Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church

Daly Focus

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Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church

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Of all the hats I wear in life, the one I enjoy most may be that of “dad.”


As much fun as Trent, Troy, and I have together, whether it’s camping or just throwing the ball around, not a day goes by that I don’t give serious thought to how my wife, Jean, and I are leading them spiritually. In the grand scheme of things, we only a have a short window to help them build a solid biblical foundation before they launch out on their own.


If you’re a parent, I’m guessing you’re well aware of how challenging that can be. Even the statistics bear out the struggle we face. The exact percentages are up for debate, but we know that a significant number of kids walk out the church doors after high school graduation and never return.




Well, the specific reasons depend on which study you read, but most of them point out how adults fail to connect teenagers to God’s redemptive work in meaningful ways. A recent example of this comes from a website designed for workers in church leadership. The article’s author , Marc5Solas, lives in a college town. He interviewed a large number of twenty-somethings to get their take on why Christianity is no longer important to them and boiled down what he learned into ten reasons you might find interesting.


Take a look and see what you think.


10. The church is “relevant.”


Normally, “relevant” is a positive term. In this case, it labels the problem. We’ve couched our faith in modern trappings to the point that 2,000 years of history and rich tradition have been diminished. As the article suggests: “What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize to. In our effort to be ‘like them,’ we’ve become less of who we actually are.”


9. They got into church, but the church never got into them.


Many young adults may have been taken to church by their parents, but the church wasn’t integrated into the fabric of their lives. Church was a Sunday event, not something that impacted the everyday realities of their lives.


8. They were treated as smart by others.


Many students interviewed felt they were spoon-fed a Christian worldview, while professors and others who held atheist viewpoints challenged their intellect and inspired them to ask questions and to use their mind.


7. They were sent out unarmed.


Many youth have mastered Christian lingo – the pithy catchphrases spoken regularly in churches and marketed through popular evangelical campaigns – but they’re ignorant of deeper theological truths. They know what “WWJD?” means, and they’re familiar with how to “invite Jesus into your heart,” but they can’t explain what atonement or justification means or its relevance to life’s realities.


6. They’ve been given a “hand-me-down” religion.


Many kids leave the church feeling like they’ve been asked to accept their parents’ faith, instead of encouraged to ask tough questions, so they can incorporate Christianity into their lives and make it their own.


5. They exchange one community for another.


Our modern faith sometimes places a greater emphasis on community than on God. As a result, many of today’s youth see other people as the answer to their problems instead of God. When they leave home, they often seek out a community of people of any belief system rather than one committed to the God of the Bible.


4. They seek opportunities to “feel” better.


Much of modern Christianity is based on “feeling,” rather than on objective, eternal truth. It reduces the Christian faith to a search for good feelings rather than exhortation to conform our human nature to God’s standard of righteousness.


3. They got tired of pretending.


Some segments of Christianity suggest that being a Christian removes all struggle from life. But that message rings hollow for many kids who try to serve God and continue to face difficult challenges … or who see their parents teach a similar message while succumbing to anger or depression themselves. Many youth feel Christianity leaves no room for authenticity.


2. Christianity is reduced to “do/don’t do” instead of “be.”


Many church kids were taught it’s all about what they do, not who they are. The Christian faith was reduced to a long list of do’s and don’ts. They felt trapped beneath the weight of their own abilities, instead of freed by the work only God can do in their hearts and lives.


1. They don’t need it.


When church is perceived as nothing more than a place to learn good principles for living, or to have a happy marriage, or well-behaved kids… Well, you can find that in most any self-help book. You don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. What kids need is the gospel; what they’re sometimes given is “a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before.”


These findings challenged me. For one thing, I think it’s important to listen carefully to those we’re trying to reach, even when what they say isn’t so easy to hear. Only when we dig beneath a person’s words can we hear the true cries of their hearts.


I should add that I have the utmost admiration for pastors and youth workers, who are often lone voices, speaking truth into the lives of young people against a cacophony of noise from the culture. Add in limited budgets and time constraints and reaching young people for Christ is often an uphill battle indeed. I feel confident that most churches are doing everything they can to minister to young and old alike in their community.


And what about us parents? Well, articles like this that suggest how much may be amiss in the spiritual lives of today’s youth can certainly be daunting. As such, it’s always wise to be aware of our kids’ struggles and to make adjustments as necessary. But it’s just as important to remember that our kids are ultimately in the Lord’s hands. Strip away all the research and facts and figures, and underneath is this bedrock of Truth:


God has called us to rely on His grace to do the very best we can and to trust Him with the rest.


