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This Is How We Can Keep My Generation From Leaving The Church

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millennials uturnI want to follow up on an [evidently controversial] article I wrote last month, This Is Why My Generation Is Leaving The Church. Admittedly, it was somewhat critical and undoubtedly stepped on a lot of toes. Yet the purpose of article was to highlight why I believe my generation is leaving, and I was brutally honest. But I only intended to explain the problem; space did not allow for a detailed solution.

It is important to understand that we can only generalize when speaking about entire generations. There are many reasons why my generation (the “Millennials,” born between 1980 and 2004) is leaving the Church. The last article only explained what I believe to be the biggest reason. Yet, because the Millennial generation is very diverse, there are other reasons why they are leaving, many of which are not always obvious. And the solution to the problem is not always clear.

Yet because the last article was negative (How can a 59% drop-out rate be anything but negative?), I want to make this article positive.

I want to answer the question: How can we fix the problem? How can we keep young people – specifically those who grew up in the Church – from leaving?

Here’s my answer:

1. Don’t assume young people know everything. We sometimes think that because someone was raised in the Church, they automatically know everything about things like (a) how to be saved, (b) how to stay saved, (c) discipleship, (d) morality, (e) marriage & relationships, (f) the principle of restoration, (g) how to study the Bible, etc. But we often fail to take into consideration that, because they are young, they may have never heard a lesson on these topics at their level. We need to make sure we carefully and thoroughly explain God’s Will for their lives in a way they can understand. Do not focus on the older generation at the expense of focusing on the younger generation.

2. Prepare young people for conversion. It is one thing for someone to leave the Lord’s Church because they, like the Rich Young Man in Mark 10:17-22, were unwilling to pay the price to be a disciple. But it is entirely different for someone to leave the Church because they never knew what it meant to be “born again” (cf. John 3:3-5). The colloquial ‘5-step plan of salvation’ is meaningless if we are not teaching what it means to be converted (cf. Acts 3:19). The Millennials that are leaving the Lord’s Church have not been converted (If they had been, they wouldn’t be leaving, right?). And why not? Because (a) they were not taught conversion, and/or (b) they did not see genuine conversion in the lives of their parents and church leaders.

3. Teach young people about the distinctiveness of the Church of Christ. I’ve noticed that many Millennials see the Church of Christ as ‘just another denomination.’ You can’t blame them for thinking this, because many of our congregations have become very denominational. Certainly we need to do a better job explaining the beauty of restoring New Testament Christianity. But first we need to remember the beauty ourselves.

4. Make God’s Word relevant and practical to young people. Don’t misunderstand; I know God’s Word is always relevant. But parents and church leaders don’t always make it seem relevant and practical. The Bible is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). Therefore we shouldn’t merely teach cold and nebulous facts about theology. We need to teach how God’s Word should permeate every aspect of life. We need to challenge our young people with ways to put God’s Word to use.

5. Ensure your congregation is outwardly focused. Millennials are disenfranchised with inwardly focused churches; you know the type – churches that cater almost exclusively to those inside rather than those outside. Millennials tend to be very zealous for the Gospel, and are discontent with a lackluster business-as-usual mindset. They want to commit themselves to churches that are willing to ‘step outside their comfort zone’ for the sake of evangelism and outreach. Is your church making an impact on the community?

6. Don’t sell out. Many congregations, under the guise of ‘reaching out,’ are just selling out. They have forgotten their identity. When churches water down the Gospel, become reluctant to call sin “sin,” make compromises in worship (e.g. allow hand-clapping, try to make things more entertaining, etc.), refuse to take stands on controversial issues (social drinking, marriage & divorce, etc.), and appoint unqualified leaders, they are setting up the next generation for failure. When churches venture into “gray areas,” they expose young, still-developing consciences to things they are unable to discern (1 Cor. 8:10-13). Thus, many young people fall away from the Body of Christ without realizing it, because they can’t distinguish the Lord’s Church from the rest of Christendom! When congregations forget their identity as the New Testament Church, young people grow up without knowing who they are.

There are several other solutions we can mention, such as:
(a) Putting our young people to work and giving them a sense of purpose.
(b) Making sure each young person has a specific mentor who is more experienced in The Way.
(c) Giving young people more ways to be active and involved with the Church.

The point I want you to understand is this: we can do a better job raising our children in the Lord. Who would argue that we haven’t made any mistakes?

What are some practical ways we can ensure the faithfulness of the next generation? 

I really want to hear your comments, even if they are in disagreement! However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here

10 Responses to This Is How We Can Keep My Generation From Leaving The Church

  1. Adam Faughn June 13, 2013 at 3:49 PM #

    While all your points are great, #5 (being outwardly focused) is huge to this generation. If they think a church is going to just be in a “holy huddle” on Sundays and not truly impact the community, or the world for that matter, they will not stay long.

