Where have all the young people gone?

Church leaders and parents fret that they are losing their young people. The numbers are alarming. Why are they leaving? Who do we blame? Parents? Elders? The Youth Minister? The congregation’s worship style?

I’ve noticed that some are not beyond a little blackmail: “If you don’t remake church in our image, we’re out of here.” There are some things our young people should legitimately expect. They should expect us to be genuine, to demonstrate a changing in our lives because of Christ, to care for the poor, to act as if worship is not a drudgery to endure.

Ken Ham, in his book Already Gone has another suggestion.

“Even in conservative churches everyone tries to make a big deal out of praise and worship. We think that if we can make it dynamic, energetic, and fit the style of the generation we’re trying to reach, the epidemic [of young people leaving the church] will be stopped and young people will start flooding back into the Church. That’s simply not the case. Our research showed that music is not a fundamental factor in young adults choosing to leave or stay at a church-but the preaching of God’s Word is” (p. 110).

Could it be that many young people want substance in the preaching and teaching they hear? Could it be they want the hymns they sing to carry distinct biblical teaching? Our temptation is to water down the content of our worship in our desperate attempt to keep them; could it be that we should be nourishing them with solid food, with the richest spiritual nutrition there is, the word of God?

“My word,” the Lord reminds us, “will not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isaiah 55:11).

4 Replies to “Where have all the young people gone?”

  1. I am not always able to communicate my thoughts cohesively to where people can understand what I mean but here are my thoughts. This is most definitely not directed to you but to some of the more conservative “doctrinal” preachers and schools of preaching. I see two main types of wrong preaching, liberal feel-good and legalistic, by legalistic, I mean those sermons that are designed to convict you of your sins and cause guilt. Now, that is good but if all you get is sermons that cause guilt, guilt, guilt…where is the encouragement in that? Yes, we all sin every day, we are human. If you are walking in the world then maybe the Elders should be talking to one, but if you are sincerely trying to walk in the light, how is it beneficial to feed them negative sermons week after week. I don’t think it is good for the faith of the sincere Christian to only hear negative sermons and go over every fundamental commandment year after year. How are we following Hebrews 6:1 if we do that. IMHO we spend too much time on fundamentals…many Christians have heard 50-60 years of fundamentals. They are starving to death for teaching and the meat of the Word. Daily reading of Scripture has brought me more insight and conviction of my behavior than all the scowling pulpit beating I’ve ever heard. Now as Paul gave some milk and some meat in his teaching I understand different preaching for different people but if we are growing in knowledge of God’s word, going deeper and deeper into His Scripture, the Spirit will convict us much better than any man can. I don’t know that I am knowledgeable, qualified, or experienced enough to even speak on this subject but this has been on my heart for awhile. I just think the Church as a whole is starving to death for lack of deeper knowledge, myself included. When I read or hear a “pearl of wisdom” that I had not heard or thought of before my heart swells with joy and growth of faith. “Pharisaical preaching” runs our youth to Liberal churches while building apathy in our older ones. I have seen that it is very hard to go right down the middle of the Bible…most tend to veer more and more to the right (conservative) or to the left (liberal) That I don’t understand. These are my thoughts…I understand I may be totally wrong. I consider myself ultra conservative. 🙂

    1. Thomas, In my judgment, you are spot-on, but in my opinion the ones who need the message most, on both extremes, will not get the point since they have already decided what “works for them”. We tend to maintain the status quo until we realize it is not working to build the kingdom, and then we randomly change to try to get a different result. Thanks for what you said. (BTW I have preached for 50+ years.)

      I also appreciate the original article.

  2. For what my “old in the eyes of some” while “young in the eyes of others” opinion is worth, I’d like to add a two-cent thought here.

    I believe much of what people consider to be “youth-attracting” programs differ far from the principle that helped Timothy grow from a young boy to the young man who stood strong in his faith for Jesus. At the risk of stepping on some toes here, many congregations have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to impress young people (many of which are not even Christians) with things such as gyms while thinking it’s a “sure-fire” way of growing the youth group; some 10 to 20 years into the idea and the congregations are the same in numerical size before the gym was added to the church’s property.

    Timothy became the man he was because, thanks to his family, he knew the word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-15) and because he was active in his faith, how ever difficult it may have been to do so as a Jewish Greek, or as a Greekish Jew.

    My personal experience, however small it may be, has shown that “programs” such as the one mentioned above, don’t keep young people any more than old people (at least not in the spiritually successful meaning of the word keep – Jude 1:21), but rather that the same things that worked some 2,000 years ago still work today: the study of God’s word with lessons that challenge and create a desire for introspection and closeness to God, and doing good works together (different from hanging out together) that get done in a side-by-side manner, which leads to the feeling of companionship and family.

    If we want young people to stay around long enough to be useful in God’s kingdom, then perhaps we adults should give them better examples of what it means to be thoughtful Bible class teachers, while also living out the faith that James 2:15-17 calls us to live out; make the young people a part of these works (which most thoroughly enjoy once they get going) and they might just get on board with the “program” after all.

    And by the way, Stan, well said. I’m going to use the article in our bulletin.

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