Why Youth DON’T leave the Church

It’s a common part of each generation in Churches all over the western world. Children are drawn into a youth program, through either parental or peer influence and they hang around through high school, but then soon after University commences they take off.

Much of this is due to having a bit more independence and freedom. Some of it is an allurement to academia or career – e.g. a particularly winsome lecturer in Philosophy 101 that convinces them to be libertarian and throw off the shackles of religion or suddenly having a pay packet and not being able to resist the urge to blow it all every weekend on partying.

Churches have bemoaned this migration for years. A lot of time and money is spent trying to develop programs and strategy’s to “keep” them. Is that the right attitude? Are you sure you want to keep them? What of those who stay? Why do they stay? Is it because, the Church in question is doing something right or well enough for them to stay?

Jon Nielson, a senior high pastor at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, blogged on this recently and suggests 3 key reasons youth will stay. Something all Churches should consider and investigate further.

1. They are converted – not just compliant

We youth pastors need to get back to understanding salvation as what it really is: a miracle that comes from the glorious power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

We need to stop talking about “good kids.” We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them.

2. They have been equipped, not entertained

If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been. We pray for conversion; that is all we can do, for it is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them . . . and it may indeed be time to panic!

3. Their parents preached the gospel to them

It’s not uncommon for church-going parents to blame church leadership for failing when their little Johnny or Jane follows the call of the wild and opts to party instead of bible study.

As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping that I’m talking about is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It is impossible for me to bring conversion, of course, but it is also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant churchmen and churchwomen if my ministry is not being reinforced tenfold in the students’ homes.

Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crap-shoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church.

Youth Leaders, Pastors, fearful parents, find out what you are doing right with others who stayed. Chances are it will be all, or a combination, of these three points. Most of all, preach the gospel to your kids – not a moralism that says, “Good boys and girls come to Church.”

What else is your Church doing right that others can learn from?


3 thoughts on “Why Youth DON’T leave the Church

  1. I think so too.
    #1 is a bit of a given – if they’re not saved, then why should they hang around?
    But a failing (I’m using that term loosely – not in a condemning way) of the Church is not equipping them to grow and mature. The process of discipleship modeled and taught by Jesus and Paul wasn’t just spoon feeding, it was:
    watch me
    do it yourself
    get someone to watch you & repeat

    Far too often we stop at the 1st step. When the time comes for young adults to forge ahead, they can’t or they struggle and fade away.

    As a Dad, I think #3 is important – but this doesn’t address the case of kids in non-Christian homes. I got saved as a teenager and had no other family members who were Christians. But a few men took me aside along the way and discipled me – it was their consistency and counsel that filled the void of not having Christian parents. So for me, that re-enforces the importance of #2.
    Because, sometimes, I think Christian Youth Leaders, Sunday School teachers etc assume that they only have to model Christ for an hour a week and then the parents will take over the rest. Meanwhile, the parents are assuming the the Youth Leaders are providing all the necessary elements of discipleship. FAIL FAIL on both parts.

  2. Good post!

    I think #2 is really key. Knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and having practiced living it in the real world provides a foundation that is not easily ripped away. It is simply shameful how many kids who have been in church their whole lives graduate high-school without being equipped with any of the above.

    We need to stop selling kids short as far as how much meat they can handle or what can be expected of them. They are hungry for something solid!

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