Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why does the church struggle to keep young adults?

A common problem found in many churches today is the absence of young adults.  There is a noticeable absence of twentysomethings in many of our churches today.  That is not necessarily a new thing.  I think back on my own life and can see how I started drifting away from the church in my mid-teens, and after joining the Navy at age 19 I was seldom in a church until I gave my life to Jesus Christ in my late twenties.  It is a story I hear from many my age.  But, just because it's not a new phenomenon doesn't mean that we do not need to find a reason for it, and better yet, a solution.

I just finished reading You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.  Kinnaman is pesident of the Barna Group and a researcher who has studied 18-29-year-olds with a Christian background.  He wanted to hear from them why so many leave the church during those years of their lives.  I found his research interesting and most helpful to any church serious about wanting to reach young people in this age category.  Although his research found many more reasons why young people leave the church than we can cover in a blog, one in particular jumped out at me.  He writes

We interviewed young people who were de-churched (former churchgoers) and discovered that one of the major reasons they had left the church was that their faith community had not been able to help them deal with the life issues they faced.  Too often, we have not provided practical coaching on marriage, parenting, vocation and calling, and all the smaller choices emerging adults must make along the road to maturity.

What is this but a failure of discipleship?  The author's words wounded me because the church I pastored for twenty years never once addressed any of these issues in ways that would specifically help twentysomethings with these issues.  Sure, I preached on these topics from time to time, and they may have been addressed occasionally, very briefly, in Sunday school material, but we never intentionally did anything to help our young adults deal with these issues in depth.  And, like many churches, we could not understand why we couldn't keep our young adults.  Now, too late, I better understand why.

One of the challenges we have with discipleship is that too many churches never really identify what a Christian disciple should look like.  How does one's faith impact his or her choice of college and areas of study?    How well has his or her church prepared that young person for the challenges he or she will face as they go away to school?  If one is a Christian, how should that impact the person he or she marries and what that relationship should look like?  What are the responsibilities of a Christian parent as found in Scripture?  How does one's faith impact what one chooses to do with his or her life vocationally?  As one enters adulthood how does one's faith grow deeper and more mature?  How does a young adult address finances from a biblical perspective?

Is your church doing anything intentionally to help your young adults find the answers to these, and other, questions they face as they begin to enter adulthood?  If not, then don't be surprised when they decide that your church really isn't relevant to their lives and walk away.

Regardless of the size of a church, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Please forgive the caps, but I need to shout this from the rooftops, MOST OF WHAT WE ARE DOING AS DISCIPLESHIP IN OUR CHURCHES IS NOT WORKING!  If it was, our churches would be overflowing as people would be finding the answers to some of their most pressing questions.  Many of our churches need to seriously revamp what they are doing in the area of Christian education and discipleship.  Especially as our young people begin to enter Junior and Senior High school they need far more than what I've seen in most Sunday school books.  They need more exposure to a Christian worldview and how that is different from and better than other worldviews that exist.  They need practical help through their lessons and coaching in how to apply biblical principles to the areas mentioned above and many others that could have been mentioned.  As these young people become young adults, this practical discipleship needs to become even more intense as we help them as they begin to apply these principles to some of the issues that will impact them for the rest of their lives.

How many times do we have to hear that young adults are not leaving Christ, but they are leaving the church before we recognize that we have the power to change how our churches respond to their needs?  We cannot allow this generation of young adults to continue to seek the answers to their spiritual questions away from the church.  Many in my generation eventually returned to the church.  My fear is that many in this generation will not, and if they do not then we should not expect many of their children to return later.  We must begin now to help them address these questions from a Christian worldview if we want to keep them from abandoning the church or even their faith. 

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