Where have all the young people gone?

December 21, 2009

[The following article originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2009 issue of BALedger.com, the website of the Broken Arrow Ledger.]

Some churches suffering loss of attendance.

By Lucienda Denson, Lifestyle Editor

“Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that the next generation is calling it quits on the traditional church. And it’s not just happening on the nominal fringe; it’s happening at the core of the faith.”

That’s the opening paragraph in a press release promoting a new book, “Already Gone,” by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, with Todd Hillard.

Nick Garland, pastor of First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, considers the findings so on target, the church recently hosted an “Answers in Genesis” conference led by Ham.

During the conference, Garland asked those in attendance to have a small group prayer that young adults at First Baptist would not be among the two-thirds who are “already gone” from the church.

Two-thirds of young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches are leaving, according to Ham and Beemer.

Information in the book is based on data collected from 20,000 phone calls and detailed surveys of 1,000 20-to-29-year-olds who used to attend evangelical churches on a regular basis but have since left them behind.

Garland compared what is happening in 21st century evangelical churches to Martin Luther’s Reformation in 1517 that created protestant churches and the creation of the Puritans who separated themselves from the Church of England.

“This is a literal re-shaping of the church the way it has been for the past 400 or 500 years,” Garland said.

“They (young people) have written church off as a moralistic bad guy that wants to keep them from enjoying their life. You don’t have to have a passport to find them; they are on every street in the city,” he said. And they’re not just young adults. Separation is beginning as early as middle school.

Young people no longer believe in Genesis, which is the basis for Christianity, Garland said. They question everything from creation to the divinity of Christ, and for that he credits laws that require the evolution theory be taught in public school classrooms and ban instruction on Biblical creation.

Nancy Mabry, youth director at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, agrees that evangelical churches are losing twenty-somethings, but she credits a reluctance to make any sort of commitment as the underlying cause.

If young people can’t commit to a skating party on Sunday evening until Sunday morning, they’re going to have difficulty making long-term commitments to anything else, Mabry said.

When she was in her 20s, she said “If you didn’t have a fever, you went to church. Some people say they don’t come to church because Sunday is the only day they have to spend with family. Why don’t they spend it with their family in church? Now, church is an option,” Mabry said.

There is an exception, however, according to Mabry. Traditional churches that are liturgical churches and smaller evangelical churches seem to be retaining their twenty-something members in greater numbers than larger and mega-churches.

The Rev. John Wilke, senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, has read the book and said he found it to be a fascinating study.

He cited one of Luther’s writings as something for church leaders to consider: “A faith that costs nothing and demands nothing is worth nothing.”

“I think that is where the church is today. I get too many things in the mail from churches that say, ‘Come just the way you are, you don’t have to change,’” Wilke said.

“While God loves you where you are, he expects you to change. We don’t put the fear of God in our churches, we don’t have that respect. We’ve made Jesus our homeboy. He’s not our homeboy, he’s our Saviour.”

Wilke said the only church he knows of that is experiencing growth in the 20-to-29-year old age group is the Greek Orthodox Church.

“The Greek Orthodox Church is a liturgical church. Kids want to return to something different from what they get from the world. If we want to reach these kids again, we are going to have to return to what the early church was doing. We need to raise the bar,” he said.

Wilke would endorse a movement to extend confirmation study to two years, so members fully understand the doctrine of the church they are joining, and that God is bigger than they are.

“God isn’t a vending machine of good gifts. This (joining the church) will not be the easiest thing you have done,” Wilke said.

The Rev. Shelby Scott, pastor of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, said the 20-to-29-year-olds are holding steady at St. Patrick’s. One of Scott’s sons is in that age group.

“There is sort of a strange rebound in some of the ancient liturgies, such as Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Episcopalian. What we would call the emerging church is something that is very appealing to that age group. Places that have a sense of order, mystery and transcendence are very appealing.

“Those are the areas that are growing. I am seeing a slight uptake here of people of that age,” Scott said.

