Top 10 Reasons We’re Losing Our Kids

by DiscipleLand Staff Children's Ministry Curriculum, Children's Ministry Resources, Discipleship Add comments

Contemporary culture greatly influences our children’s moral behavior and development. As a result, the vast majority of Christian kids today have a woefully inadequate spiritual foundation. Fun and games are fine, but as the research indicates, we are raising a generation of children who have missed out on essential Bible training. When the world comes calling, many are falling prey to dubious activities and deceptive philosophies–and walking away from the faith. In this week’s timely article, Marc Solas presents ten reasons why we’re losing our children.
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We all know them, the kids who were raised in church. They were stars of the youth group. They maybe even sang in the praise band or led worship. And then… they graduate from High School and they leave church. What happened?

It seems to happen so often that I wanted to do some digging; to talk to these kids and get some honest answers. I work in a major college town with a large number of 20-somethings. Nearly all of them were raised in very typical evangelical churches. Nearly all of them have left the church with no intention of returning. I spend a lot of time with them and it takes very little to get them to vent, and I’m happy to listen. So, after lots of hours spent in coffee shops and after buying a few lunches, here are the most common thoughts taken from dozens of conversations. I hope some of them make you angry. Not at the message, but at the failure of our pragmatic replacement of the gospel of the cross with an Americanized gospel of glory. This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.

The facts:
The statistics are jaw-droppingly horrific: 70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate from High School. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church.

Half.

Let that sink in.

There’s no easy way to say this: The American Evangelical church has lost, is losing, and will almost certainly continue to lose OUR YOUTH.

For all the talk of “our greatest resource”, “our treasure”, and the multi-million dollar Dave and Buster’s/Starbucks knockoffs we build and fill with black walls and wailing rock bands… the church has failed them.

Miserably.

The Top 10 Reasons We’re Losing our Youth

10. The Church is “Relevant”

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”

I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian.

We’re like a fawning wanna-be just hoping the world will think we’re cool too, you know, just like you guys!

Our kids meet the real world and our “look, we’re cool like you” posing is mocked. In our effort to be “like them” we’ve become less of who we actually are. The middle-aged pastor trying to look like his 20-something audience isn’t relevant. Dress him up in skinny jeans and hand him a latte, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant, It’s comically cliché. The minute you aim to be “authentic”, you’re no longer authentic!

9. They never attended church to begin with

From a Noah’s Ark themed nursery, to jumbotron-summer-campish-kids-church, to pizza parties and rock concerts, many evangelical youth have been coddled in a not-quite-church, but not-quite-world hothouse. They’ve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank. They don’t see the full timeline of the gospel for every season of life. Instead, we’ve dumbed down the message, pumped up the volume and act surprised when…

8. They get smart

It’s not that our students “got smarter” when they left home, rather someone actually treated them as intelligent. Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt. Many of these “doubts” have been answered, in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However….

7. You sent them out unarmed

Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”. Yes, I know your church has a “What we believe” page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? I’ve met evangelical church leaders (“Pastors”) who didn’t know the difference between justification and sanctification. I’ve met megachurch board members who didn’t understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don’t teach the faith. Surprised? And instead of the orthodox, historic faith…..

6. You gave them hand-me-downs

You’ve tried your best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you “feel”. You really, really, really want them to “feel” it too. But we’ve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You can’t hand down this type of subjective faith. With nothing solid to hang their faith upon, with no historic creed to tie them to centuries of history, without the physical elements of bread, wine, and water, their faith is in their subjective feelings, and when faced with other ways to “feel” uplifted at college, the church loses out to things with much greater appeal to our human nature. And they find it in…

5. Community

Have you noticed this word is *everywhere* in the church since the seeker-sensitive and church growth movements came onto the scene? (There’s a reason and a driving philosophy behind it, which is outside of the scope of this blog.) When our kids leave home, they leave the manufactured community they’ve lived in for nearly their entire life. With their faith as something they “do” in community, they soon find that they can experience this “life change” and “life improvement” in “community” in many different contexts. Mix this with a subjective, pragmatic faith and the 100th pizza party at the local big-box church doesn’t compete against the easier, more naturally appealing choices in other “communities”. So, they left the church and….

