In a new article (to go along with a new book), George Barna states six reasons that young people leave the church. Whether these are real problems or just perceptions of problems, it is still helpful to hear what might be going on in the minds of young people. Knowing these allow parents to practice the principle of inoculation to bring the issue to the surface.
Here are Barna’s reasons:
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective. A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science. One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial.
While I do not buy all of his methodology, it is always helpful to proactively understand what my children might be thinking. And I want to be sure and express the opposite. As a Christian I want to:
1. Gradually introduce my children to the real world, not demonizing everything outside it.
2. Make sure that my experience and their experience of God is deep and realistic.
3. Display a love of true science even as I call into thoughtful question “historical” science.
4. Teach a robust, gracious view of biblical sexuality.
5. Explain Jesus and his words (John 14:6) as the basis for the exclusive nature of Christianity.
6. Express my comfort with hearing about and answering doubts.
Again, I have my concerns about Barna’s methodology and conclusions, but it always good to consider what our children might be thinking.