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Generation Change: Why Our Youth Leave
By Samuel E. Reyes
The church needs to wake up to the realization that the emerging generation is not just the so-called church of the future, it is the church right now. This generation of young, courageous, and bold Seventh-day Adventist Christians are redefining the very fabric of how we “do church” in our cities, communities, and country.

Like no generation before, our young people have access to limitless information. They live in a world where social media is redesigning the way people interact. They live in a world filled with innumerable ideas, belief systems, and ways of life. And while that world certainly does not answer their deep soul questions, all too often they fail to find relevant answers from their churches. In We Can Keep Them in the Church, Gary Hopkins and Myrna Tetz note the youth flight in Adventism and the graying of Adventism when they tell us that the average age in the local church back in 1965 was 35, and in 1995 an alarming 65.[1]     

According to Thom and Sam Rainer’s research, the youth who leave the church “don’t completely depart from their faith. Rather, they part ways with the church.”[2] Their study of 18-30 year old adults in America who attended church regularly for at least one year during high school identified seven reasons why young people leave their churches:
  1. They want to take a break from church.
  2. They are turned off by judgmental attitudes and hypocrisy seen in the church.
  3. They have moved to another community.
  4. Their work responsibilities conflict with their church attendance.
  5. They have a busy social life.
  6. They are weary of church politics.
  7. Their attendance was based only on the desire to please others.
In a five-year research project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman, issues that challenge faith development among teens and young adults were identified. The resulting book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Church, Kinnaman lists six reasons why “nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15:” [3]
  1. Churches often seem overprotective, making it difficult for them to connect with the world.
  2. Teens’ and 20-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. They say church is irrelevant to their daily lives, that there isn’t enough in-depth study of the Bible and a real/in-depth relationship/experience with God.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science. “Research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.”
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic or judgmental. The modes of teaching that the church uses are not relevant to the sexual exposure and education young people have outside the church.
  5. Young Christians wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. “Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance.”
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who struggle with doubts.
These are just a few of the reasons why this generation is slipping out the back door, and the research suggests that these young people are not likely to return later in life. Something, therefore, has to change in the way we do youth ministry. Something that will keep our young people connected with God and the church. Something more than a set of rules to feed their faith. Something that will anchor solid conviction and purpose in their beliefs.

More than anything else, our youth need Jesus at the core of their lives. Since the Great Commission commands us to teach and make disciples, we have to ask the question: What are we doing to make true and passionate disciples among our young people?
In next week’s Best Practices for Adventist Ministry, I will share with you some suggested ministry designs for winning and discipling youth and young adults in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Samuel E. Reyes is the youth and young adult pastor for the Forest City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Altamonte Springs, Florida
[1] Gary Lee Hopkins, Myrna Tetz, We Can Keep Them In the Church (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2004), p. 39
[2] Thom Rainer, Sam S. Rainer, Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts (Nashville: B&H Books, 2008), p. 30