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Youth Exodus from Church: What Are We Doing Wrong?

  • Matt Friedeman AgapePress
  • 2006 18 Aug
Youth Exodus from Church: What Are We Doing Wrong?

AgapePress has reported that Dr. Frank Page, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is disturbed that many students are leaving the church once they graduate. Indeed, the Convention's Council on Family Life reports that some 88 percent of children from evangelical homes are leaving the church shortly after they graduate from high school.

But why?

I wonder if it is not for these three reasons:

First, we give students what they want, instead of what they need. Some say this is making the gospel relevant to youth. But how relevant is the gospel if, once you are away from your parents, your head has a tough time leaving the pillow for ecclesiastical environs on Sunday mornings? One has to wonder if we have gone too far with age-segregation (which is hardly relevant in the "real" world), catering to perceived needs of teenagers (again, not relevant in later life), and isolating kids in an evangelical subculture (that is laughed at, actually, in "real" life).

Second, when Jesus made disciples of young men (and John was called "a youth and almost a boy" by one early church father), He challenged them to "Follow Me." Teenage discipleship in Jesus' day meant spending time with an adult. Initially, that was with a parent who worked your tail-end off on the farm while talking about Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). If you were blessed enough later in life to receive teaching from a rabbi, it meant attaching yourself to the teacher and learning adult lessons with adult methodology. There were no cool websites, lock-ins, hip-hop bands or youth organizations pulling out the stops to come up with neat, new (actually, frequently gross) games to capture attention before a quick three-point Bible study and then pizza.

Third, I wonder if we don't significantly cheat our kids when we suggest that vital discipleship can exist without a life of evangelism and compassionate service. Again, discipleship Jesus-style meant gathering a small group and putting them to communicate the gospel and work among the needy of the community. Together they challenged the lost, touched the sick, healed the lepers, reached out to the hungry and ministered to the poor. In one of his last lessons on earth, Jesus warned His disciples that anyone who wasn't involved in this kind of activity risked "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:31-46). How is it our youth, and by extension our churches, miss that message? And then, are shocked that our lack of mission fails to capture the imagination of a burgeoning adult making his own time and commitment choices?

Could it be that youth see right through it all? Could it be they know our faith is a farce? Could it be that staying home on Sunday mornings is just as relevant to the Kingdom as attending a church that makes a joke of ministry, specifically youth ministry?

Bless Frank Page for righteous chagrin. Are we evangelicals ready for the tough changes?

Matt Friedeman is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. He invites responses   here.
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