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2/3 of young people are leaving the church

More than two-thirds of young adults between the ages of 18-22 leave the church. In a new book, Essential Church, authors Thom & Sam Rainer give us the stats and tell us why it’s happening. “The American church is dying. Conversions are declining in almost every denomination. Even in…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

More than two-thirds of young adults between the ages of 18-22 leave
the church. In a new book, Essential Church, authors Thom & Sam Rainer give us the stats and tell us why it’s happening.

“The American church is dying. Conversions are declining in almost
every denomination. Even in some of the more relatively healthy
denominations, conversions to Christianity have stagnated…”
“Not only are we losing our nation to the ways of the world, but we are
not winning our own children in Christian families. Multitudes are
dropping out of the church.”
Commenting on this, Dennis McCallum says, “Most churches have little or nothing going on with college
students–the most promising age range for raising up workers who serve
God long-term. I think it goes to show that churches are more
interested in adults who pay the bills than in raising up workers.”

Top Ten Reasons Church Dropouts Stopped Attending Church

1. Wanted a break from church.

2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.

3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.

4. Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.

5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.

6. Became too busy though still wanted to attend.

7. Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.

8. Disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues.

9. Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church.

10.Was only going to church to please others.

Comments (19)

  • I am a 54 year old Christian, and my older childhood&teen years were disfunctional. It was like the kingdom of heaven was shut up unto me. My parents had emotional&psychlogical issues. As I got older I saw fewer&fewer youth in the church by my mid-twenties I stopped going to church because there were no youth in the 20&30 somethings.This was back in the 70s before Barna&other Christian research groups. Two things saved me from going agnostic/atheist. The nation of Isreal&a great end-time move of God. I now using the parable of the wheat I see that Christianity has been “green unripe wheat” in the field of the world for 2000 years, in other words the annointing on Christianity has been only a token blessing it has no yet come into its “full inheritance”. This is the wheat turning white. I see this white wheat as THE RESTORATION OF INNOCENCE back on the earth after thousands of years since the fall of man in the garden of Eden. In other words an un-finished work of the cross of Christ. In O.T times before the cross righteous men in either Devout General Revelation&Judaism still died in their sin but went to paradise. After the cross Christians when they die their old sin nature dies with them, and they go to heaven in that innocent sinless state. Now after 2000 years this Innocence is coming to earth, people will no more have to wait until they die for this sinless nature. This whitened wheat represent the “Meek” who will inherit the earth. Also that “cool of the day” communion with God will be restored. This thing is not thousands of years, centuries or decades away, only years away.

  • I don’t blame them! I’d like to know how many are leaving God compared to how many are leaving “church”

  • Interesting that many of the Top-10 reasons have little to do with the church and more with the individual.

    Either way, it’s a shame to hear about this generations lack of relationship with Jesus.

  • For the past 20 years a good portion of our time working in ministry we have worked with teenagers and young adults and I beleive the problem is deeper than those listed above. We have seen a decline in church attendance in general. I can even think back when our 2 oldest where in high school tney are now early 30s most of their friends or those they attended school with went to church regardless of the denomination , and were involved in some aspect of ministry, youth group etc.. then 10 years later with our youngest the majority of his schoolmates or those he did sports etc did not attend church and on his soccer team there was only one other student that was a christian and actively attending church and involved in youth ministries. so part of what Im saying is that 10 years later the parents of these kids were not attending church so if it was not a part of their life the likeliness of it being part of their childrens life is pretty slim. most of those parents we knew quite well and they were good parents hard working etc. and when we would talk about it church God etc most of them would have said they believed but they just didnt think it was that important . They said their life was just to busy or they didnt think it was necessary to attend church.. They had a head knowledge of yea believing in God but somewhere it gets lost from the head to the heart thus the lukewarm churches of today with very little passion. It terrifies me to see how far as a nation we have removed ourself from God. So in dealing with youth today we have found if we can get the youth in church we end up getting the parents back in church! And what I have come to see is that the youth today wants to see authentic church and believers. they want to be told the truth. They dont want the games just to get them in church, because the world has way to much to offer these kids and to pull them in the world, so unless God becomes real and personal to them we dont stand a chance. “And you shall know the truth.and the truth will make you free” Johnn8:32

  • George Barna is a friend and asked me to serve on something he called “The Revolutionary Council” in the wake of his book “Revolution”. We talked at length about the phenomenon you describe so well here. And it doesn’t seem to be abating. The book is a good read btw.

    My take is that consumer driven Christianity has added to the problem where we allow people to wander down the salad bar aisle and take what they “feel like” from the offerings of orthodoxy.

    Radical faith and discipleship ends up being the dish few take and fewer still model for others.

    That is why I love AIM and its work.