I’d like to hear what you think.


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  • My son saw Chrisitans disrespecting and mis-treating others; this includes me, his mom, being yelled at by a youth pastor. He also felt that the church discouraged thinking - that he was just supposed to accept everything proclaimed and NEVER ask questions.

  • I meant Christians not Chrisitians, sorry.

  • Jim, good, thought-provoking article.  I see a church which doesn't truly foster GRACE.  I see parents who don't really live with a seven-day-a-week bibliical world-view.  I see parents who don't really LOVE - by showing patience, not taking into account a wrong suffered, etc.  I see evangelical Christianity painting the classic "you're in a state of depravity;  God sent the Son to die for you;  if you accept it  AND live a good/clean life, you're in;  if you don't accept it and/or keep blowing it, you're out, destined for HELL.  NET:NET - kids are missing out on the wonder of God's indescribable love, and the rescue mission Jesus came to deliver.  They're missing out on the message that each and every person is immeasureably valuable and precious in God's eyes, EVEN ON OUR WORST DAY.  If more of us - myself included - practiced the greatest commandment, we'd have far different results, both within our own families, and in society at large.

  • Thanks for today's article! I'm surprised, though, that you didn't address the #1 most common reason why kids walk out the church doors after high school graduation and never return. It's where their parents decide to send them to college and--more importantly--why.

    A successful businessman called me about visiting Corban University with his teenage daughter. I’ll never forget his first three questions. They were about Corban’s commitment to the Bible as God’s holy and inspired Word, about Corban’s robust statement of faith, and about Corban’s heritage over the past 75+ years.

    I’ll also never forget his fourth and final question: “If I send my daughter to Corban, will she ever call me and say, ‘Dad, you won’t believe what my professor said in the class today’?” In other words, would her faith ever be attacked? Without hesitation, I assured him that would not happen. And I meant every word with the utmost integrity.

    Sadly, just the opposite happens at all but a few dozen conservative Christian colleges and universities.

    I'm NOT saying that conservative Christian colleges and universities are the only options available to us and our children.

    * My oldest daughter attended Multnomah University (Portland, Oregon).

    * My second daughter attended Trinity Western University (Langley, British Columbia), which accepts a large percentage of non-Christian students from all over the world.

    * My oldest son attended Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo), which he describes as a brainy party school.

    So, again, I'm NOT saying that conservative Christian colleges and universities are the only options. But why, oh why, would I send my son or daughter anywhere else if they're weak, questioning, struggling, doubting, drifting or walking away from the faith?

    --David Sanford, Corban University, www.corban.edu

  • Amen x 10. A big problem is kids get mixed messages from adults, leaving them unsure about who is right, and how to grow up in Christ. Kids will be helped greatly when the church integrates the family unit more, and does less age-segregation. Pastors should be aim their pulpit teaching toward youth and family more often. Youth leaders should be speaking, and listening to, and including parents more often. With these practices in place, kids will feel more like church is a true extension of home and family.

  • Unfortunately 3 or our 4 children are not in church.  One "doesn't need to go to church to be a Christian".  One just doesn't need it.  They are all about fun!  The third one is at a very secular college exploring what is out there.  This child is of the mindset, which a lot of our country is, that the God of many varied religions is one and the same God.  And sadly, we attend a big church which all 4 of our children feels is just for entertainment, there's no depth there.  We pray pray pray for them and now our grandchildren.  

    Our churches are not feeding our kids meat.  Our youth group said "we can't ban the kids from their cell phones while they're here or they won't come."  The youth group has parties, plays unbelievably loud music, and with over 200 kids there is no intimacy/accountability at all.

    Our young children Sunday School classes did not teach scripture, memorization (which I grew up with).  Again, party, entertainment.  I quit teaching because I told them I could not teach something I do not agree with.

  • Our kids, like the rest of us, too often are hearing much more about doing good works in the community and self-help, feel-good, "moralistic therapeutic deism" from the pulpit than about sin, repentance, the cross, eternal reward or judgment, salvation and the atonement.

