This week, the Barna Group reported six reasons young Christians leave the church. According to the report many teens and 20-somethings believe the church is overprotective, shallow, antagonistic to science, simplistic and judgmental regarding sexuality, exclusive, unfriendly.
Underlying these reasons for leaving — at least one of which was cited by nearly 3 out of 5 young Christians studied — seems to be the church’s struggle to adjust to reaching a new kind of young adult.
David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults — those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids — all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.
“Consequently, churches are not prepared to handle the ‘new normal.’ Instead, church leaders are most comfortable working with young, married adults, especially those with children. However, the world for young adults is changing in significant ways, such as their remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, their alienation from various institutions, and their skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.”
Kinnaman warns that churches often take two misguided approaches in responding to young Christians: either they cater to them or minimize their concerns. Personally, I’ve experienced both of these responses and neither one is healthy.
What is the key to keeping young people in the church?
Kinnaman observed that many churches approach generations in a hierarchical, top-down manner, rather than deploying a true team of believers of all ages. “Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old. In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body — that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.”
I couldn’t agree more.