Friday, January 27, 2012

Six Reasons Why the Young Are Leaving the Church

TITLE: Six Reasons why the Young Leaving the Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 27 Jan 2012

In a provocative book that attempts to diagnose the rumblings on the younger generation, David Kinnaman in his book, "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church. . . and Rethinking Faith" points out 6 reasons why the young are leaving Church. Focusing on the generation that is between 18-29 years old, Kinnaman identifies three groups of people, the 'nomads,' the 'prodigals,' and 'the exiles.'

'Nomads' basically are those who are not actively engaged in Church but still believe. 'Prodigals' are those who introduces themselves as a 'former Christian' and no longer believe. 'Exiles' are those who are still in the Church but feel stuck between Church and the world.

Kinnaman then gives six reasons why the young are leaving the Church. They say that the Church is:

  1. "Over-Protective." About a quarter of the surveyed youths say that the church is overprotective of them, and tends to demonize the culture at large, from music to technology, from movies to their choice of programs, and especially things that they grow up with.  
  2. "Shallow." Boring, irrelevant, and lack of clarity in Bible teaching.  Many do not see a connection between God and their daily lives.
  3. "Anti-science." There is a strong perception that having faith in God is anti-thesis to the existence of science. 
  4. "Repressive." The church tends to be perceived as not as understanding and forgiving, especially in the area of sexual matters. Many young people feel judged. The Church in general does not understand the reasons behind the sexuality perspectives young people has. The rules of the Church seems to be stifling and judgmental.
  5. "Exclusive." Why is Christianity making exclusive claims? In a pluralistic world, why is the Church so stubborn and not willing to embrace other faiths and beliefs?
  6. "Doubtless." Why can't young people honestly verbalize their doubts? Must they be 'doubtless' and believe in the doctrine without questioning them?
[Read the Barna article here:]

It is an eye opener for those of us in our 30s and above. We may not need to agree with all of what Kinnaman is saying. What matters more is that these six reasons are consolidated from research done between 2007 and 2011 from 1296 young people (18-29 years old) in the US, both Church-goers as well as non-Church goers. Looking at the list above, as a Church, we need to be humble enough to be guilty until proven innocent.  

Six Opportunities to Renovate Our Houses

The first step with regards to such a report is to acknowledge that we have weaknesses. Confess that we have not done our best. Admit that there are things that we still do not understand. Whether the 6 reasons above are true or not true, all church leaders need to be mature enough at least to say: "I am open to criticism and open learning." Even for those churches with a thriving young people group, there is no guarantee that they can avoid all of the six factors above in the future. Let me suggest 6 constructive responses to the six reasons why the young are leaving.

#1 - Letting Go: Let adult members of the Church learn to let go of their own insecurities. That feeling of 'the kids not knowing what is best for them' has to go. We need to trust them, and to let them know that we trust them. Perhaps, the best way is simply to go up to them, and affirm them. Let them know that no matter what, we will be with them. Isn't letting go an act of love too? Love is not locking our kids up in a cage, so that they can be safe from the world. It is opening the doors, letting them fly out and experience the world. When the time is right, love will see them flying back home, in greater and fuller appreciation that love frees.

#2 - Growing Deep: This applies to all of us. I think there is a strong link between adult behaviour and the young observer. If the adults themselves are not growing and effectively relating their faith in the world, chances are, the young will copy and follow suit. If we want the young people to grow deeper amid the perception of shallowness in the Church, the adults have a responsibility to show the way.

#3 - Truth-Seeking: Whether it is science, philosophy, art, or theology, the whole Church needs to seek truth. There is truth in many things. Unfortunately, the world is littered with half-truths, half-perceptions, and half-done works of service. Truth needs to be whole. Supplement young people's perceptions by offering platforms for open discussions. Have friendly debates. Organize group dynamics sessions where apologetics can be practiced.

#4 - Open: There is no need to try to force other people into our own molds. It is stifling for anyone, not just young people. If there is a left, there is also a right. If there is an up, there is also a down. Sometimes, there is a middle position which recognizes the best and worst of both. Whatever it is, an environment of openness allows truth to be spoken in love.

#5 - Exclusive Claims: The key word is again 'truth.' Recognize that all religions are exclusive in their own ways. Even atheists and agnostics have their own brand of exclusivity. In this sense, Christianity is no different in terms of their truth claims. Those who trumpet pluralism and total tolerance have 'pluralism' and 'total tolerance' as their exclusive philosophy as well. In other words, everyone else is doing it. Why single out the Church?

#6 - Forgiving Climate: This is something that I am often troubled about. Are we breeding church environments where people are expected to be nice, politically correct, and permitted to do anything except those that ruffle up feathers? If all members of the church practise their attitude of openness and forgiveness, the young will see that it is ok to open up and share their doubts. In this manner, I believe that there is a kind of unhealthy unquestioning faith that leads to unhealthy doubt. There is also a kind of healthy doubt that leads to healthy faith.

There is hope. Let me close with Paul's encouragement to young Timothy. 
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Tim 1:7)
May we all learn to grow to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, fellowshiping in the love of God, and continuing on like Jesus, on the path of self-discipline. So do not be afraid of the young leaving the church. If we maintain and renovate our physical and spiritual houses, keeping them in order, whether they are nomads, prodigals, or the exiles, the young will definitely WANT to come back home. I believe.


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