  • My daughter is 19 and in college.  She still attends church, but really has no where to belong at the church. She to old for youth, to young for young adults.  Her schedule varies because of work and classes as do most in her age group.  But churches do not seem to want to adapt to meet the needs of this age group. She does not even have a sunday school class. I have called around to several churches just to see if they offered classes for her age group, most do not unless it is a mega church.  Sad, Sad, Sad.  

  • The one factor, amongst many in our complex existence, is the culture. I lived a very sheltered, isolated life. When I was "free", I was ready to experience life! The 60's were it!

    I can only look back and see how "ineffective" the culture was on my beliefs. Yes, I strayed, I sinned, but came back to what had been ground into me.

    What about the present? I compare the present culture to a tsunami. As I watched videos of Japan's tsunami, where the black liquid churned everything in it's path and carried it along to create a giant monstrosity that nobody in it's path could survive, I asked: Is that not what we're dealing with? TV, video, internet, phones, cameras, music, porn, abortion, child abuse, divorce, terrorism, atheism, it's all a giant tsunami churning around us.

    We've seen the sunset of Christianity, now we're in the dark. Christ is our light, He is our Rock while the tsunami swirls around us. Who will NOT get caught? who will stay grounded?  No easy answers remain.

  •   The family is fatally eroded from decades of neglect and disrespect.  Slow but steady re-building is happening in groups such as AWANA, Christian clubs, and awakening Christian churches -- with special emphasis on the God-ordained family.   It will take a LONG time of consistent effort.

      PRAYER and more PRAYER is essential, and especially within the families, if we are to rescue any further generations and this blessed nation.  Everything said above is vital, too!   God WANTS to heal us.

      THANKS for your incredible work, FOTF!

  • CORRECTION:  "everything said above"  does not necessarily include DKerr's statements.

    Elaborate, please???

    "God bless America!" is my prayer for each of us individually, and as His families.

  • I've been head-deep in this subject for the past year writing CALLED TO STAY (Harvest House, October 2013). I have to say that these points are some of the best I've seen on the web. Big thanks to you, Jim, for reposting. God bless you, brother.

  • What has me most concerned is just that the church itself has given way to the teachings of the world.  We have no issue whatsoever telling our kids that evolution is an acceptable world view, even though it is completely anti-biblical.  They hear all week in school that we evolved by random chance out of a pond billions of years ago and then became tadpoles, then creatures, then monkeys, then cavemen, and now here we are.  The bible is clear that we were created perfect, the SAME day as all land creatures, including dinosaurs!  When was the last time you heard that preached in church?  

    The ONLY ministry I see out there doing that is Answers in Genesis...Ken Ham hits the nail on the head when he says that the falling away from Bible as an authority on everything...science, history, etc. is what the church is doing, and so we have diminished Truth to "cute Bible stories" and then the kids are taught even in many "Christian" Colleges that the evolutionists are correct.  

    If you are like I was a few years ago and don't think this is an important issue...think about this a minute...look at the basic logic here:   If there were dinosaurs that died millions of years ago before man stepped on the planet, then that means death and sin and disease were here before man too, wouldn't it?  So why would we be in need of a savior if we were, as Lady Gaga states "born this way"?  Then sin and repentance have no place either...so what are the kids in this generation of Rob Bell followers to believe and why would they bother going to church anyway if there is no Hell either?  

  • That last/first reason shows that the church/family has not laid a good foundation of truth, authority of the first books in the Bible - God's word is living and does not change. The first book of God's word is ever so much important as the last. We learn about marriage, family, government, and raising children in those books. If we focus all our spiritual fervor on the gospel, we are missing most of the message. If you skip Genesis you don't need a Jesus! And if there is no need for Jesus, self-help is all there is - and what a confusing conglomerate of fallible-man ideas flow through those!

    Those kids indeed need the gospel, but a gospel that has been built on the foundation of Genesis where God first speaks to us about a need for a savior.

  • While these may be very valid reasons, I think one of reason that has not been addressed is that some kids leave because they just want to rebel!  This is what I did at 18 when I went away to college.  I went to a Christian school from 2nd grade thru graduation and then to a Christian college where I had every opportunity to attend church but just chose not to.  Call it my own form of rebellion I guess, but it was my choice and I do not blame my church or their programs, my parents or any youth leadership.  I returned to the church when my husband and I had young children and am thrilled to be back but I wish I had not left.  All of us, young or not so young, need to take responsibility for our own faith and our choices and not look to a church, a program or lack of program to blame.