Why young people leave the church

I just posted a link on facebook (reposted here, for those who follow my blog but may not be on facebook). It’s a blog post from marc5solas on why young people are leaving the church in droves today. I found it really provocative and insightful. It certainly resonated with me (or much of it anyway). What do you think? Does it resonate with you? What in particular resonates? Any push back? I think this piece invites some good discussion.

Here’s the link: http://marc5solas.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/

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8 Responses to Why young people leave the church

  1. jwheels says:

    I would only add that some of them are leaving the church because, given the first nine points, it’s actually not the best place to actually follow Jesus. To some extent or another, most of us dabble in the caricature he paints, and some churches even hit on all points; in such a church, it’s hard to really follow Jesus. I think that a lot of college students “get smart” when they meet the world, not because they meet atheists, but because they meet Jesus for what might be the first time.

    • Good point. I certainly agree that one needs to get outside one’s own congregation in order to experience the richness of the body of Christ (churches can become so myopic; many of us Protestants have lost vision of the classic ‘marks’ of catholicity and unity). Also, God’s kingdom exists beyond my church and beyond the church. However, I don’t want to downplay the importance of the local church in God’s plan either. In this plan, the kingdom (which is invisible) takes concrete form in local congregations. So, as Newbigin says, congregations exist in order to be a sign and foretaste of the kingdom of God. I think the problem is that too many don’t seek first God’s kingdom. Too often, churches prioritize other goals – church growth, offering a nice Sunday morning experience, helping people better their bourgeois lives with “good advice,” and generally offering whatever religious goods and services their market niche demands.

      • jwheels says:

        I totally agree, and don’t want to minimize the central importance of being a member of a body of believers. I think that where we’re stumbling so much today is in associating a person leaving a certain kind of church for leaving Christianity. Does a gathering need to have a certain format in order to be called church? Does it even need to be intentional? I think that most church leaders today would be willing to grant the first point, but not the second.

        I think that many of the people who are leaving the church don’t see the value in the formal, intentional gathering, but they WILL go where they are supported and can grow, perhaps especially if that is in the simple and informal gatherings of friendship. I think that this holds a double judgment for many churches: 1) it implies that church itself is not a safe place that stimulates real growth in people (or at least it is not perceived to be), and 2) it implies that the formal church is not a place where real friendship happens, at least for many of its members (this has largely been my experience in church). The question, then, is how do we respond to such judgments?

        • Very sad that the church hasn’t been a place to form friendships and enter into such a formative journey with people. Too many experience that lack in the church today. I’ve been fortunate that friendship and “life together” has been an important part of my ‘formal’ church experience.

          As to structure and intentionality, I think that both are necessary for the worship gathering of the church (and – a key point – the worship gathering is not the only thing the church does; it plays a specific role in the body’s life together). For me structures can be flexible (I side with Luther over Calvin on this) to serve the community and its missional context. Intentionality – I’m not sure what you mean by that? It seems to me that intentionality is a vital part of all good church worship gatherings, and that there’s even a degree of intentionality in Christian community in general. Not that everything needs to be under the banner of a particular “program” (maybe that’s what you mean?). More in the sense that relationships requires intentionality (esp. those that take us beyond hanging out only with those with whom we share common interests and preferences).

          • jwheels says:

            I think you hit on it with the distinction between the worship service and the church as a body of believers. I use words like “formal” and “intentional” to distinguish between a community built around a program and a community built around…anything else, really.

            I was once part of a young adults group that was very vibrant. We had regular meetings for bible study and fellowship, but we also hung out informally quite frequently, to the point where we were no longer defined by our weekly formal meeting. However, even that weekly bible study probably defined us more than the Sunday service of the church we were affiliated with, and there were members of our group who didn’t come on Sundays. I find it hard to say that those people weren’t “going to church,” even though they didn’t show up on Sundays.

            We had church in basements and coffee shops and movie theatres and at the beach, not only because we were Christians in fellowship in those places, but also because of the Christian character of our fellowship. But we weren’t meeting at movie theatres to worship there, we were going there to watch movies; but the discussions we had, the fellowship we shared, even in coffee shops and movie theatres, had tones and qualities of worship that came up organically. Those of us who did go to the Sunday service did worship there as well, but I certainly wouldn’t limit our worship to singing on Sunday – it wasn’t always the time of the week that seemed most worshipful. (Perhaps the question of what is worship is one that I need to explore as well).

            So what are the essential qualities of the church? If it is a body of believers rather than a building or a program, what are the necessary qualities of its life together? Do we need a specific program? I don’t think that a lot of the people who are “leaving the church” would limit it to programs or structures, and I think many of them prefer informal and organic expressions of spirituality that arise out of genuine community – even if that community is not one formed deliberately for the sake of worship. I’m certainly not saying that everyone who leaves the church would fall into this category, nor am I saying that this leads to a vibrant Christianity; all I’m saying is that, at least to some people, such expressions of spirituality are superior to those they’ve found in the formal programs of the church.

          • Good thoughts, Jeff. I resonate with much of it. I tend to agree that many are leaving the church precisely because they are looking for more authentic expressions of community, spirituality, discipleship, and activism.

            These questions are too big to answer here (how about a directed study in ecclesiology?). It won’t help much here to mention the classical marks, the Protestant marks, or the Anabaptist distinctive without discussing them theologically (which will raise a whole host of other questions).

            The kind of experience you are describing might (generally) fit into Avery Dulles “mystical communion” type of church in his typology. A good representative is Emil Brunner. Dulles lists the strengths of this model as accenting personal relationships and, by emphasizing a non-institutional notion of spiritual bondedness, bringing vitality to spirituality and prayer. Potential weaknesses include: leaving obscure the relationship between the spiritual and visible dimensions of the church (retaining the spirit-body dualism of the institutional model, but focusing on spirit rather than embodiment, historical discontinuity rather than continuity, etc.); lacking a clear sense of identity and mission (contrast with missional theology, in which mission is essential to what the church is, thus shaping the church’s identity and purpose); and a tendency to found the church on similarity (church as association of like-minded individuals) rather than difference (church springing from reconciliation and transformation). The latter might fall prey to Bonhoeffer’s critique of idealizing the church.

            Your question about worship is also a big one. Just a couple of quick thoughts. First, there are different senses of ‘worship’. One is the general Romans 12 sense of worshiping God with our lives. I think this fits very well with what you are talking about. The other has to do with the formative, communal, and liturgical purposes of worship, which are ways of drawing us into God’s story or theo-narrative. Modernity has difficulty understanding the importance of rituals, rites, patterns, etc. (even though, ironically, it is constantly being shaped by secular liturgies, as James K. A. Smith helpfully shows). There is presently a renewed appreciation for the formative role of rituals, rites, narratives (and the practices that they bring forth) in shaping our particular ‘rationalities’ and worldviews (or social imaginaries, to use Charles Taylor’s term). So, here, you have to think about the way that Israel worshiped, the use of the Psalms, early Christian hymns, the sacraments, etc.

          • jwheels says:

            Wow, bit off more than I can chew there! You’ve given me a lot to think about. Andrea will be taking your ecclesiology class next year, so I’ll follow along 🙂

          • Awesome! I’ll look forward to having her there.

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