From a column I wrote recently for the church newsletter:
Perhaps you’ve heard the rumblings from several recent national studies on the exodus of young adults from protestant churches. According to the surveys, seven in 10 youth (ages 18-30) who attended church regularly in high school reported that they stopped attending by age 23. Of that group, 34 percent said they never returned to church, even occasionally, by the age of 30.Translation: One in four protestant youth have left the Church for good. Those who leave were more likely to describe church members as hypocritical, insincere or judgmental. Almost all of them reported leaving church either due to major life changes, dissatisfaction with the pastor or church or over religious, ethical or political concerns.
But buried within these sobering statistics is information that might help us reverse this trend, if we take it to heart. The young people who did stay in church or who eventually returned were more likely to have been raised in families where both parents were committed to regular participation. They were also more likely to have been nurtured in churches where the pastors offered challenging and relevant sermons and the church members themselves were committed to spiritual development.The data seems to suggest that the teen years are a crucial time for youth trying to find a spiritual home. Of course, if they do not find such a home in church, they don’t give up being spiritual persons. They simply look elsewhere for their spiritual center. So middle school and high school is not the time to shuffle kids off to a secret room for pizza parties and game nights, hidden away from the rest of the congregation.
Rather, it’s the prime time to engage youth in the total life of the church, allowing them to take leadership in worship, helping them build relationships with as many mature Christian adults as possible and guiding them to find their spiritual center in Christian fellowship. Such efforts are not only part of our calling as Christians – the very life of the Church may depend on them.”