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Why Are Young Adults Exiting the Church?

Posted By Denise Miller Holmes on Friday

Savvy Article #1201
Complaints that our youth are leaving the church in droves started more than a decade ago and are ongoing. Experts struggle to resolve why, but no one has a complete answer—probably because it’s a complex problem with many working parts.

I have a hypothesis about one of the core reasons we are losing our youth.

I was at the house of a pastor. His son, let’s call him Rupert, was 16 and dating a nonbeliever. He asked his pastor dad, let’s call him Billy Bob, how to present the gospel to this girl.

I listened to Billy Bob’s explanation, then Rupert’s next few questions, and I realized suddenly that Rupert had no clue what the gospel was!

This child had been in Sunday school and church all his life! I know for a fact that he sat every Sunday for the last year or so and listened to his father preach. Yet, somehow, the very core of what it means to be a Christian had escaped him. How could this happen?

One thing was clear, Billy Bob knew the gospel. He was very conservative in his theology, and he taught there is no way to heaven but through forgiveness and the cross of Christ. The only thing I could figure was this dad had never had a heart-to-heart talk with his son and explained the gospel to him.

In fact, I was probably witnessing the one-and-only conversation they’d had about the subject.

This is not the only time I’ve seen a “Christian” child draw a blank at Truth. I was once asked to teach Sunday school to eight-year-olds and found that they didn’t understand prayer! This was in a church of educated adults, seasoned in Christianity, who knew their Bible well. Yet, their children did not understand that you can go to Christ with a problem and He will listen.

I stated that very thing and got blank stares. When one boy said, “I don’t understand.” I explained what prayer was. They all looked at me as if I’d come from Mars. When I asked them if their parents had taught them to go to God and ask for help, they still looked blank. Several said “no.”

Putting these two experiences together, I saw a pattern of

  • kids not knowing the gospel and
  • kids not understanding a close walk with God.

And we wonder why they lose interest in church!

You see, if a child is encouraged to play church, he will. He will go to all the events, he will sit in Sunday school, he will do what his parents do. But as he grows, this motivation weakens. If church is only entertainment or something he has to do, then he will leave as soon as he is old enough. Other, more exciting, things will come along to occupy him, and church will be viewed as old, boring, and trite.

This is at least one reason why our youth leave church when they graduate from high school, bury themselves in college or a new job, and never come back.

Don’t assume your children understand True Christianity simply because you take them to church. It isn’t so. Talking to them now will give them what they need later to have a real saving faith, and may help them stay in church after they’re grown.

You must invest time, not in lecturing, but in encouraging your children to understand that being “born again” is about a lot of things that the world is not offering. They may be a good person and behave for you and in school, but getting to heaven is not about works. And, they can have conversations with God like a friend. They can ask for help if they need it, or comfort.

Your children may not take the gospel and a true relationship with Christ to heart until they are grown or even later, but if they do not understand these two working parts, they CANNOT take it to heart because they don’t know it

Think about this. If our kids don’t understand the Truth, it’s UNFAIR to expect them to walk in it!

Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)

About The Author

Denise Miller Holmes
Denise Miller Holmes enjoys teaching biblical topics, and especially researching and communicating what Christians believe about the world around them. She sometimes turns established viewpoints on end. A graduate of the University of Southern California School of Journalism, Denise also has a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology, and has been a Christian for over 35 years. She belongs to the writers’ groups Words for the Journey and American Christian Fiction Writers.


2 Responses to “Why Are Young Adults Exiting the Church?”

  1. Chris says:

    You have some excellent points and I agree with them. Too many parents don’t know how to share the depth of their faith with their children. However, this doesn’t help when I have two daughters who are believers with a good relationship with God and one who doesn’t. They were all raised the same.

  2. Hey Chris. I’m not saying that if a child is not a believer that it is always because the parent didn’t do his/her part. I AM saying that too many parents do not. If you know you are a good witness to your children, yet one refuses to see, then you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Children, especially grown ones, have their own responsibilities in this. God will reach her when she’s ready.

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