  • I had the absolute best talk with Christopher the other night. We talked about how ppl would tell him there was no God and that there were more ways than just Jesus Christ to God. We never once talked about “church” if you will.

    I told him that my heart’s desire is that he would experience and encounter the living God as I have and beyond. In that, he would hunger and thirst for Jesus in passionate ways. It was powerful!

    But through all of my words, all I could think about is how my actual witness was to him. Was I living what I was preaching – radical faith and belief… Yes.

    You know me; I love “the” church. I’m a huge advocate of attending church. I think there is a lot of purpose to do so… even if it is just to be faithful to the assembly, BUT without true encounters, people WILL NOT go to church nor will they even care if they don’t – especially our youth!

    This is where we, the adults, have to set the precedence! How? Worshiping in their homes, reading and studying the Word in their homes, praying fervently in their homes – by being the church – IN THEIR HOMES!

  • Folks should not be quick to equate lack of church attendance with lack of faith or “relationship”. As a twenty-something, I have watched as many of the friends who were members of my youth group in high school have stopped attending church. In visiting with them I have found that this is due in part to discovering a lack of sincerity in the faith of those who were descipling us as kids. Many of them have a somewhat jaded view of the church because as adults we have learned that much of the “faith” of our former leaders wasn’t being upheld behind the scenes in their personal lives. There was a lack of transparency in the relationship between desciplers and the ones being descipled. I hear over and over from these young adults a desire for the body of Christ to be “real” rather than a put on. Many of my peers have not stopped seeking out the truth, they have just stopped doing it in the context of traditional “church”.
    Others have told me that they don’t attend church because they don’t feel “good enough”. We were taught as kids that Christians aren’t supposed to sin and that our goal was to live sin-free lives. Then as we become adults and find that we can’t live perfect lives we feel that we have somehow failed at being Christians. I had a friend tell me recently that she isn’t attending church “right now” because she “doesn’t feel much like a good Christian” as she’s going through a seperation/divorce from an alcholic husband. Just when she needs the Body of Christ, she feels that she can’t fellowship with them because she isn’t good enough. How sad that the church seems so unapproachable by those who are wounded and broken.
    Also, as a church member, I have seen that we do a great job of teaching teens about the bible, but fail to give them any hands on training in how to actually live out their faith. They have no experience in hands-on ministry.
    If we want individuals to continue attending church as they transition into adulthood I think we have to revise how we are raising them up to be Christians. As the Body of Christ we have to be real and transparent to them so they learn that it’s about perseverance, not perfection. We have to be more about loving each other faults and all. We also have to train them up to actually do the work of Jesus, helping those who need help whether they be sick, poor, hungry, wounded, or brokenhearted.

  • I’m not convinced God is worried that so many are leaving the institutional church wineskin. A new wineskin is emerging that has the ability to hold the true wine of the Kingdom. God is at work, His kingdom is coming, and both the old and new wineskins will be preserved!

  • In response to Kenny’s post,

    Ive left church…..many churches but would never leave God.Infact, (and many will hold their breath in horror at my next statement)I was ministering to someone the other night on the internet who is heavily involved in the occult. I spent my time explaining what the enemy was really doing in her life, what his intentions were (no need to get her to believe in satan as she quiet obviously had conversations with him). Once she got to a point of wanting to seek Jesus with all her heart to be set free from her past I strictly warned her NOT to find a church!

    She said that in the past she had approached 4 pastors of churches seeking help and they all thought she was mad!No one helped her!

    Please pray God will send REAL christians to her this week who will know what to do with her demons.

  • obviously the point of the above comment was the poor business plan of the church.

    Jesus said you can’t serve God and money, but our churches….

  • This is great! This generation wants the authentic, not the hype of the “Institution” it has failed them! But… this generation is lazy and they think the world owes them some how!

    The truth is some where in the middle out there; we are commanded to gather and celebrate; but, the definition that the American Church has placed on what “Church” is, is wrong…

    They leave because they have a cry deep in their hearts that their must be more… their has to be more… but… they have to find it; we are to locked into the old.

  • I don’t doubt it’s true that 2/3s of young people are out of church these days, but let’s not forget to praise the Lord for the 1/3rd that are there and serving their hearts out and seeing God do BIG things.

    In my church,for example, there are about 50 regular attenders. Of those 50, 15 fit in the 20-30 age bracket. Of those 15:
    -2 are on staff
    -2 lead worship & 2 manage the A/V stuff that goes with it
    -2 lead our children’s ministry and 8 serve in it
    -4 have led multiple people to the Lord this year
    -7 are regularly teaching the Word
    -3 started 2 ladies Bible studies–one study has grown to include people who are not part of our church and the other has been a means of discipling young/baby Christians
    -3 are actively involved in the lives of 6 families in our community who do not attend any church
    -1 started and ran an after school outreach all last year
    -5 are involved at the local YMCA and have regular ministry opportunities there
    -2 are teachers in public school and regularly share their faith with their students
    -2 are starting benevolence ministries in our community

    I can truthfully say that ALL of the 15 people I’m talking about have noticeably grown and matured in the Lord in the past year and will continue to do so. Why? Because all of us have made it a priority of being in fellowship together, being in the Word regularly, praying always and worshipping whole-heartedly.

