Monthly youth leaders column
If church is a place where young people should be, why do many of them turn their backs on their place of worship.
We all know stories of young people, brought up in a loving Christian environment, who turn their backs on the church as an institution, their faith, because it doesn’t work for them, or they just feel it isn’t for them because most people are much older than they are.
I have been talking to a number of young people who have ‘jumped ship’ and the picture they create is complex. Rarely is it one reason that drives them away and often they find it hard to explain their actions. Often they say things like ‘it just wasn’t for me’ and cannot give precise reasons for their absence. The start of youth ministry, as we currently see it, came from an awareness (mainly statistical, but certainly anecdotal also) that young people were leaking from the church and the gap must be plugged by employing someone (if we can afford it) to fill the breach in the dam. Many church congregations have no younger people and find it hard to minister to families. There are some ‘hot spots’ where there are young people in abundance but we must look at how we can make that a more familiar scenario.
Have we done something?
Why do young people leave our churches? At the very minimum, with all the investment in staff and resources that churches have made, we must ask the questions about their reasons for departure. The starting point for many families who struggle with this issue is that they have done something wrong in the way they have brought up their children. None of us are perfect parents, but this is rarely the single reason for leaving. But we must never rule it out as a contributory factor.
Failing to engage
The moral maze in which our young people grow up creates all kinds of pressures on them and convinces them that a Christian life cannot cope with the moral values of the 21st century. If we fail, as a church, to engage with these issues, we will be perceived as an irrelevant institution. Inevitably, our young people rub shoulders with their fellow students whose social lives assume a different set of values to the ones they have grown up with. Their television diet (in which the soaps play a major role) conveys moral values which contradict what their church has taught them. All of these factors accumulate to give them a cocktail of reasons why they should turn away from the church.
If we fail to engage with these issues then young people will find answers elsewhere. There are plenty of secular contexts where guidance can be found, but it isn’t Christian advice. I believe we need to know more about what creates ‘The Prodigals’.
If you have stories of young people who have left your church, please write and let me know. Even better, if you have young people who would give me an interview (under the cover of anonymity), I would love to hear from you. If we know the reasons, we may be able to begin work on a lasting solution.