No More Church for 18-29 Year Olds

According to researcher and author David Kinnaman (You Lost Me), 59% of 18-29 year olds who were raised in the church have dropped out—they’re done—they haven’t gone back. Furthermore, 57% admit to attending less and being less committed than they were at age 15, and 38% live in a constant state of doubt over Christianity. I shortly mentioned this problem in my last article, “Old Birds and Young Guns,” and I will now try to dig into it a bit deeper.

The unfortunate truth is that once high school graduates leave the house a majority of them also leave the church. With this come the decisions to indulge in excessive drinking, illegal drugs, and pre-marital sex. The angelic Lucy or perfect Tommy that mom and dad had once protected and seen so much potential in now lives a double life behind their backs. This doesn’t happen to every kid, but to give a perspective, I graduated from a Christian high school with 74 others, at least 34 have lost their way completely or for a short time to these worldly temptations.

Everyone wants to know, why? Here are a few attempts at pointing out the problem, and a couple solutions to try and fix it.

1. Christianized Apathy- Kids in my generation have been so plugged into the church by parents that by the time they are 18, leave the house, and go to college, they realize that their faith isn’t real to them, it has just been spoon fed to them for 18 years. I was raised in a culture that had involved Church twice every Sunday, Sunday School, Cadets (youth program for ages 9-14), Youth Group (ages 15-18), and Christian schooling. Being a Christian was put in front of me and other kids 24/7, which is great in a way, but in the end it made us apathetic instead of enthusiastic. This same cycle is going on today for other kids. They just do it because it’s what their parents tell them and want them to do. When finally away from the parents, it becomes a different story and battle.

2. Generational Connection Failure- The parenting generation that has raised the 18-29 year olds has failed in a major area—instead of loving us unconditionally, they have been trying to convert us ineffectively. There is a major gap between parents and children because for 18 years parents pride themselves on having “good” kids. The “helicopter parents” constantly get their kids involved in everything possible, putting family time on the back burner to invest in experiential time. Chances for family gatherings are rare; a dinner time where the entire family sits down and eats together is nonexistent. It is in these times that in generations past, families have invested in each other, learned about failures and hard times, and the parents have taught the Bible to the kids. It seems that today parents are leaving that solely up to the church, which kids are numb to anyways. Furthermore, parents are tending to fail at connecting emotionally with their children. The idea to be open and honest with children seems foreign. I can’t remember a time growing up when my parents ever shared with me their failures, hardships, or personal spiritual battles or growths. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are amazing people and raised me well, but the lack of these things scared me into ever failing. It scared me so much to fail as a person, that when I did, I hid it from them. I faked it so they wouldn’t feel let down by my actions and I wouldn’t go against their wishes. Similar situations to mine are what have occurred in many 18-29 year olds. This Generational Connection Failure has resulted in loss of emotion, sincerity, and reality for many young adults and has kept them from being real with themselves and their parents, as well as going back to church.

3. Identity Crisis- We’re given an identity by where, how, and who we grow up with. Everyone parents differently, every child has different likes, dislikes, and personalities. The problem within the identity of many 18-29 year olds is that the world (and usually parents) are asking them “what are you going to do-who are you wanting to be?” This question distracts the younger generation from focusing on the here and now, as well as the past, and puts an extreme focus on the future. When this is done, a lot of anxiousness and pressure is felt by the individual, and many times that is where the Generational Connection Failure can have a negative impact and the kid turns to things other than God to relieve the stress. The honest answer for many is, “I don’t know,” but parents and other older people don’t seem to accept this answer. This focus on the future takes away from everything that is going on around the young individual. Often they forget to handle the problems or issues surround them, and even more importantly, they skip over the chance to learn from their past mistakes. All of these things form a false identity adding to the fragile state of young Christians who find church a place they don’t want to be anymore.

Throughout this whole article, please understand that not everything applies to every single 18-29 year old alive. They are some really great ones out there who have never had dealt with these problems! The comments about parents also do not apply to every single parent. Please do not hear what I am not saying, but see the light I am trying to bring to this issue.

Here are two short solutions as this article is getting very long!

1. LOVE- The answer to every problem is always love! Instead of constantly trying to save and convert the youth, just love them. Be like Jesus to them—someone who talks, helps, relates, and develops a relationship. I would go as far as saying to suffer with them; feel their pain, show them your own pain, expand on your own spiritual growth from times of hardship and pain. Don’t offer a “Disneyland” escape route by saying “It will be OK-everything will turn out fine-you’ll be over this in a minute.” NO! This is only furthering the problem. The youth need relatable, loving parents and mentors. These two things will bring kids back to church quicker than anything else (other than a divine Jesus moment). J

2. TIME- First of all, understand that this problem of 59% of 18-29 year olds leaving the church will not be solved in a day. It is going to take time and healing to get that percentage to decrease. It is also going to take time, invested-quality-loving time, to re-establish relationships with a church, parents, and with Jesus. The best thing to do as parents is to offer chances to have family talks, invest in them past face value, getting to their spirit and core. As a church, it is flooding them with opportunities to get involved, even things that aren’t dominated by the word “Christian.” It could be a game night, young adult social, or weekend getaway. Consistently provide time and they will come.

