Yet, his research is more than intriguing. For what he found has been going on for a long time (for example, how many of your children go to church?). It’s just that in the last 10 to 15 years this exodus has become much more pronounced.
Here’s a condensed and adapted version of his article. It’s sobering and depressing but also worth pondering.
10. The Church is “Relevant”:
You didn’t misread that: I didn’t say irrelevant; I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, timeless faith, dressed it in skinny jeans, and tried to sell it as “cool.” It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’ve packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.
In our effort to be “like them,” we’ve become less of who we are. The middle-aged pastor trying to look like his 20-something audience isn’t relevant. 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, at least what church was meant to be.
From the nursery with artwork of Noah’s Ark, to summer-camp kids’ church, to pizza parties and rock concerts, we’ve coddled many of our youth in a non-church church. Some have never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank. They haven’t seen 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 got smart:
It’s not that our children “got smarter” when they left home; instead, someone treated them as intelligent. Instead of dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt. What’s ironic is that the Church has answered many of these “doubts,” in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However….
7. We’ve sent them out unarmed:
Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of the faith. How could we not? We’ve sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the search to find “God’s plan for their life.” Remember The Purpose Driven Life? We choose pastors based on their ability to draw in people instead of accurately preaching and teaching the faith. And so we don’t learn the faith, not like we should’ve learned it. Instead of the orthodox, historic faith…
6. We’ve given them hand-me-downs
We’ve tried our best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you “feel.” For we honestly want them to “feel” it too–for real! But we’ve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You can’t hand down such a subjective faith. With nothing solid to hang their faith on, their faith is in their subjective feelings. And when faced with other ways to “feel” uplifted, the church loses out to the culture, which can appeal to our human nature in other ways. And they find it in…
With their faith as something they “do” in a community, they soon find that they can experience this “life change” and “life improvement” in another “community.” This subjective, practical faith and the 100th pizza party at the local, big-box church can’t compete against the easier, more naturally appealing choices in other “communities.” So, they left the church and…
4. They found better feelings:
Instead of an external, objective, historical faith, we’ve given our youth an internal, subjective faith. We haven’t taught them the truths of the faith. We’ve simply encouraged them to “be nice” and “love Jesus.” So 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, from spending time with friends, or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be genuinely authentic, and they jump at the chance because…
3. They got tired of pretending:
In the canned happiness of such a “church,” there’s little room for depression, struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. We’ve fed our kids a steady diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) that doesn’t serve “God’s great plan for your life,” forcing them to smile and be “hap-hap-happy all the time.”
Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we realize. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. “The church is full of hypocrites.” But why would they say that? That’s because…
2. They know the truth:
They can’t do it. They know it. They can’t live out all that “be nice” moralism that they’ve been taught. The Bible has a word for it: Law. And that’s what we’ve fed them: Do/Don’t Do. As they got older, it became “Good kids do/don’t.” As adults, it became “Do this for a better life.” The Gospel simply appears briefly as another “do” to “get saved.”
But their diet has been all Law. And Scripture tells us the law condemns us. So, what about the smiling, upbeat “Love God and Love People” vision statement we have? Yeah, we’ve just condemned our youth with it. And what did the Church ever do before mission statements came along? There’s no rest in this law, only a treadmill of works they know they can’t meet. So they walk away from the church because…
1. They don’t need it:
Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we’ve unwittingly taught. If the church is simply a place to learn life-application principles to achieve a better life in some community, you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. After all, why would they get up a Sunday to watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment they went to see on Saturday?
We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful Gospel based on God’s graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, practical “gospel” based on achieving our goal by following life strategies. Instead of being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross, we’ve set our goal on being “successful” in growing crowds through another “gospel.” But, in the long run, this new “gospel” is self-defeating and 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 successfully, and in a more-relevant community. They leave because, given the choice with the message we’ve taught them, it’s the smarter choice.
Our kids leave because we have failed to “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (Jude 3). That’s what Jesus has given His Church to do. And that is what we haven’t done.