  2. Don Toth June 13, 2013 at 3:54 PM #

    I am a member of the church in Columbus Indiana. I am a medically retired preacher also. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss what you have said about millennial members. I think what you are saying could have a wider audience and may create interest in the Lord’s church. I can be reached at the above email and at 812.XXX-XXXX [Phone # censored by moderator to protect the privacy of commenter – BG] to talk about this some more

    • Ben June 13, 2013 at 4:01 PM #

      Thanks for the comment brother! I’ll send an E-mail your way.

  3. Bill Cartwright June 13, 2013 at 5:26 PM #

    Just to venture a guess, I would guess that the overwhelming majority of the Church would agree with you. I do think the problem is bigger than your physical age bracket. That its a relationship with the number of years you have truly been fed the Whole Counsel of God and it has been lacking the living example by those who should have the Spiritual Maturity to do so. I spoke to a minister about preaching the Whole Counsel of God and it irritated him thoroughly and responded by say he enjoyed preaching Baptism and Grace and as I visit other congregations, he is not alone. I want to thank you for your devotion to the word of God and for the time you have spent on your knees ask for discernment, understanding and wisdom. To advance the Glory of God we all must pay the price. I was 22 years old when I read my first bible and in my mid thirties when I confessed Jesus Christ was the son of the Living God. In Christ we find life Bill Cartwright.

  4. Luke Dockery June 14, 2013 at 10:55 PM #

    I think a big part of the issue we are experiencing with millennials (an admittedly vague and nebulous term) leaving the church comes from the way we have done youth ministry in the past (and in many cases are still doing it).

    Specifically, I'm referring to the way that we systematically isolate our young people from the larger congregation as a whole. Separate classes, children's worship, constant youth trips that remove our youth groups from the corporate worship of the congregation, having special youth rooms where teens can hang out before and after worship and avoid interacting with older Christians…all of these practices and more have the tendency to build cohesive and effective youth groups which are basically mini congregations that parallel the life of the local church rather than being a part of the local church itself.

    So, after high school, why do these young people leave the church? Because they were never really a part of the church in the first place; they were just the part of a youth group that no longer has a place for them.

    To be clear, I am a youth minister and have been in youth ministry for more than a decade. I think youth ministry is vitally important. But we have to change the ways we have done it if we want different results.

  5. Scott Klaft June 21, 2013 at 3:30 PM #

    Excellent thoughts. I think you are precisely right. The trouble is, however, the older generation hasn’t been taught true conversion, evangelism, working with a sense of purpose, the distinctiveness of the church that belongs to Christ, etc. Thus, they don’t know how to mentor, and simply go on about the “business as usual” – “pay the preacher to do the work” sort of house keeping. The soft-soapy, scorn of controversy approach… the “isn’t it all so wonderful” superficial preaching the church (broadly speaking) has been fed for multiple generations has led to the inevitable dissociation and dissolution of memberships in every region. Why would the youth have any idea what true Christianity is supposed to be? Parents, in great part, and due to their own lack of knowledge, have left it to the church three hours a week to give their youths what they need spiritually.

    The church’s responsibility to train itself how to raise their youths in a spiritually focus HOME is where the problem is. Parents need to take responsibility for the training of their own youths. Then, what they hear and are taught in the assemblies will serve only to complement and reinforce what they have already been taught.

  6. Angela June 21, 2013 at 10:58 PM #

    I think a big part of the issue we are experiencing with millennials is that we have taught them the bible but have not shown them how to dig deep into the meat of the word to be able to mature. They haven’t been adequately equipped to defend the word when challenged. We teach Matt 28:19 but have we shown them how to? We tell them to memorize scripture but dont say that is purpose for memorizing is not just strengthen there faith but to help spread the good news and to be provide an adequate defense.

  7. Al Earls July 5, 2013 at 5:19 PM #

    Hey Ben, I have enjoyed both articles. We are studying this topic on Wednesday night. It seems that there are many reasons given by christians of all ages for leaving. The Church has its work cut out for it that is for certain. Young people such as yourself are a great encouragement. Keep up the great work. If you will, do you think that younger people have been convinced that science has disproven the Bible

    • Ben July 5, 2013 at 5:34 PM #

      Thanks brother! And thank you for the kind words. I hope you and your family are doing well.

      Do I think that younger people (maybe around my age or younger) have been convinced that science has disproven the Bible? I’d say yes, a slight majority do. But ask a Millennial why they think that, and they will be at a loss. You and I both know that science has done the opposite; it actually confirms the truth of God’s Word. But young people are bombarded by an almost overwhelming amount of criticism toward the Bible through media and secular education that, to a degree, they are brainwashed. Yes, we certainly have our work cut out for us.

      • Al Earls July 7, 2013 at 5:40 PM #

        Do you think incorporating apologetics into the high school Sunday and Wednesday night classes would help? I don’t mean the cheesy apologetics often seen at Church but the curriculum and debates such as Craig-Flew debate, Does God Exist?
        Also what outreach would appeal to youth? A homeless ministry?

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