is how they can reach this particular generation.  This is the age group small churches want to reach because they believe if they can reach this generation their church will survive into the future.  "Just tell us what we can do," some of they have nearly begged me.  Well, this book will tell them what to do, but my guess is that many of them won't like what it has to say.

Kinnaman believes the core problem that leads to young adults leaving the church is that the church is failing to adequately disciple it's people.  He writes, "The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture."  The research he conducted found that 59 percent of young people with a Christian background have dropped out of attending church even though they used to attend regularly.  That is a big number!  One of the things that surprised me about this is that most of the ones who drop out do so before they go away to college.  Like many, I had always felt that young people found their faith being challenged while they were in college, and it will be, but most of who walk away from their faith do so before graduating from high school.

His research further found that there are six broad reasons for them dropping out of the church.  They find the church to be overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless.  The author addresses each of these in separate chapters and provides the church some guidance on how to respond to the concerns young people have about each of these reasons.

At no place in the book is there ever a sense the author believes the church should compromise its beliefs or values in order to reach a younger generation.  In fact, he would argue that the church should raise its expectations of its members and once again make being a Christian mean something.  He calls for new and better ways to do discipleship as a way to help strengthen the faith commitment of all our members.

Let me add a personal word here.  Before churches ask how they can reach youth and young adults they need to first ask why they were not able to keep the ones they had.  If they couldn't keep the ones who grew up in their churches, why?  And why would they think they would be able to reach others in that age group who have no prior connection with them?

Church leaders whose churches are struggling with keeping their young people need to read this book because it will probably point out some things they need to be doing differently.  Churches who find it difficult to reach new young people also need to read this book for insights on how they can better address the questions and concerns this younger generation has about God and the church.  I think you'll find this to be one of the more helpful books you'll read on this topic.

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