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!