4. They found better feelings

Rather than an external, objective, historical faith, we’ve given our youth an internal, subjective faith. The evangelical church isn’t catechizing or teaching our kids the fundamentals of the faith, we’re simply encouraging them to “be nice” and “love Jesus”. When they leave home, they realize that they can be “spiritually fulfilled” and get the same subjective self-improvement principles (and warm-fuzzies) from the latest life-coach or from spending time with friends or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be truly authentic, and they jump at the chance because…

3. They got tired of pretending

In the “best life now”, “Every day a Friday” world of evangelicals, there’s little room for depression, or struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. Kids who are fed a steady diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) who doesn’t pragmatically serve “God’s great plan for your life” has forced them to smile and, as the old song encouraged them be “hap-hap-happy all the time”. Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we give them credit for. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. “The church is full of hypocrites”. Why? Even though they have never been given the categories of law and gospel…

2. They know the truth

They can’t do it. They know it. All that “be nice” moralism they’ve been taught? The bible has a word for it: Law. And that’s what we’ve fed them, undiluted, since we dropped them off at the Noah’s Ark playland: Do/Don’t Do. As they get older it becomes “Good Kids do/don’t” and as adults “Do this for a better life”. The gospel appears briefly as another “do” to “get saved.” But their diet is Law, and scripture tells us that the law condemns us. So that smiling, upbeat “Love God and Love People” vision statement? Yeah, you’ve just condemned the youth with it. Nice, huh? They either think that they’re “good people” since they don’t “do” any of the stuff their denomination teaches against (drink, smoke, dance, watch R rated movies), or they realize that they don’t meet Jesus own words of what is required. There’s no rest in this law, only a treadmill of works they know they aren’t able to meet. So, either way, they walk away from the church because…

1. They don’t need it

Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community… you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before? The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be “relevant” to them would be a comical cliché if the effect weren’t so devastating. As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ. Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer.

We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on God’s graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, pragmatic gospel based upon achieving our goal by following life strategies. Rather than being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross we’ve set our goal on being “successful” in growing crowds with this gospel of glory. This new gospel saves no one. Our kids can check all of these boxes with any manner of self-help, life-coach, or simply self-designed spiritualism… and they can do it more pragmatically successfully, and in more relevant community. They leave because given the choice, with the very message we’ve taught them, it’s the smarter choice.

Our kids leave because we have failed to deliver to them the faith “delivered once for all” to the church. I wish it wasn’t a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: “I’ve never heard that.” I’m not against entertaining our youth, or even jumbotrons, or pizza parties (though I probably am against middle aged guys trying to wear skinny jeans to be “relevant). It’s just that the one thing, the MAIN thing we’ve been tasked with? We’re failing. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our kids. Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.
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This article first appeared on Marc5solas and is used with permission.

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16 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons We’re Losing Our Kids”

  1. Top 10 Reasons We’re Losing Our Kids | Worship Leaders Says:

    […] From Kids Worship Source- discipleblog.com […]

  2. John Says:

    I think some of your points are valid, but I think you are looking in the wrong direction. The “mode” by which we do church can change. It was relevant back then… to not keep it relevant is bordering on blind. What has messed us up is the church trying to wholly disciple kids without parents. Wooden pews and crying babies during do not build a spiritual foundation, it is our parents.

    Unfortunately we tell our parents not to worry because our Sunday school/ youth group will build that foundation. They (even more unfortunately) gave up their Deut. 6 responsibility all too easily.

    Don’t think too hard about this. Don’t get rid of your skinny jeans… re-engage the parents.

  3. Evelyn Says:

    Well said. Sad reality and the trend keeps moving on…

  4. Wow Says:

    Don’t agree with much of this, but I am glad we are attempting to figure it out. That’s alot of thought about “Church”. We hate to lose our culture, but it starts and stops in the home. As long as we focus on how to “do Church” better than those People “do Church”, we will get these same results. Both the people who wrote this and the people they wrote about are in the same boat, they just don’t know it yet.

