5 Reasons Students are Leaving the Church

The reason that I love statistics is the fact that they tell the cold, hard truth.  They do not lie.  They reveal reality.  They call us to action.

Recent statistics indicate that upwards of 70% of students either drop out of church entirely or take a hiatus in their later teenage years or early young adult years.  This post seeks to address some of what leads up to this issue.

In my experience, I can refer to many reasons that students are not sticking with the church, but these are the top five that I have witnessed.

  1. Parents do not communicate the importance of Christ in daily living
  2. Discipleship has been outsourced to the designated staff member (children’s pastor, student pastor, college pastor, etc.)
  3. The church service has become an evangelistic tool rather than a discipleship tool
  4. Emphasis is more on games than on God
  5. We are indoctrinating them with the “what” and not the “why”

1) Parents Do Not Communicate the Importance of Christ in Daily Living

This may sting a little.  This may feel targeted, but it is not.  Remember, statistics tell the cold, hard truth.  The longer we ignore that, the longer the problem remains.  The quicker we come to terms with it, the quicker we can come together as brothers and sisters and solve this problem.

One researcher develops the reality of who children see as a “hero.”  She says in her article, “Young children often choose their parents or teachers as heroes, because the immediate caretaker has the greatest moral authority.”  A hero is someone that you look up to, that you follow, that you imitate.  If you are your child’s hero, they will follow you in what you do.  They will want to be you.  They will want to devote time to what you devote time to.  If you devote time to media and entertainment, they will follow.  If you devote time to Christ and His Word, they will follow.  If you spend time taking part in corporate worship each week, so will they.  If you seek excuses for corporate worship, so will they.

Student ministry strategists say that the average parent has upwards of 3,000 hours per year with their child.  The average pastoral staff member may have 45-100 hours per year.  The weight of influence cannot be overcommunicated.

2) Discipleship Has Been Outsourced to the Designated Staff Member

Missions have been outsourced to the missions department on too many occasions.  Now, in the same manner, familial discipleship is being outsourced to the designated church staff member.  One article states that “while it’s great that there are better trained, more called, more specialized paid and volunteer youth leaders—the downside is that the gap between the overall congregation and the youth ministry is growing, which ends up being toxic to young people’s faith.”

Essentially, with the church creating other ministries and having them function separately from one another, they have communicated and propagated the age-segregation of the church.  Children and students are not seen as part of the church, but as the “future” of the church.  I tell you, a child or student has just as much ability to serve and live out the truth of God’s Word as we adults do, sometimes even more so.  We must drop this error that the students are the “future” and reclaim the essential reality that they are the “current” church.  Otherwise, we rob them from the opportunity to serve.

3) The Church Service Has Become an Evangelistic Tool Rather than a Discipleship Tool

The cliché but true statement that the church is not a building, but the people, sheds light on the mission of the church.  Jesus gives the Great Commission to “go” in Matthew 28.  We are to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Yet, now we place such an emphasis on, “Bring your friends to church.”  As Jared Wilson would say, “Somewhere along the lines we shifted from ‘Go and tell’ to ‘Come and see.'”  We nullify the responsibility to be on mission, and relegate that to the pastor by simply inviting the person to church.

Ephesians is clear as to one of the roles of a pastor, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).  We (I am speaking as a pastor) are not to be the sole workers of ministry, but equippers for all saints to take part in the fruitful labor of ministry!

4) Emphasis is More on Games than On God

I have spoken to students at some churches that tell me that they spend 45 minutes of their 60 minutes together, playing games.  Only 15 minutes is focused on worship and biblical teaching.  They specifically stated that they did not mind missing church because they didn’t miss anything important, only games.  My question is simple: If the church, meant to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12), is spending more time on games than equipping, what priorities are the students learning?  If “fun and games” is what they are taught the church is in their teenage years, “fun and games” is what they will seek in their adult years.

Further, this compounds the issue of church being utilized as an evangelistic tool rather than a discipleship tool.  The same article that communicated the amount of students leaving the church, stated, “If your student ministry is a four-year holding tank with pizza, don’t expect young adults to stick around.”  Yet, on the flip side, “If, however, they see biblical teaching as relevant and see the church as essential to their decisions, they stay.”  This naturally leads us to the fifth point.

5) We Are Indoctrinating Them With the “What” and Not the “Why”

Just a few weeks ago I asked the students in my ministry to raise their hand if they knew “why” they believed what they believe.  I would say about 30% of students raised their hands.  So often we say, “Know this” and “do this” while leaving out the “why.”  Anyone who has spent any time around children know the most common question they ask: “WHY?”  If we bypass and avoid the why’s of God’s Word, then we aren’t doing the work of a pastor, but of a politician.

Why is God’s Word important?  Why is obedience to God important?  Why should I believe what you say?  Why is the world the way it is?

The questions are endless.  The answers are endless.  Don’t avoid the “why.”

Though this list is not exhaustive as to why students are leaving the church, it does shed some insight as to the issues that underlie the bigger issue of the “church death spiral.”  The Reformation took place 500 years ago.  The church should be in continual reform as should our individual lives.  May this be a call for us to live lives for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom!

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