Young People Aren’t Going to Church

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“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts [2:42]



While at Theological school, one of the hottest debates was around why young people are leaving the church. Statistically, four times as many young people do not have a church affiliation or attend church today versus a few decades ago. I would listen to hours of debate as to why this has occurred. Never getting the real reasons, just thoughts that while were earnest in their expression, were never associated with facts.

Sometimes the explanation was an accusation about this young demographic group as being too selfish. Sometimes it was an overly involved theory about the way young people’s minds developed.

But the explanation is simpler than extensive theory or carefully thought out theorems. It is more about how we include all people in the fellowship of church. It is more about changing the church to match the natural occurrence of changing demographics.

As society evolves and receives the influence of younger voices, the church should change in a manner that the rest of society  changes. Just wanting young people to attend church isn’t enough. Changing to match changing needs is the answer. Tradition isn’t a strong enough pull for groups that didn’t create the current tradition.

Young people don’t want to sit in lengthy meetings to discuss mission statements, value statements and financial reports. They think “how we treat the least of us” is a better use of their time. In other words, “Do the Gospel, not talk about Gospel.”

Not only does our current group of young people want to help those not as fortunate,  most generations want to help. Most generations don’t like hearing, they like doing.

If we want young people in our churches, they should participate in the actual worship service. Why can’t a teen read the verse or say a  prayer? Why can’t they pick the music? Many churches send them off to separate rooms. If we want them to attend they should be allowed to participate. If we want them to attend, we should ask them “What do you think?” and then actually hear by responding.

Young people don’t want to hear about the “End times” or some other overly analyzed religious theorems. They don’t want to hear about religion that has become politically associated. They want to help out in their community. They want to be involved in something that makes the world better.

Young people don’t want to see church as a place of power wielded by a few. They want their church to allow all people to have a say and not be driven by “That’s the way we always have done things.”

Young people don’t want traditions that came from years gone by and were created by a previous generation that didn’t like the tradition that existed when they were young. Tradition is the great enemy of change.

Young people don’t want their donations to go to overly expensive church buildings and facilities. They want to see their donations helping the world. They would be okay with meeting in a school or some other rented facility, especially if it meant more money went to help the world.

No generation wants to be preached to when they are young. They want to be mentored by people who hear them. They want to know about the pitfalls of life, without being preached to. They want people who authentically invest in a relationship with them. This generation is not that different than past generations, relationships are far more important to them than authority driven commands.

Young people want to be heard! They want to explore their new world. Not much different than when I was young and rallying against the plight of the poor or why are we in Vietnam. They see things differently than we do, like we did.

They don’t want to be abandoned when they move on from high school. They have newer and different issues that the church can help with. Like relationships that can become permanent. Or how to find a job or a school. Or how to survive on their own.

Young people want the perception of the church to be different. They want the church to be involved in issues that make the world better and not embroiled in a controversy that is political and not faith based. They want the local church to help those in need locally, nationally and throughout the world. They don’t want conservativism or liberalism.

If we want them to stay, then we have to include them in all discussions. They want us focused on serving the world, especially the needy. They don’t want us to be overly connected to traditions that no longer make sense. The same with buildings that absorb too many resources.

Come to think about it, I want the same things.

The church is in a very prolonged state of decline, since 1967 membership has dropped 1-3% a year. Many denominations, according to surveys, will be in grave shape over the next decade or so. Perhaps even disappear.

Perhaps this new generation is the “canary in the mine” warning us, that unless change occurs the organized church will no longer exist.

God and love for Jesus will exist, in some new form, but not in the existing church. All surveys show that the belief in God hasn’t declined over the last decades, in fact there is an upswing. Worship will happen, just not in the same form. Perhaps like the first church, which met in homes or street corners. Perhaps like the second century church that had to meet in the underground passages of Rome.

God will not go away and this is the God, this new generation wants. Heck, this is the God all generations want.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Karl Fredrickson

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