Why Do Young People Leave the Faith?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The latest issue of Christianity Today includes an interesting article by Drew Dyck called "The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church." According to the article, "the crisis of people leaving the faith has taken on new gravity.... Young adults today are dropping religion at a greater rate [five to six times] than young adults of yesteryear."

The entire article is an worthwhile read, but I want to draw your attention to a few sections that I found particularly intriguing (my emphases in bold):

A teenage girl goes off to college and starts to party. A young man moves in with his girlfriend. Soon the conflict between belief and behavior becomes unbearable. Tired of dealing with a guilty conscience and unwilling to abandon their sinful lifestyles, they drop their Christian commitment. They may cite intellectual skepticism or disappointments with the church, but these are smokescreens designed to hide the reason. "They change their creed to match their deeds," as my parents would say. I think there's some truth to this—more than most young leavers would care to admit. The Christian life is hard to sustain in the face of so many temptations. Over the past year, I've conducted in-depth interviews with scores of ex-Christians. Only two were honest enough to cite moral compromise as the primary reason for their departures. Many experienced intellectual crises that seemed to conveniently coincide with the adoption of a lifestyle that fell outside the bounds of Christian morality.

Many de-conversions were precipitated by what happened inside rather than outside the church. Even those who adopted materialist worldviews or voguish spiritualities traced their departures back to what happened in church. What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are "good, nice, and fair." Its central goal is to help believers "be happy and feel good about oneself." Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it's one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It's in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn't be surprised to see people of any age walk away.

The answer, of course, lies in more than offering another program. Nor should we overestimate the efficacy of slicker services or edgy outreach. Only with prayer and thoughtful engagement will at least some of the current exodus be stemmed. One place to begin is by rethinking how we minister to those from youth to old age. There's nothing wrong with pizza and video games, nor with seeker-sensitive services, nor with low-commitment small groups that introduce people to the Christian faith. But these cannot replace serious programs of discipleship and catechism. The temptation to wander from the faith is not a new one. The apostle Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to strive to mature every believer, so that "we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14). Ultimately we will have to undertake the slow but fruitful work of building relationships with those who have left the faith.


Jeremy Case,  November 24, 2010 at 7:32 PM  

I think a large part of the problem may be due to many church's poor evangelism. We seem to be watering down the Gospel more than ever before. We preach things like, "Your life is good, but if you add Jesus, it would be better." We reduce to Gospel to an accessory. We also say things like, "If you repeat this prayer after me, then you will be saved." The Gospel is then reduced to a one time decision. With evangelism like that, it would be no wonder that people left churches. They were preached bad gospel to begin with. Christ never has His proper place in their lives to begin with. When Christ is the primary focus and goal of your life, the rest of your life will conform to Him.
Most likely, there are many other reasons beside this that people are "leaving the faith". But this has been something that I have been considering, as multiple times this year I have been exposed to terrible presentations of the Gospel.

Dave Vawter,  November 26, 2010 at 9:35 AM  

"most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith."

I found this statement to be the most powerful, in fact it neatly contradicts the first paragraph you posted. While I agree that many young people excuse their own lifestyle and cite the church's failings as their reason for leaving it behind, it many cases they cannot accurately be seen as "leaving the faith" because they never had genuine faith. I praise the Lord daily that I survived a religious upbringing having experienced genuine conversion and with only a slight hint of cynicism. (Ok so maybe more than just a hint...)

Linda November 28, 2010 at 8:51 AM  

the so-called "Leavers" of the church are not 'LEAVING" for the sinful lifestyles (although that may be a part of it--due to the youthful teenage lusts) but the lack of fundamental disipleship on the part of the "ONE MAN SHOW" church. The "GATHERERS" of the current American Church I.e. Apostate gatekeepers, are not dicipling the young people on what next Theolgy! When I was growing up as a young Christian I was taught the fundamentals of the Faith e.g.the will of God; Holiness;prayer&intercession;and how to be led by the Spirit. Like golf or any other sport the fundamentals are very important and one at times needs to get back to the fundamentals. When the newly found "Gathered" do not have any direction as to what God's Will is in their personal life and this is important that they know implicitly what that is then and only then do they intimately realize that God is a personal GOd. Otherwise, the "Gathered" start to "Flounder" and become the "Wondered". Don Komos

donsheltrown April 12, 2011 at 6:06 PM  

I think that this can be answered easily with scripture If someone has a decisive, permanent abandonment of the "faith", they were never saved. John 2:19-They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. They were NEVER of us. Impossible to walk away for good if you are saved. You can't "jump out!"

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