Symptoms, we call them. When I can’t stop coughing, it’s an indication something is wrong in my lungs. When my truck will not start, there’s something wrong under the hood. When young people drop out of church, there’s something wrong. Dropping out is a symptom.
It’s not really news that many young adults stop attending church regularly after high school. New numbers show the situation is actually a little better now than 10 years ago.
But if we care about the people these numbers represent and the teenagers who are following them, then the reasons why they leave are very important.
Top five reasons for dropping out:
Moved to college
Judgmental or hypocritical church members
Disconnected from people in church
Disagreed with church’s political/social issues stance
Work responsibilities prevented attendance
The LifeWay Research post said this:
Virtually all of those who dropped out (96 percent) listed a change in their life situation as a reason for their dropping out. Fewer say it was related to the church or pastor (73 percent); religious, ethical or political beliefs (70 percent); or the student ministry (63 percent).
Accurate, yes, but something very disturbing is said here. The change in life situation is a huge factor, but it’s not only that these young people moved out of the house. Church life bothered them to a high degree — 73, 70, and 63 percent.
These are young people who had been attending church regularly. They are not people from outside with impressions shaped by word of mouth, stereotypes, or the media. They didn’t like what they experienced INSIDE church.
Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay, said:
For the most part, people aren’t leaving the church out of bitterness, the influence of college atheists, or a renunciation of their faith.
What the research tells us may be even more concerning for Protestant churches: there was nothing about the church experience or faith foundation of those teenagers that caused them to seek out a connection to a local church once they entered a new phase of life. The time they spent with activity in church was simply replaced by something else.
Read that paragraph again. Nothing about the church experience or the faith learned there “caused them to seek out a connection” to a church in a new place.
If this is true, it’s an indictment of our churches. How can a person go to church and not have an experience and a faith that people want to replicate in a new place?
Something is wrong; the symptoms are clear. Whatever the diagnosis, the treatment is clear — a healthy dose of Jesus.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.