  5. Evelyn Says:

    As long as the un-adulterated, absolute, pure truth of the message of Christ is being preached from the pulpit and from our Sunday School and children’s church teachers – we’re good. The point is not the skinny jeans. The point is the pure, absolute, uncompromised Word of God being spoken to kids so that the Holy Spirit can move among us in a powerful way. That, unfortunately is being put on a sacrificial altar just for the sake of modernity and “relevance”. Yeah, we shouldn’t go off the deep end but don’t miss the point, either.

  6. Mrs. Morris Says:

    Your article really grieved my spirit. The Evangelical church is the fastest growing church because they are open are changing with the times. I disagree with most of what you said. I’m very grateful that the church embraced me and took me in and helped me to grow spiritually when I was not taught or had a Godly example growing up from parents. I went from giving to the church a couple of dollars to a full 10% of my income cheerfully because of what Christ has done for me. I’ve learned to encourage people where ever they are at in they’re spiritual journey.It’s a process. And yes sometimes people leave church because they are not ready to have Christ on the throne of they’re life. Life has a way of changing us. And Christ always welcomes us back.

  7. John Says:

    Truth for an hour a week(maybe 2-3 if you have a second service and Wednesday Activities)… yep, we will be covered. Children of the families that I have seen take the faith outside of the 4 walls of our church have made the largest leaps in spiritual maturation in my years as a Children’s Pastor.

    I could teach the most amazing spirit-filled lesson to a child and all of that benefit will more than likely be lost amongst the 144 hours of public school, cable tv, video games, secular music and parents who neglect to shield their kids, much less display their own faith daily.

    Relevance is neither here nor there.

  8. Cheryl Says:

    I have read the article and comments following, I was fascinated by all of it. Saddened in many ways. I agreed with some of the article and some of the comments. I understand what the article says about losing our youth after High School. I have seen it myself. However, there are a variety of reasons. My husband and I have been pastoring over 20 years. I have been the children’s pastor much of the time we have been in the ministry. I have seen many children brought by their grandparents, while their parents, who many times had been raised in the church, sit idly by, using a variety of excuses of why they themselves no longer attend. Sometimes its work related, either they are working more than one job, or they are tired because of work. “Sunday is my only day off, the church is full of hypocrits.” OR the ever so popular, “You made me go to church my whole life, now I am an adult, I don’t have to go.” I ask why?I believe it starts at home. While times have changed, the Word of God has not. Deut. 6 is still there. I have seen in families where this scripture is lived out, and family devotions are a regular part of daily life, the family is stronger than those that are not regularly ‘in the Word, talking about it, teaching it, AND Living it. Not that they are perfect. Kids can rebel, even in church families. But “God’s Word does not go forth void.” Recall, if you will. in Proverbs; Train up a child in the way that he should go and he will not depart from it.” No matter what the relevance of your “style”, even if he/she rebels or turns from it, “the Word is still there.” Provided, as one of the comments said, “the Pure unadulterated, Word of God is taught.” Don’t forget the “prodigal son”. We must not underestimate the Power of God and His Word.
    However, one thing I did not read about that did sadden me. That is the power of prayer. One of the most important things we must do, no matter what our methods, is to PRAY for our youth and children, even our babies. And we must teach the parents of these children to pray, as well as teach them God’s word from home. The church was never meant to take the place of the parents, but to assist, and lead and support them. With the times of already overloaded schedules, with work, sports, extra curricular activities, among other things, I believe the enemy knows exactly where to hit our families, that is, TIME! Keep them so busy, they don’t have time for God. And it’s working! We must shake ourselves awake and realize time is short…Jesus is coming back soon, we must stop with all the “warm fuzzies” and start standing in the gap in prayer. And sound the alarm. People need Jesus, not just for “fire insurance” ,but for victory over sin, and to chase after the Heart of God. There is so much more to say, But I fear I have lost some for the length of this blog. Hopefully, I have made my point. Yes, we have messed up in some ways, but we can pick up the pieces and win the lost! “If My people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear their prayers and I will heal their land”. (paraphrased) Thanks for reading this to the end.