    And, though it may seem amazing to some, we’ve done it WITHIN the context of a local church.

    I completely understand the frustrations and concerns people have about the church today and the many ways it appears to be failing, but let us not forget the faithful remnant who are doing what the Lord has called them to do and being what the Lord has called them to be.

    The Lord loves His church, and He’s always at work in it, regardless of whether it’s the “institutional church” or the “church at large”.

  • The older I get, the fewer answers I have for this problem. I used to think the kids bailed out while in college because their pastors, youth pastors, and parents had failed to do the work to instill the right things in them. But in the last five years or so, I have seen a shocking number of kids who got solid teaching and deep transparency from their mentors…who have fallen off into the same junk in college, and all but abandoned God…not just the church (which is exactly the path I took from about 18 to 30, so I’m not exactly pointing fingers here.)

    I wish I had answers. I find myself humbled more and more, as I seek them. After all, today I’m one of those people who work with kids…you know…I’m just the sort of someone that I’ve blamed in the past.

  • “The Greeks took God;s word and made it philosophy. The Romans took it and made it a government. The Americans took it and made it a business.”
    The institutional church in America has over 500 BILLION dollars in mortgages, loans and overhead. When will we unite for the kingdom? That $$ could help widows and orphans etc. Frustrated…..

  • Hanna, that was encouraging to hear about your church, sounds like you have a neat work going on there.

    I would say that of all my Christian friends, most – maybe 90% – have continued to stay in church as young adults. I’m 26 years old.

    And I have a lot of Christian friends because growing up I’ve gone to five different churches, each medium sized (at lesat 150 people), but I’ll admit: all were/are conservative fundamental. Yeah, I live in the Bible Belt too 🙂

    At least from my perspective, the 2/3 dropping out statistic doesn’t jibe with what I’ve personally seen among my circle of Christian friends.

  • Hello,

    I just found this blog site, it was forwarded to me by my senior pastor who has gone on a mission trip with Seth.

    I have been a youth pastor for 10 years, which I hear is a rarity. I have recently moved my family from Colorado to Virginia to help another affiliated church with the youth ministry.

    The title of this post is the #1 thing that horrifies me about youth ministry. Keeping the kids has been my objective for years. What this means is simply an expansion of the ministry, a commitment to stay in contact with those kids, because the ministry does not end when they graduate. They need the encouragement even more when they leave for college that they ever did.

    I am glad this blog was pointed out to me. I will enjoy reading on.

  • Maybe I am a bit of an oddball, because I did not become a Christian until I was eighteen, and that was only after a lot of internal struggle with myself, and with God. I’m a 30 year old, single woman, and attend church usually once a week. Among most of my peers,I am definitely in the minority of attending church at all, let alone it having any application to my life outside of church. I faithfully attended a ‘traditional’ church for nearly three years, and dropped out after much inner conflict. The church is supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ, that loves and serves the hurting world. I believe God intended the Church to reflect His love to the hurting, the lonely, and especially, the lost. And, yet, when I was hurting, or suffering, or struggling with actual sin, church was the last place I ever wanted to go to have those issues addressed. There was no mention of actual sin, other than it was wrong, and we were going to hell for it. There was never any mention of Christ’s forgiveness, but a lot of condemption of the ‘ungodly world, and all its people’ outside those oak doors. Questioning God was a sin, that was to be repented of, immediately. Suffering was to be accepted with unflinching gratitude, as it was for God’s glory that we were suffering. Human emotions, like doubt, fear, and questioning, were sins. And, while I was internally struggling with exactly how these impossible standards were to be upheld, the church was full of glowing Christians who would rattle off every week how much God was blessing them. Through the lens of my own reality, and looking back, I know that my experience was widely colored by my own anguish, that was very real. And yet, there were no answers forthcoming from the church, or even a listening ear. There was a lot of talk of “giving it to Jesus,” some false platitudes, but generally, I never felt like I could be honest or open enough to be healed, so I quit going. Since then, I’ve joined a church that holds a ‘Celebrate Recovery’ every Friday, that has a Christian outreach for folks with issues, whether it’s grief, eating disorders, or just the general struggles of life. There’s no authoritative minister, there is no lofty piety from the good, and properly religious who are afraid to deal with folks like me. But, there are changed lives, people being delivered, coming to Christ, and walking away changed. I’ve never seen that happen at the church I used to attend.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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