7 Reasons Young Adults Quit Church
Pastor Jeff sent me an article called “7 Reasons Young Adults Quit Church.” Originally I was planning to simply link to it on our Twitter or something, but as I read through it, it began to resonate with me. I showed it to my husband, who’s in what must be a minority of young adults who actually found Christ during college. (At a liberal arts college, no less! Take that, naysayers.) Since I grew up in the church, we would have vastly different reactions to these reasons our peers quit the church. We each responded to Piatt’s points and we’d love to hear your thoughts as well!
1) We’ve been hurt.
Laura: This was not the case for me, fortunately, but it is very easy for a misspoken word or an instance of broken trust to cause deep hurt. Our own church has had its share of hurt lately, but the message we try to drive home is that God is stronger than anything that hurts us and that He can – and will – heal everything in time, through His love and forgiveness.
Kevin: I think the hurt many young people feel is the real or perceived judgements placed on them by older Christians. While many judgements have good intentions (i.e. trying to bring concerning lifestyles or choices to light in order to help right a young person’s path), young people can view these as overbearing, hypocritical, and hurtful.
2) Adult life/college and church don’t seem to mix.
Laura: Piatt brings up the “Gen X” tendency towards “thinking critically, [questioning] everything, and [figuring] out who we are as individuals.” This was definitely a theme at our college, and it clashes with the idea of the church as a mass of mindless, unquestioning sheep. However – and this may just be my Gen-X-ness talking – I think thinking critically and questioning things is very important to your faith. What is faith if it’s not tested or challenged? Our whole Mythbusters series is about this actually – God doesn’t want you to turn into a mindless sheep. He wants you to think and challenge and improve, not for yourself, but so you can help bring His kingdom to earth.
Kevin: College can be a very difficult context in which to grow in one’s faith. The current model of most institutions of higher learning is generally hostile to faith, particularly when it is organized into groups or churches. While faith is not often actively discouraged (due to laws preventing such action [however, there are cases such as the University of Vanderbilt’s meddling in student faith groups’ activity that border on religious persecution]), the culture of higher education nevertheless seeks to discourage faith through subtle stigma and implicit accusations of close-mindedness (ironic!), intellectual inferiority, and bigotry. It is much easier for a young person to “go with the flow” and embrace the views of their peers and faculty rather than actually challenging their own personal views on faith. In a sense, a lack of faith is accepted as the natural default. Once a young person has followed this path, it is difficult to break out after college and re-discover faith.
3) There’s no natural bridge to church.
Laura: Seriously, why is it so many vocal Christians are the wackos? We hate telemarketers, junk mail, and generally anyone who tries to force anything on us – why would we respond to the kind of experience Piatt had? Churches could get a huge benefit from the college emphasis on community service, so how about this: church offers to help new students move in, students return to church next year to help those new students move in. Maybe a relationship forms, maybe it doesn’t, but Generation X doesn’t want to hear about how sinful and worthless it is. We want to know how we can help fix things.
Kevin: I know from experience that almost every church I’ve attended was because I sought it out. True invitations (without strings attached) are few and far between. By that I mean invitations like “hey come try out our church, it’s super fun and fulfilling and I think you might like it” rather than “have you been saved? come try our church (unspoken: you sinner).”
4) We’re distracted.
Laura: Sorry, what? I was trying to download a new app to my iPhone and catch up on the last season of “Mad Men” on my iPad and set my DVR to record the next episode of “America’s Got Talent.”
Kevin: Pretty much speaks for itself. We’re overloaded with entertainment and information. It’s hard to sift through all the garbage and find a meaningful and fulfilling life with Christ. I know I watch too much TV and read too little.
5) We’re skeptical.
Laura: This ties back to both of the previous points. We ask what the church wants from us, what the catch is, and what the immediate benefit is for us. Sad but true: eternal salvation just isn’t enough of a perk sometimes. This is where the community-service portion could be a huge draw. We can never earn Christ’s love, and we shouldn’t really try to, but we are called to help the poor. Most people get a kick out of helping others, out of doing something nice for someone else. A church that emphasized its ties to the community and its service and mission projects could connect strongly with the young people who actually want to get out and help. We do exist! We just don’t always know where to go, or who to go to.
Kevin: Militant atheists (Richard Dawkins of Oxford University comes to mind) have been very successful in convincing young people that they have two choices: 1) you can have faith or 2) you can use knowledge, reason, and science (ostensibly to conclude that there is no God or Christ). Very little effort has been put into helping people understand that a life of intellectual and scientific discovery need not clash with faith (Ard Louis, also of Oxford, comes to mind).
6) We’re exhausted.
Laura: I had an amazing college experience, but I’ve been a little turned off lately by how frequently my alma mater has been calling for money. I was blessed by parents who worked hard to make sure I didn’t need to deal with student debt, but I’m one of few, and the last thing we want to deal with is a college asking us to pay them more money. Isn’t that what our tuition was for?
But I digress. Young people have a lot to deal with. We grew up hearing that if we went to college, we’d immediately get a great job. The economic slump has told us otherwise. We deal with accusations of being the “entitlement generation,” which in many cases may be true, but in other cases just makes us feel bad about ourselves. We see media attacks on “churches” like Westboro, or a politician slinging around hateful language, and we assume that all Christians are like that. We end up asking ourselves, why would we want to associate ourselves with hypocrites and the self-righteous? We know not all Christians are “like that,” but we don’t want to have to sort through dozens of churches, pastors, youth groups, etc, to find one that feels right for us. Talk about exhausting!
At the same time, church is worth the effort. Not “church” in the institutional sense, but “church” in terms of a loving community and a leader who can help you on your walk with Christ. That’s absolutely vital, and worth as much time as it takes to find it.
7) We don’t get it.
Laura: One of my best friends is agnostic. She’s a loving, caring, open-minded young woman, and she wants the community aspect of a church, but she doesn’t feel the need for a relationship with Christ. As someone who grew up in the church, it always baffled me that she wouldn’t want to share in some of the awesome experiences I’ve had as a Christian, but what do you say to convince someone who doesn’t feel like she’s missing anything? A conversation like that could easily turn me into the jerk with the bullhorn from #3.
But let’s face it, for all that Generation X struggles with the current economy, we usually feel like we have everything we need. We have the latest gadget, we’re connected to our friends’ every move thanks to Facebook, we have cars, we have friends and family immediately available via text or phone call…why should we feel like we’re missing anything?
The truth is, we are. Studies have shown us that we actually feel lonelier and less social in our overly-connected world. We are missing something deeper – the challenge is how to expose that fact to our young adults.
What can Real Life – or you specifically – do to break down these barriers and reach out effectively to our youth?