What Do We Do About Our Kids Leaving the Church?
The problem was been well documented. Lots of analysis and research reveals that the generation gap in the church continues to widen. There is an issue, especially in the North American church, in that many younger people are not staying or they aren’t coming in the first place. The statistics are alarming. It’s a concern for many Baby Boomer parents and a dilemma for church leaders.
As far as I can ascertain, no one else has coined the term, “empty nest church.” You get the concept: the kids leave, and mom and dad are left alone. In the home, though adjustments need to be made, this can be a refreshing and fun time for couples. In the church, it is a sign of looming extinction. If adjustments aren’t made, the church will soon no longer exist.
Conferences and ministry forums are addressing this problem. Books are being published and denominational leaders are deep in dialogue. It’s baffling, however, that others seem to be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps they are aware but are clueless about solutions. But make no mistake, this matter is not going away, and sooner or later, we will deal with it.
So, what are we to do when the next generation disengages from the church? I would like to discuss 3 possible responses.
Would we allow our kids to walk away from our home and their relationship with us without pursuing them? Most parents would make every effort to assure their children that they are loved and valued and an integral part of the family. It’s unthinkable that we would stand idly by as they depart the house, promising never to return. Would we refuse to go after them in the name of “tough love?” (Sometimes tough love is a cover-up for a hard heart). Would we accuse them of being entitled or spoiled? Why then do we see this in the church? All indicators point to a several year crisis that has developed in many evangelical churches. The problem is not new – but where are the solutions? When discussing the issue of the younger generation leaving the church, we hear people say things like, “it’s up to them to come back” or “we’re not the ones who left.” In a recent social media discussion, an article addressing Millennials leaving the church created a lot of dialogue. The author of the article encouraged churches and ministry leaders to take the initiative to go after people who leave the church. One commenter, a Christian leader said, “Instead of: “it’s your move church,” I keep saying, “it’s your move millennials.” Stop looking for others to change things for you and just start being the change you want to see.” While I concur with the concept of personal responsibility, when it comes to spiritual disengagement, this type of thinking creates more problem than solutions. We cannot expect those who have left the church to assume the responsibility to make the needed changes.
It seems to me that older Believers have the responsibility to go after, even pursue younger Believers who walk away from the church. I think that is what the Father would do.
By “go after”, I don’t mean simply trying to talk them into coming back. While this is an excellent place to begin, we must be willing to face the difficult truths behind the decisions being made. Rather than being defensive or dismissive, we must be open and willing to learn. Teenagers and young adults should know beyond any doubt that we love them enough to come find them – wherever they are. We can’t wait for them to come home; we must go after them with our words and our deeds. And once this dialogue has begun, we must be solutions oriented.
In addition to pursuing them, we should be willing to explore new ideas in regard to ministry. So many of the conversations I have observed between the generations involve an assumption that “my way” is the best way. I think every generation is guilty of this. Until we are ready to explore a different way of doing ministry, the potential of the harvest will be limited. Adjusting methods is not a matter of watering down the Truth. Let’s not fall prey to the claims of our unwillingness to compromise our standards in order to reach people. Many of us compromise every day in order to keep the people we have. Let’s be honest with ourselves.
If I can adjust my preferences, be flexible in my approach and possibly compromise on my methods, and thereby win a younger generation to the Lord, why would I not do so? (Previous experience compels me to state that I in no way propose lowering the standard of God’s Word!) By the way, I am simply providing for others what was provided for me. My elders didn’t insist that I do it their way – they allowed me to connect in a fresh and new way. I owe this gift from an older generation to a new generation.
In addition to going after the new generation and compromising on methods, one more consideration may be helpful.
This week I once again heard someone refer to today’s youth as “the church of tomorrow.” We simply must stop saying this! The message implies waiting. While younger people certainly will be the backbone of the future church, they must be viewed as an indispensable part of the church right now. We wouldn’t think of segregating our children in our home when it is mealtime, only to let them join us for special occasions. I believe that young people should be integrated into every worship experience. Youth Sundays are awesome but highlighting the new generation a few times a year is inadequate. Allow them to serve now. Respect their gifts and talents. While they may not be mature enough to lead every ministry, there must be a place for people of all generations in the family of God. Young people must be a part of the church of today!
One more thought: prevention is key. Let’s not wait until there is an exodus of young adults from our churches. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Start the dialogue before the bridge is burned.
When we observe the problem of younger generations leaving the church:
- Go after them
- Consider a shift in methods
- Recognize them as an important part of the church today
I think we (the church) should accept the responsibility for fixing this problem. If we refuse or fail to do so, it is likely that we will lose a majority of people age 30 and younger. No one, especially the Lord is good with that.
No more Empty Nest Churches!