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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Will Our Kids Quit Church?

I love statistics.  In fact, when I was getting ready to write Chasing Superwoman I thought long and hard about the current spiritual trends facing our children.  For example, statistics show that young people are leaving the traditional church in droves.  According to a study by George Barna, 61% of young adults who had been “churched” during their teen years are now spiritually disengaged.

Will my kids just become another statistic?  And, as a mother who deeply cares about my children’s spirituality, what am I going to do about it? 

To start, I’ve asked myself a few tough questions.  Like, is church a place where my kids have fun and feel safe to engage in questions, even when they don’t know the answers?  Or, is church a place where my kids just have to dress up and shut up?

Instead of sitting in the bleachers and blaming the church (and putting the spiritual future of my children on somebody else’s shoulders), I decided I better get in the game.  So, when Nick turned three, I started teaching Sunday School.  Sure, there are still Sundays where my kids don’t want to go to church – and Sundays when I don’t feel like taking them – but our goal is to worship God and HAVE FUN in the process.  We usually accomplish both.
I have my own theories about why young people are leaving the church, and I also have more statistics I plan to share in the coming weeks.  But I’d first love to hear what you think.  What keeps kids in church, and what drives them away?


Alison said...

We were just having this conversation in our Sunday school class this past week. The minister who leads the class said something that really struck me. To paraphrase he said it's not just about taking your kids to church on Sunday, but them seeing you live a Christian life throughout the rest of the week.

If your kids perceive your family as a "Sundays only" family, then they are less likely to engage and more likely to consider their parents hypocrites. On the other hand if God and Christ-like living is something your family includes and strives for each day in your home, kids are more likely to see it as a way of life.

I think mainstream Christianity pushes young people and non-believers away by perpetuating this image of exclusivity. That's all you ever hear about Christianity in the media. It's our role as Christians to show others Christ-like love and acceptance, not shun them away because they don't fit the "mold" (whatever that is?).

We are all sinners for every day we walk this earth and have no right to judge or exclude anyone. No sin is too great, no act of repentance too small. When Christianity as a whole is seen in this light and not as a faith controlled by right-wing lunatics, we can start building our strength in numbers again.

Okay, off the soap box ;)

Keli Gwyn said...

Our daughter didn't feel like she belonged at our church throughout high school. Most of the kids attended a different school. She, did, however, find a niche in the Sunday School department serving as an aide and formed wonderful friendships with the younger kids. I think this experience led to her current goal of becoming a teacher.

She's now at college and has become very involved with her church, which has a strong outreach to the campus, much to my husband's and my delight. She attends worship services on Sunday, a freshman gals' Bible Study one night a week, and the all-church College Life fellowship group another night. Seeing her embrace her faith like never before is an answer to prayer.

MC said...

Maybe they will...maybe "church" will mean something different to them...maybe their practice will look different (maybe the ritual will change from Sunday!)...Maybe it's more concerning if they "quit" God....

HWPetty said...

As someone who falls into that statistic (and a pastor's kid as well), I feel the need to point out that there is a difference between choosing not to attend a traditional church and being "spiritually disengaged."

I no longer attend a church building, because I don't believe the modern American church is in line with what Christ wanted the church to be.

But I am very much spiritually engaged. In fact, I would say I am more engaged now that I was in the 24 years I attended regularly.

I often attend an in-home "church" that focuses on community outreach and charity. There is no pastoral staff or other government-like structure. But I have never learned so much, or felt so keyed into the true messages of Christ.

I say all of this to caution you against buying into statistics like the one you've shared. The move to more community based groups of believers is growing daily as more and more young people become disillusioned with the restrictive, sometimes corrupted structure of the traditional church.

And just because your children may some day choose not to follow your example of attending a traditional church does not mean their walk with Christ will falter at all. It could be that taking their own path to Christ will bring them to a fuller understanding of Him.

Susan DiMickele said...

Good points -- all well taken. While I agree that "church" isn't mean to be a building or a denomination, I do believe that God has designed us to be connected to one another and not live on spiritual islands. For those of us who are part of an organized church, I think we have to ask ourselves the tough qusetions, like why are so many young people disengaged with organized religion?

HWPetty said...

For us, the church seemed to have shifted to a more corporate ethic than spiritual one. No matter which church we attended, we saw this shift. Also, as we studied what Christ and the apostles said the church should be, it disturbed us that traditional churches appear to be set up with a government structure, rather than as a true body of believers.

As corporations and the government have proven themselves to be less than reliable, and to care little for people, it feels like the heart of the church is gone. It's about structure and programs and rules--how many people attend and how much money is in the offering are the indicators of success.

You talk about spiritual islands... and I felt more isolated in a giant room of people than I feel sitting in my friend's living room, really sharing what God is doing around us, sharing scripture reading between people aged 12-65, and sharing meals and laughter into the night.

There also was a real "us and them" attitude in the organized church that I didn't want my daughter to ever learn, as if the church should cloister itself away, sending help out to the needy in one-time, showy ways, but never sticking around long enough to really invest in the needs of the community on a long-term basis.

Everything about that is the opposite of what Christ did while on the earth. Everything about that is in direct conflict with the way the first church was established and maintained.

I think college and early 20s life is the time to question how you've lived up until now and how you'll choose to continue living going forward. And I think when young people look at the status quo of many traditional churches, they come out wanting more.

Community-based churches are growing as a movement, mostly among those people who have spiritual questions, but would never step foot into an organized church--but also among the young, who are questioning the way things have always been, and are looking to make a better way for themselves and their young families.

Sorry if that comes off as a rant. I just wanted to give you a view from the other side. There are more reasons for why we left the church where my dad is still the music pastor. (But those are specific to that church and a corrupt pastor and ineffective elder's board.) And there will always be people who would never be happy, no matter what the church becomes.

But I think it's past time for the modern American church to take a long look at what it has become, and to refocus on what should be the spiritual center of its policies and programs. I hope statistics like the one you offered provide a wake-up call that leads to an amazing revival.