Why Young People Leave the Church

When I see an article about millennials, generation Xers or young people in general leaving the church, I prepare myself for another round of ‘bash-the-bride’ As a lifelong church-lover, I brace myself for harsh judgment. The criticisms I read, offered under the pretense of caring about the condition of Jesus’ church (his bride), are usually stereotypes that our secular culture stamps on the church.

I detest stereotyping certain races, as if the race is responsible for trends in presumed laziness, violence, shiftlessness, sex obsession, taste for watermelons or whatever. Such bigotry is inexcusable and offensive. But when it comes to the church, people inside and out seem to feel free to accuse her with rank stereotypes about presumed intolerance, lack of compassion, obsession with politics (usually politics the critic does not like), rigidity, obsession with sex, disregard for the poor, hostility to gays, lesbians bisexuals or transgendered persons, irrelevance, hatred for women, disdain for science, and impatience with anyone asking honest questions.

Why the double standard for stereotyping? I think the stereotypes listed above are as evil when applied to Christians as other mean-spirited stereotypes are when applied to races. I know and love the church far too well to let such selected stereotypes besmirch her unfairly.

Sadly, I have seen some of these flaws featured in a few Christians and churches, but I see them all far more outside the church than inside. Besides, the flaws listed above could be found in churches (and in society) decades ago when the church, by and large, was flourishing and young people were staying.

Blogger Rachel Held Evens is a harsh critic of evangelical Christians. She recently wrote an article titled, “Why millennials are leaving the church.” In it she wrote, “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” This unwarranted judgment is as extreme as it is disrespectful. Millennials are not that blind nor are evangelicals that phony. Presuming that Jesus is not to be found among evangelical Christians is not friendly fire.

Another article I read recently blamed Sunday School for driving young people away. It selectively summed up the typical Sunday School message as a “lie” and claimed that using Bible heroes to encourage kids to be good is too big a “burden” and contrary to the gospel. I wonder, is the need for Christians to beat each other up and knock each other’s efforts down so acute that we have to stretch this far to do it?

Truth told, the reasons people of any age leave the church vary widely. No article can do full justice to this rising concern. In this article, I am simply trying to discourage knee-jerk church-bashing presumptions. As our culture becomes increasingly intolerant of biblical Christianity, a certain popular approval comes with criticizing the church. The truer we are to Jesus, the less we fit worldly paradigms and values. This drives some people (young or old) away who are highly influenced by a secular culture that traffics in cheap stereotypes to discredit Christians and the church. The good news is that some of these wanderers eventually come back. The secular culture loses its glitter and they finally see beyond the stereotypes.

Christian churches call for strong commitments, first to Jesus and also to each other, to the community and even to the world. Maybe some young believers (not to mention the old) just don’t like commitment. Of course this is not true of all because I know many young people who have chosen to remain in Jesus’ church, fully committed. They love her enough to stay.

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