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Why kids leave church: our dirty little secret

It’s hard to estimate how many articles, books, and blog posts I’ve read concerning the topic of “why” children abandon church as they transition into adulthood.  People blame culture/peer-pressure, lack of quality youth programs, and the irrelevance of the modern consumer-driven church.  I have a sneaking suspicion the real reason is closer to home.

Each person is unique, and everyone has their own set of circumstances that shapes them.  This brief post cannot be exhaustive, nor can it claim to pinpoint everyone.  My opinions here are shaped by what I’ve observed in 20 + years of ministry, and may not coincide with your views.  My hope is, we can turn things around and make changes that will nurture the faith of future generations.

The first observation I will make has to do with Attitude.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to adults when their children have a bad taste in their mouths over church, when these same adults complain & criticize their local church.  I’ve seen second and third generation Christians nitpick every aspect of their church family, and then act frustrated when their children walk out the back door of the church.  Regardless of how nostalgic you are about your youth rallies and the glory days of church camp, you can’t send mixed messages and expect your children to escape from your negativity.

My next observation has to do with Activity.
It’s immature to expect our young people to be more involved or engaged than the adults.  I’ve taught Wednesday night classes, Sunday morning classes and everything in between at church.  Watching adults chit-chat and skip class or the worship service, while they expected their children to attend, used to irritate me.  Now it concerns me.  I see now the damage from the adults who “loved” their church, but felt too mature or important to attend the events they forced on their children.

Then, somewhere between Attitude and Activity, there are the adults who “take their toys” and go home when they don’t get their way.  What message does this send home…?

But what about the mature believers who had great attitudes, were healthy, and were very active but still their children leave church?  Again, everyone has unique circumstances, so this post can’t possibly explain what happens to everyone.  I will say, there are people whom I love and respect, but their children didn’t embrace their parent’s faith.  What went wrong?  Sadly, even when we do all we can as parents, there are always church squabbles and unhealthy leaders our children are exposed to, situations beyond our control that can do more harm than good.    

My guess is, more children become disillusioned with church because of what they see at home… if they overhear unhealthy conversations lambasting their church, if they witness hypocrisy in their parents, and if they see a disconnect in their parent’s behaviors and the message.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and we aren’t perfect.  So what can we do?

For starters, show some grace to those you worship with.  Be more tolerant, and extend ample forgiveness to those you disagree with.  Guard your tongue and be careful in what you say about others.

Next, be honest about your inconsistencies.  Be vulnerable with your children.  Share your struggles, and take responsibility for your shortcomings without blaming others.

Finally, focus more on Jesus & imitating Him.  Sounds too simplistic, I’m sure.  I’m open to hearing your suggestions.

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