I 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.