Why Young People are Leaving Your Church

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Recent studies show that millennials – those born from 1980 to 2000, roughly – are leaving the church in droves. In fact, 60% of millennials who were raised in church have dropped out. This statistic might seem alarming, but it makes perfect sense to me. I too am a millennial who was raised in church. And I too no longer feel compelled to attend regularly.

Churches must reckon with the fact that young people are leaving. Older Christians do this by finding fault with us. They bemoan our lack of commitment. They remember the good old days when church encapsulated the entire Christian life – sunrise services, potluck dinners, revivals, etc. They simply can’t understand what it means to be a Christian who doesn’t attend church.

I’m glad church has played such a meaningful role in their lives. But maybe church isn’t as meaningful to us as it is to them. That is what millennials crave, after all – meaningful experiences. We don’t want to attend church for the sake of attending church; we want it to mean something.

It’s Not about Jesus

Church is supposed to be about Jesus. Everything that happens on Sunday morning – the songs, the sermon, the sacraments, etc – should “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Going to church should “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is.” It should “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:1-2).

It’s obvious that church should be about Jesus. Bewilderingly, this concept seems lost on the American church. Many churches do not approach ministry with a Jesus-centered mentality. Instead, they approach ministry like customer service. Instead of asking, “How can we make Jesus happy?” they ask, “How can we make visitors happy?”

When Paul preached, he “resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In contrast, preachers today resolve to know everything except Jesus! They include only a minimal amount of Scripture in their sermons, which usually amount to nothing more than self-help. Some churches don’t even mention Jesus in their “worship” songs or serve the Lord’s Supper!

I go to church to fix my eyes, heart, and mind on Jesus. I don’t need chart-topping songs. I don’t need life advice. I don’t need high-performance value or quality customer service. I need to be reminded of why I need Jesus more than anything this world has to offer.

If you don’t do that, going to your church is meaningless.

No Freedom to Lead

But older Christians still find fault with us. They say, “You only get out of church what you put into it. If you’re just going to sit in the back and complain, of course it won’t be meaningful!” They argue that church would mean more if we were willing to help out.

But this isn’t true either. My wife and I spent a decade helping the church out. My goal in ministry was to follow Paul’s advice: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Do you know what I realized? Older Christians won’t follow the example of younger ones!

This is especially true in leadership. Church leadership is supposed to be about Jesus. But young pastors often run up against an elder or a board member who cares more about promoting their own agenda. This agenda usually means resisting change to keep people happy so they can remain in power. If a young person does anything to “disturb the peace,” they must go.

I’ve seen several young pastors (and volunteers) undermined by “church leaders.” All we want to do is promote Jesus. But instead, we get fired for refusing to play along with someone’s politics. We don’t want power; all we want is the freedom to lead our ministries according to Jesus’ will.

If you won’t give us that, going to your church is meaningless.

Better Things to Do

The bottom line is this – church should be meaningful. If it isn’t, I’m not going. This is especially true since Sunday is the only day neither my wife nor I work. It’s much more meaningful to spend the day together. We’re doing plenty to cultivate our own faith as well as our children’s. We’ll be just fine without a meaningless church experience.

8 thoughts on “Why Young People are Leaving Your Church

  1. If that many millenials have left the church for these reasons, then why have they not joined together to form their own churches? If it’s all about Jesus, then why aren’t they meeting together for communion, which Jesus says is a requirement of the faith (John 6)?

    • Probably for a couple reasons. First, starting a church is no easy task! Second, two wrongs don’t make a right. Starting a new church won’t solve problems at the old church. Third, why would we start a church when the church is the problem to begin with? America doesn’t need new churches. It needs existing churches to be more faithful to the gospel.

      I don’t see what communion has to do with this post. But I will say communion is the most consistently meaningful part of Christian worship services.

      • Church doesn’t have to be complicated. House churches honor God too. Though out of my own experience I would caution practicing a house church that only involves your own family.

        I believe that new wine should be put in new wineskins. I think the reason that Jesus said this is that he believes that it is easier to start a new/different organization than it is to fix the problems with the old one (and this methodology shows in his own personal ministry where he did not really engage with the established religious organizations of his day other than the synagogue). I’m sure that our parents’ church tried to address the problems of their day (things like modern music in the worship service). Our parents’ church no doubt had its usefulness, but every organization becomes dated and has inherent problems. Our parents church is idolatrous in its patriotism and in its focus on evangelism and loving non-Christians (visitors) over believers (Galatians 6:10). Our parents’ church had its problems, and the new churches that we start will have their own problems. However we can build a church for today with different strengths and weaknesses than our parents’ church. My prayer is that the strengths would be pertinent to our culture and time, and that our weaknesses would be so irrelevant that they aren’t even noticed for a generation or two.