“I think there is a hunger where entertainment is the approach to worship. It doesn’t really satisfy. I think there is a richness in the ancient traditions that speaks at levels where contemporary music fails. My experience is different than what you’re seeing in the ‘already gone’ people.”

Scott agrees with Garland that Christian worship is going through a significant change. He believes young people are looking for a doctrine that requires more of them than just showing up at church.

“The pendulum is swinging back. What previously had been discredited –  traditional liturgies and such things as incense and mystery – has become something of a strength and intrigue for the younger generation,” he said.

[Already Gone is published by Master Books.]


6 Responses to “Where have all the young people gone?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The article can be summarized thusly: Children are being given the tools and information to be able to think for themselves, Oh No! And they’re realizing apologetics and nutty creation theories don’t cut it any longer.

  2. Rita Chamberlin Says:

    As Ken Ham stated about the “Waltke Controversy” that,”Christians who believe in evolution, although it is not a salvation issue, it is an authority issue as they are undermining the authority of the Word of God.”, this also applies to other issues such as dress,entertainment,music, and relationships, all which are important to most teens.
    When parents, schools, and churches, by example or allowance, promote short, or revealing clothes on females; refer to secular movies that have scenes with sexual innuendos, suggestive clothing, and foul language, when “Christian” youth music is treated with this same manner of “hands-off” because the artist claims to be Christian or has Christian thoughts or words therefore what may be pleasing to God or appealing to the Spirit rather than the flesh is ignored and the flesh is fed. These young people do not see much difference from what “Christianity” means to what worldliness means. If parents will not deal with it because they think their teen will rebel they are pleasing man rather than God. The youth pastors who say the youth must have visuals so they (the youth pastors) care nothing about talking about movies with the above mentioned in them are deceived. When will more speak out about this loudly and clearly?

    It just amazes me with all the problems of pornography how fathers, Christian school teachers and Administrators, and Pastors do not speak out loud and clearly about what the Bible says about this.

    Let’s be about God’s business not our own!!

    Maybe youth do not see the differences; it is the adult’s job to teach what God says and to fear God, in a respectful sense. Let’s get away from Hollywood as our role model; it disgusts me!!

  3. Garland Says:

    you are fucking retarded

  4. Jon Burkeen Says:

    I am a huge believer in what you all are doing with both the book and the museum. As a youth pastor I will say that the biggest reason I see youth leaving the church is not b/c we are not teaching the entire Word of God, b/c we are. We are teaching God’s word from Genesis to Revelation, verse by verse. The biggest reason that we have seen youth leaving the church is b/c of their parents. Parents are not helping at home. They are not keeping their children accountable with the bible teaching that we are teaching at church. They are letting the kids watch and listen to what ever they want. At our church we take seriously what we are teaching. But mom and dad are not. Even after we have tried to educate moms and dads. I have been praying for an awakening. Thank you for your books and for what you do.


  5. I am very interested in your book and I may buy it. You are right on – there are no 20-somethings going to church anymore. I stopped going to church for a while, because I was at a seeker-driven church that didn’t preach the gospel and was preaching some false teaching. I’ve since started going to a Lutheran church.

    I went to a Christian school, where there was too much legalism and works righteousness. Then in college, I was going to a seeker-driven church that also preached works righteousness. These led me away from church for a while, but now that I’m going to a LCMS church, I’m going to church regularly.

  6. Concerned Says:

    I believe the issue of age is certainly tainted by a world view, but to say it is the primary reason for 20 something’s leaving church is a stretch at best. We could equally focus on any number of other hindrances for which might “fit” our argument for “Young Exodus” mentality. The reality is, unfortunately for this movement, is that young people simply won’t care if you figure out what the exact “timing” of dates really are. It is the concept and acceptance of God’s Word to be Holy Spirit Inspired and the Truth that will improve understanding. Finally…no one ever came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by an argument…the experience comes first, then the teaching comes next.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: