An April-May 2007 study in the United States found that young adults are leaving Christian churches in record numbers. The primary reason? They find their church irrelevant to their lives and many of its members judgmental or hypocritical.
A survey by LifeWay Research revealed that “seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 … who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23 … And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30 …
“ ‘This is sobering news,’ says Ed Stetzer, director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. ‘It seems the teen years are like a free trial on a product. By 18, when it’s their choice whether to buy in to church life, many don’t feel engaged and welcome,’ says associate director Scott McConnell” (Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Young Adults Aren’t Sticking With Church,” USA Today, Aug. 8, 2007).
Most current surveys and research strongly point to a couple of basic needs that are not being met for younger adults in the churches of America and the Western world: 1) the message of their church is not meaningful and relevant to their lives, and 2) people who represent their church are perceived as not genuine or not concerned for new converts who come into the church.
For many young people, “church” has come to mean different things. And little wonder, as the branches, denominations and sects within the broader Christian world are so varied it can make a person dizzy! The message, mission and approach of the countless Christian denominations and congregations are beyond even keeping track of! Yet all claim to represent Christianity. Little wonder that so many young people find it increasingly difficult to take church seriously.
But all is not lost! If we believe that God is real and that the Bible is His Word, then we must recognize that somewhere on this earth the Church Jesus Christ began still exists. Christ said the Church of God would never die (Matthew 16:18 Matthew 16:18And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
American King James Version×). Christ also said during His ministry that the truth He and His Father revealed would be a key that identifies and sets apart true believers (John 17:17 John 17:17Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
American King James Version×). In fact, the Bible calls the Church “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 1 Timothy 3:15But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
American King James Version×).
Moreover, the Church founded by Jesus Christ was commissioned to teach a message of real meaning, hope and man’s true destiny (Matthew 28:19-20 Matthew 28:19-20 19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
American King James Version×). In other words, the gospel of the Church would be the ultimate relevant message! Question is, is this the message you hear at the church you attend?
Relevance—connecting the dots
You have likely seen simple, connect-the-dots puzzles. These are completed by drawing lines between preset dots on a page in the order of the numbers beside each, continuing until the last number is reached. When the puzzle is finished, the drawn lines reveal a hidden picture. Well, in a figurative sense, many people try to “connect the dots” with what churches teach these days to discover a clearer picture of the meaning and purpose of life. Yet based on surveys, the puzzle isn’t being solved. For increasing numbers of young people, the picture remains hidden.
In other words, try as they may, many young people find it very difficult to find relevance in the message of the church they attend. You see, when something (a message, teaching or fact) is relevant, it is useful, meaningful and applicable. You’ve likely heard some form of the duck test: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” The same is true with meaning and relevance. People know relevance when they see or hear it.
Answers to life’s questions
In America, despite decreased church attendance, increasing numbers of young people are looking for deeper meaning to life. Of course, this hunger to understand life is a universal desire among youth in all nations.
As American pollster John Zogby put it, many are “digging down deeper into their own lives and uncovering new wants and needs, in the way so many young adults are embracing their membership in and responsibilities to a global community … They want more out of their lives—not more possessions, not more power, not more artificiality or engulfing lies, but more meaning and purpose, more truth, more authenticity” ( The Way We’ll Be, 2008, pp. 167-168).
Clearly, people are looking for a church with a message that translates into real meaning in their lives now. While Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 John 14:6Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.
American King James Version×), many people find that their church’s teachings don’t seem to help them make their lives any better at all! Yet the clear message of Jesus and the inspired writings of the early Church do show that living according to God’s Word leads to happiness, fulfillment and success (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
American King James Version×; John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
American King James Version×; 1 Timothy 4:8 1 Timothy 4:8For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
American King James Version×). For more solid, relevant biblical advice, request our free booklet Making Life Work .
What’s your opinion?
Even though you were likely not one of the young adults surveyed in April 2007, if you are reading this article you face the same challenge. Is church important to you? Do you regularly attend? As you ponder these questions, consider these facts borne out in the Bible:
• The Church that represents God and Jesus Christ will be relevant and meaningful because it will make sense out of the confusing ideas prevalent in society (Ephesians 4:11-16 Ephesians 4:11-16 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:
14 That we from now on be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
American King James Version×).
• The Church and its message do answer the most important questions of life—such as how one can be forgiven of sins and be granted eternal life (Acts 2:38-41 Acts 2:38-41 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
American King James Version×; 47).
• The Church is a source of comfort and encouragement through its preaching of the “gospel of peace” (Acts 9:31 Acts 9:31Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
American King James Version×; Matthew 28:19-20 Matthew 28:19-20 19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
American King James Version×; Romans 10:15 Romans 10:15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
American King James Version×).
Even though these and other promises are made by Christ about His Church, for a growing number of people their church seems to fall short. What about yours?
Finding the real Church
What does the Bible say about the Church that Jesus Christ began almost 2,000 years ago? In studying God’s Word, one can come to understand the meaning and purpose for which He created mankind. The Bible shows that this Church will be the primary tool God will use to share His message and plan for humanity.
The Church founded by Jesus will understand and teach a message explaining how God, His law and way (when followed) will lead to a life that actually works!
This same Church will also proclaim a message that goes beyond success and fulfillment in this life. Its message will also look to the future by describing a world without the ravages of war, the suffering of disease, the pain of starvation and the curse of selfishness and greed.
The Church Jesus founded will be genuine. This Church and its message will be relevant.
You can count on it. Christ promised it would be so. For more details, request our free booklet The Church Jesus Built . VT
Why they Leave Church and Why They Stay
Reasons cited by the 70% who left:
• Moved to college: 25%.
• Wanted a break from church: 27%.
• Found church members judgmental or hypocritical: 26%.
• Disagreed with church’s stance on political/social issues: 18%.
• Spent more time with friends outside church: 17%.
• Moved too far away from home church: 22%.
• Felt disconnected to people at church: 20%.
• Only went before to please others: 17%.
• Tied up with work: 23%.
• Too busy: 22%.
Reasons cited by the 30% who kept attending:
• It’s vital to my relationship with God: 65%.
• It helps guide my decisions in everyday life: 58%.
• It helps me become a better person: 50%.
• I am following a family member’s example: 43%.
• Church activities were a big part of my life: 35%.
• It helps in getting through a difficult time: 30%.
• I fear living without spiritual guidance: 24%.
Source: LifeWay Research survey of 1,023 Protestants, conducted April–May 2007. Respondents gave multiple answers. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.