        As for communion, my point is simply that Jesus says it is a requirement of the faith for eternal life (John 6:53). Since communion can’t be practiced properly in isolation, Christianity requires participation in a fellowship. Therefore the people leaving churches must start their own churches in one form or another. Otherwise they are leaving Jesus. If you leave a church to follow Jesus and find yourself not regularly practicing communion with other believers, then you have left Jesus.

      • I like your thoughts on house churches. The institutional church is too far gone. And given enough time, it always becomes that way. House churches are flexible enough to change and adapt as they need to.

        We shouldn’t make communion a requirement for salvation. It’s doubtful that’s what Jesus was talking about in John 6. And it has no value apart from saving faith. Baptism is an idol in our parents’ church; let’s not make communion an idol in ours!

        You are wrong to say we leave Jesus when we leave the church. We are in the church because we are in Christ; belonging to Jesus and being a member of His church go hand in hand. We may isolate ourselves from the church or be forced away from it by imprisonment or persecution. But we cannot truly leave it because we cannot truly leave Christ.

      • I agree that our parents’ church has taken baptism too far. However I hope that we can both agree that were we to practice a faith that does not include baptism,then it is not a sufficient practice of the faith. Jesus intended for baptism to remain a practice for his followers throughout history until he returns.

        In the same vein, I believe that communion is a requirement of the faith. Jesus expects his followers to practice it throughout history until he returns. And if people claiming to follow Jesus are not practicing communion, then they do not have a sufficient practice of the faith.

        Zack in your opinion, what is Jesus talking about in John 6 when he says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood? If he is not talking about communion, then what is he talking about? I know that John 6 happened before Jesus died, so did the last supper.

        And I don’t think a response of “I don’t know” is responsible. Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). If you don’t know what Jesus demands of his people to “have life in you”, then how can you claim to lead people to life in Jesus?

        Some passages in scripture are more important than others. When Jesus says “Very truly” (“amen amen”) and “unless you …, you have no life in you” these parts of the verse should clue us in that this verse and understanding what it means to eat his flesh and blood is very essential to the Christian faith.

        So I ask, “What is Jesus talking about in John 6:53 when he says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood if he is not talking about communion?”

      • I’m not interested in chasing this rabbit trail. I said in my post that most churches don’t serve communion, and that’s part of the problem. Other than that, this issue doesn’t pertain to this post.

  2. I read this article yesterday and I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel that it displayed a huge issue within the church with absolutely no hope or advice on how to fix it. In fact, the author states that despite this issue, they still will not be attending church. I understand being hurt or not being heard and how that affects someone but if everyone who has been hurt, has been burned, has felt unheard left the church and chose to sit on the sidelines, well, we wouldn’t have a church! Perserverance of the saints, I believe?
    Hurt and pain happens all the time because we are all sinners just trying to find our way in life but we all share one common goal-to praise God and Jesus. I ask lovingly, do you think He would approve of this choice? Or would He want you to keep going and keep trying. What does He want you to learn from your trials? The Bible is full of people being hurt by the trials they face but they come out being closer to God in the end. And I can agree, sometimes the music can be too “top 100” or the sermon doesn’t relate to my life specifically but I don’t go for me, I go for Him and what He has done for me. Once again, I say this in love, but I encourage you to not give up. If it’s WCC or another, I pray that you find your home church ⛪💜✝️ Love you guys

    • The solutions are straightforward. But they are out of my hands. Older Christians have made the church exactly the way they want it; they don’t tolerate anyone trying to change it! All we can do is entrust them to God’s judgment and wait until it’s our time to lead.

      You ask if Jesus approves of my choice not to attend church regularly. That is a difficult question! Would He approve of us not attending church if the worship was centered on Him? Probably not. But does He disapprove of us not attending church because the worship isn’t centered on Him? I don’t think so.

      But let’s also ask, does He approve of churches who neglect Him in their “worship”? Does He approve of Christians who attend those churches? Would He be happy with me if I attended such a church and said nothing?

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