Why are our young people leaving the church?

Yes, tonight I am going to pause our typical subject matter (honestly, there is typically no subject here – it is basically random and unfortunately unplanned!) in order to address the question above. I attend a small church and lately there have been some “rumblings” concerning ways to improve and grow what is turning into a slowly shrinking congregation. This was one of the topics that came up tonight – “why are our young people leaving the church?”

(If you are turned off by the topic of religion, click here to be redirected immediately to something a bit more mainstream and come back tomorrow when I will probably be writing about my allergies or what I watched on TV.)

The answer to why young people are leaving the church has nothing to do with church. That doesn’t sound right, does it? How could it not have to do with the church?

For starters, we have 168 hours in a week. We spend an average of four of those hours in a church service – either in worship or in classes. The other 164 hours a week is up to us. So, the ministry is church-led for 4 hours each week and parent-led for 164 hours. Let’s take off 8 hours a night for sleep. That leaves us with 100 hours of our self-ministry. What about the kids? Let’s take out 40 for school. That leaves us with 60 – 60 hours to try to teach and model the life we hope our kids will lead.

First, as a parent, how is our 60 hour a week parenting ministry going? I slip up. I probably slip up quite a lot. My kids see me frustrated sometimes. And I get impatient with them sometimes. But, I am doing the best I can and I am getting better about not freaking out and over-reacting when I hear a gigantic crash or have to clean up a gigantic mess. I know that being a father is the number 1 and most important thing in my life. As for church, I attend services regularly and I participate in a service role as much as I can.

Was I always this way? Absolutely not. It took my oldest daughter being born to stop me from drifting. I had excuse after excuse. I came out of college with a degree I did not use. I went from job to job that had no career path. I was a mess. You can throw away years of your life and not get them back. I can count 11 totally wasted years and getting to where I am right now is still something I constantly have to work at. I have no one to blame for this but myself.

Second, we need to eliminate blaming others. We have become a society that is always blaming others. If my kids end up messed up, I should blame the schools or the church or my kids friends, etc. etc. This is a wrong way to think. The responsibility is up to you, as a parent. I feel sorry for the kids I see that are acting like monsters or are having temper tantrums that their parents just ignore or shrug off. If you allow a kid to walk all over you at 8 years old, just wait until they are 18. And, if you are completely unaware of what is bothering them or who their friends are or what music they listen to, are you being an effective parent?

Third, we need to step up and take responsibility and be parents. Nothing annoys me more than when I correct my child and I have someone else pipe in “It’s OK” or “Kids will be kids”. How I parent is up to me. My belief is that those kids that don’t have a consistent expectation will grow into those adults who will always make up excuses in their heads for their behavior. These are the ones that grow into adults who take up all of the supervisors time at work because they can’t be trusted to complete a job on their own.

Does having consistent expectations mean whippings and constant punishment? Absolutely not. We don’t whip – we don’t stand our kids in corners. We treat them with respect and explain exactly why what they do is wrong when they mess up. Yes, there are punishments. Over some things we are a bit more lax and over some things we are a bit more tough.

Finally (and most important), as adults, how is our 100 hours a week personal ministry going? If we think 4 hours at church each week will be the deciding factor in making us or breaking us, then we have a huge deficit in our own faith and we are certainly not doing the work for the 100 hours that is our personal ministry. Church will recharge the battery and even give us a boost when we are down. But, it is our responsibility to have the battery in the first place. If you are not open to the message and have no faith, there is no one who can force this into your life. You have to take the first step. The pressure to do the work is on us. The pressure for your responsibilities should not be misdirected on the preacher or the class teacher or the song leader.

My belief is that you raise your children with a certain belief system. They may chose to go against that upbringing. It happens. But, if you’ve done your job with your 60 hours a week in their lives and you’ve modeled this faith in your own personal 100 hours a week, you’ll have the confidence in the job you’ve done to the point where the question that started this entry is something you won’t have to ask, no matter what the outcome is.