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Why Young People Are Leaving the Church

I can still remember it: I was a full-time youth pastor, doing the usual responsibilities of giving the announcements to the entire church on Sunday morning.

Isn’t that what all youth pastors are supposed to do on Sunday mornings?

As I sat on stage preparing to share what was going on in the church, I noticed the large group of students that were assembled in the crowd. I was proud to see such a good number, and seeing this, assumed in my mind that I was doing a fantastic job as a youth pastor. Then, something hit me like a ton of bricks. I began to notice the rest of the crowd. I began to notice that there was a massive gap in age in our church. There were hardly any young adults in the service. If my memory serves me correctly, there were roughly 35-40 teenagers in the service, and then maybe three to five who fell between the ages of 19 and 30. I noticed that statistic was a major problem in the health of our church. As I examined our church, I began to look around, and I noticed that our epidemic was not just our epidemic. This epidemic is universal. Many churches in America struggle with keeping young adults in church. After researching the reasons, here are some of the top reasons young adults are leaving our churches today:

“Church Members Seemed Judgmental or Hypocritical”

According to Lifeway Research, 58 percent of those who left the church listed a church-related issue as their reason for leaving. The most common was that they felt that the church members were judgmental or hypocritical.[1] Thom Rainer writes in his book Essential Church that 84 percent of young adults claim to know a committed Christian. Of the 84 percent, only 15 pecrent of those young adults see a marked change in their lifestyle from the rest of the secular world.[2] Hypocrisy in the church is a major problem. Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel in his conversation with the Pharisees, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.[3] Martin Manser, the Bible expositor, says this: “An outward pretense masking an inner reality. Scripture condemns hypocrisy, especially in matters of faith. Believers should express their commitment to God in their words and their deeds, as well as in their inner motivation.”[4] The concept of hypocrisy actually refers to wearing a mask. It is the idea that you are being someone that you are not. Rachel Held Evans, writing for CNN’s belief blog, said something extra profound in her 2013 article titled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” She said,

“Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing 20-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates—edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated website that includes online giving. But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive [nonsense] meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances. In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.”[5]

Young adults can spot hypocrisy from a mile away.

D.C. McAllister recently wrote an interesting article titled, “How not to communicate to Millennials like Hozier.” In the article, McAllister is challenging church leaders in the way they communicate with the millennial generation. The article came in response to a Virginia pastor who sent an open letter to Hozier after he published his secular hit song titled “Take Me to Church.” The premise of the song is a proponent of the LGBT movement. The song openly blasts the hypocrisy found within the church. The article is not regarding the song; the article is in response to how church leaders engage conversation with millennials about these specific things. McAllister said in her article,

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Josh Evans is the family pastor of the Oakleaf campus of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He has served in this position since June of 2014. Before that, Josh had been a mentor and pastor to students since 2006. Josh is passionate about seeing life change in families and teaching them the truths of the Word of God. Josh is a blogger, speaker, family pastor, and die-hard Duke Blue Devils fan! Josh and his wife Abby were married in February of 2008, and those years have been the happiest years of his life. Josh and Abby have two kids. Lynlee and Cameron. Josh and his family live in the Jacksonville, FL area. You can connect further with Josh on this blog or send him a direct email at joshhevans@gmail.com.