I realize that this article mainly focused on the parents and church as the problem of 18-29 year olds leaving the church. There is always two sides to every story, and my next article will focus more intensely on the mistakes the youth are making to allow this percentage to be so high. I would enjoy and encourage comments that anyone has on this issue, just leave a comment below!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “No More Church for 18-29 Year Olds

  1. Cory, I really appreciate your honesty and openness in sharing. You are a really good writer . I really think you hit on the key to every problem dealing with relationships-love, and open communication. Also, never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the prayers of a parent :) (just for future reference, ha ha)

    • Kathleen, thanks for reading! You are so right on prayer. It is a major and powerful tool to be used and would nicely fit in with both love and time for solutions. Great point to bring out! Thanks for the feedback!

  2. Cory, I appreciate your insight and tact. You have mature vision and wisdom. I agree with your three listed problems that can be summed up in one word: parents.
    Author Donald Miller believes that one of the reason the huge drop-off of church kids going to church after high school is because our culture has made it so. He says that we are no longer farmers and we don’t work and play together anymore as families. Farmers spend all day long with their children working and eating and teaching; thus, discipleship happens through time. Today, we’ve lost that time with parents and we’ve lost the context of the Bible – one where land and time mean something else.
    We’ve grown up with parents who have new values and we’ve been taught those values. We are great consumers and great at creating and achieving success. These are our parents’ gods and they are the gods that our church children worship. They are clean and righteous. Look at our sports, our art, our plaudits, and grades. Look at our parent’s walls and their car’s mileage and their checking books.
    Churches have responded by pouring its recourses into creating the best children and youth ministry programs. These programs are what parents look for when choosing a church because, of course, the best program will help our children be the most successful. So the lie is sold and bought: that a program can save and all you have to do is be active in it.
    However, children who grow up into adults with a saving program can see that’s its eventually meaningless. Their parents aren’t different. They aren’t different. Their friends aren’t different. Their parents don’t know how to disciple because they themselves don’t care or they don’t know how.
    Today many parents who go to church every Sunday do not make disciples of Jesus of their children because it’s not important to them. It’s not on their radar. Sure, it’s something to agree with and encourage and even give money to, but don’t expect parents to disciple their own children. It’s much better and easier to drive our children to dance practice four times a week and to be a part of the PTA and run VBS because it looks good, it’s what our community worships, and it sure feels righteous.
    The answer and fault lies with the church. The church has failed in signaling the clarion call to wake up and chase Jesus with all your heart, soul, and mind. Your children will worship what you worship. The church must call upon parents to worship God – even if it means it will cost everything. A child wants to follow that authentic love and lead.
    This next school year I’m going to do an experiment with my church that I learned in Lamaze class. I’m going to divide parents into groups and give each parent a list of 15 items. On the list will be items such as: graduate college; have a healthy lifestyle; be financially secure; have a happy marriage; letter in a sport in high school; etc. One of the items is “be with my child, worshiping God in heaven one day.” The list asks each parent to cross out five items; meaning, this will not be true of your child. After everyone’s crossed out five, I have them discuss which five they got rid of in their groups. Then, I ask the parents to cross out another five and have the parents discuss. Then I ask for them to cross out three and discuss. Then one and discuss what is the ONE THING left on their list.*
    IF it is that one day you want to see your child in heaven with you, what is happening today to make sure it happens? We study for college, we save for marriage, we dedicate free time to sports, but what today is going to help your child be a disciple of Jesus? Going to church certainly helps but if that’s all you’ve got, you don’t have much. You have an enemy who hates your child and he hates you. The bible calls him the god of this world and he manipulates it and he uses it so he can devour your child.
    You say 59% leave the church after graduation, but that is a pretty conservative number. I’ve seen it as high as the upper 80’s – depending on the demographics such as rural or city and denomination. The enemy is alive and he has our children.
    Most parents thought it was enough to ascribe to a program. A lot of parents actually only started coming to church because they had kids. They didn’t realize they had to be madly in love with God.
    I’m convinced that parents only need one thing. If you want it for you child, you have to do it yourself. If you want to see your child in heaven, you have to make sure you’re going and you’re leading. Don’t expect your child to do something you aren’t. You have to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It will cost you everything. Amen.
    Psalm 27:4
    One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

    *The goal of the Lamaze class experiment it to have the last item – the most important item – be a healthy baby during birth. All other agendas, such as ‘having a natural pregnancy,’ can be easily sacrificed for the sake of the most important item. The goal of this spiritual experiment is to have parents realize that the most important thing they should desire for their child is for them to be true followers of Jesus and go to heaven one day.

    • Eric! Thanks for your awesome reply. You had so many good things packed in there, you should start writing your own blog :) Great wisdom and insight, glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the support! Blessings!

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