  9. Gretchen Bell Says:

    I appreciate different points the author made. We must remember that it is the Lord who does the work in these kids’ lives and we don’t have to do cartwheels to get them to love Him. What they need is transparent adults who love Jesus and are sold out to Him. Many Christian parents value sports, fun and even education over Jesus. Our kids see this and they see the flaws of the church.
    The church will always have holes because it is filled with real people. Our kids need to see the adults around them valuing God’s word and living it out. We need leaders who pour into these kids with Christ’s love and His word. Very often we live with one foot in the world and let our kids live on the edge. The church youth group often anymore sadly reflects the world. We are to be separate. Not to be legalistic but because we have tasted the Lord and know He is good. The world brings despair and grief.
    We need to remember what the church is for. It is for the believers. We need to disciple our kids and build them up. If the Lord brings unbelieving kids pour into them but build up the few we have and pour God’s word into their lives with urgency and excitement. Give them a foundation that they can rely on and a message they can deliver to the world of hope. Loving Jesus is fun. His word must be the foundation and His truths must be upheld. Our kids must see we need our Savior as the center of all we do. If they don’t see it at home they must see it at the church.

  10. Yung Ling Says:

    Really agree with what you said, we need to humble ourselves to admit what we have done wrong so God can correct us. Keep up the good and faithful work! We the Body of Christ need to work together.

  11. L.Hemp Says:

    I could not say it any better than Evelyn! In actuality she didn’t say it, she repeated what
    God’s word says.

    Linda

  12. Neaners Says:

    Amen Cheryl, I read it till the end and I have to say that you kept me engaged. I felt the passion and sincerity in those words you typed. Nobody could say it better than that!

    Janine

  13. Joel Orina Says:

    Reading this as a young person who is given to share the gospel of Christ to his fellow and those younger I am convinced that all of us( Parents,Older siblings Church- which is the community of believers) have the responsibility to proclaim the full counsel of God as many of you have cited already. May God be glorified in and through us so that we make the impact in the lives of those around us for Christ with the message of the Cross.
    Stay Blessed.

  14. Susan Lesco Says:

    My husband has been working with youth for the last 18 years. As we have taught Sunday School, run youth groups and tried to send these kids off into the world with Christ embedded in their hearts, it has become clear that we are missing the mark. We surveyed our youth several years ago, kids who had grown up in church and Sunday School, and were shocked to realize not a single one of them could successfully navigate the Bible. How does a kid make it through 18 years of Sunday School and not know the basics? I think we got so wrapped up in feelings, and teaching our kids how God relates to us we forgot the fundamentals that our faith is built on. We kind of put the cart before the horse. You can’t know in your heart who God is without the scriptures to back it up in troubled times. It has caused us to change how we teach Sunday School. Our kids can not survive this world without their tool belts firmly in place.

  15. BKSecrest Says:

    Most of the blame in this article rests on the church and it’s many activities for the youth that keep them busy while mom and dad do the serious worship. The problem with this is the fact that after church on Sunday most Bibles close and don’t get reopened until the next Sunday and that is if the parents actually attend the church at all. I have several friends who do youth and about 80 percent of their youth group do not have parents that attend the church. They are either bussed in or the parents drop them off for a little free time without the kids. If there is not a Biblical foundation at home the kids are more than likely going to fall through the cracks. If you look at results from evangelicals such as Ken Ham or Ray Comfort the average of kids leaving the church and not returning is more like 82%. Parents are missing the mark when it comes to the Biblical commands of raising ones children such as in Proverbs 22, 23, 29, Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6, Colossians 3, and 2 Tim. 3. Parents not only fall short at teaching their children diligently at home they send them to the pagan nation called public school for 6 to 8 hours per day where everything biblical is then washed away and contradicted with darwinism, hedonism, and humanistic cultural garbage. Yes, I agree that the church has it’s problems with relativism and easy believism but the problem lies in the upbringing of the child and the brainwashing that lies in the culture who actually owns the children of today.

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