Sunday, August 12, 2007

Will You Still Be Part of the Church?

I ran across this article in USA Today...and it definitely reflects my own observations and conversations with my current and former high school students...and yet the church is the hope of the world...oh, that we would see churches be filled and be active in living out and communicating the Gospel in such ways that there would be no place more meaningful or engaging for the thinking and seeking 20 year olds...the future is uncertain, isn't it?? And yet we know God's heart and vision remains beautiful and powerful...

Young adults aren't sticking with church

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
Protestant churches are losing young adults in "sobering" numbers, a survey finds.
Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.

"This is sobering news that the church needs to change the way it does ministry," 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.

The statistics are based on a survey of 1,023 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who said they had attended church at least twice a month for at least one year during high school. LifeWay did the survey in April and May. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Few of those surveyed had kind words for fellow Christians when they reflected on how they saw church life in the four years after high school.

Just over half (51%) of Protestant young people surveyed (both the church dropouts and those who stayed on in church after age 22) saw church members as "caring" or had other positive descriptions, such as "welcoming" (48%) or "authentic" (42%).

Among dropouts, nearly all (97%) cited life changes, such as a move. Most (58%) were unhappy with the people or pastor at church. More than half (52%) had religious, ethical or political reasons for quitting.

Dropouts were more than twice as likely than those who continued attending church to describe church members as judgmental (51% for dropouts, 24% for those who stayed), hypocritical (44% vs. 20%) or insincere (41% vs. 19%)

The news was not all bad: 35% of dropouts said they had resumed attending church regularly by age 30. An additional 30% attended sporadically. Twenty-eight percent said "God was calling me to return to the church."

The survey found that those who stayed with or returned to church grew up with both parents committed to the church, pastors whose sermons were relevant and engaging, and church members who invested in their spiritual development.

"Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place," Stetzer says. "People are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world."

These findings fit with findings by other experts.

"Unless religious leaders take younger adults more seriously, the future of American religion is in doubt," says Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow in After the Baby Boomers, due in stores in September.

The proportion of young adults identifying with mainline churches, he says, is "about half the size it was a generation ago. Evangelical Protestants have barely held their own."

In research for an upcoming book, unChristian, Barna Research Group director David Kinnaman found that Christians in their 20s are "significantly less likely to believe a person's faith in God is meant to be developed by involvement in a local church. This life stage of spiritual disengagement is not going to fade away."

About 52% of American adults identify themselves as Protestant or other non-Catholic Christian denominations, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey. That's down from 60% in 1990.


Ryan said...

Im thinking I have to go with Barna here and not Hybels. It seems more than ever (whether or not it is the fault of the local church is TBD), however, it seems as though in fact the church (small c) is by no means the hope of the world. It appears that Jesus is indeed the hope of the world. This may be claimed as (big C) church, or simply a lifetstyle that reflects the savior.

Benjamin said...
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Chip Huber said...

Souds...that is the question isn't it?? And the follow up question is whether or not the traditional church will be replaced by a more organic, free flow model that doesn't "look" like church, but does what an Acts 2 church is designed to do...a form versus function issue...and whether those models are sustainable in our culture...

Rick Stevens said...

Oddly enough, I am going through a similar experience in CO as a 33 year old. The churches we have visited have all seemed to be too programmed, too aimed at having a great time singing current K-LOVE songs, and nothing about substance and life-changing/life-engaging messages.

Chip Huber said...

it is funny Rick, isn't it? this longing for authentic community and engaging hands-on big vision ministry isn't just a trend of a new is a desire of the heart and the Spirit...and I do think churches will move this direction if the American church follows the lead of the third world where the Gospel has exploded...

Ryan said...

Yeah, but who is going to lead it? The odd thing is that it seems to be a movement of epic proportions of indivuals and individual groups. The only problem then is that there is no organization. Do we just leave the small c church to 'die' and be reinvented as small groups and 'sunday' schools in Starbucks with no real central organization? It may in fact be more authentic but there seems to be nothing tying the body together then.

Rick Stevens said...

Which then means that we might be asking the wrong question. It isn't "what should be done about it?" It's "what should WE do about it?"

The biggest step that I can find is figuring a way to get plugged in to a small c church in order to begin making an impact for the large C church. However, what I personally have to get past is the consumer Christian side of me that says "but the music doesn't stir me, I get distracted by the song leaders who don't look like they want to be there, the message was a bit dry...etc."

I heard it said a couple of days ago that the Sunday morning service isn't for those who are looking to grow in their relationship with Christ. It's for those seeking refuge from the outside world. My question is can we provide refuge from the outside world when we aren't being equipped with a vision and the skills to provide that refuge?

Grahame said...

I think part of the problem is that many churches are being run like businesses, rather than a House of God. We have our share here in MN that have gotten so large that people seem more concerned with the quality of the coffee than the quality of the teaching. And rather than feed starving people spiritual bread, they want to "plug you in" and see where you can serve...and many times they guilt you into doing it too! Not that it's all the fault of pastors, but it seems to me that more pastors and other church leaders are forgetting that Christ is the true head of the Church, and while pastors need to lead to some extent, they still need to be receptive to Christ's direction. I think too many pastors care too much about what other people think, which is why my wife and I left our last church. It was a big, with awesome music and great coffee, but very trite preaching (we hardly had time to open our Bibles during the sermon). And the one time I remember us actually cracking our Bibles and looking stuff up, he apologized to the congregation for making them work a little! We left soon after that. Our current church has a poor music program (a few hymns), and offers little outside of Sunday and Wednesday service, but the teaching is so solid that my parents noticed a change in us and started attending our church!

It sounds cliche, but we need to get back to basics, like in Acts 2, like you said, Chip. And we need church leaders who aren't afraid to share some hard lessons with people, knowing that it's the Holy Spirit that convicts, not the pastor (provided the pastor is truly following the Lord).

Just my 2-cents (which somehow turned into $2.50). Great post, Chip! Very interesting statistics.

Ryan said...
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Ryan said...

Read something from Bonhoeffer this morning and figured it would fit approptiately in here. Notice the C is capital in ever instance:

'It is the mystery of the community that Christ is in her and, only through her, reaches to men. Christ exists among us as community, as Church in the hiddenness of history. The Church is the hidden Christ among us. Now therefore man is never alone, but he exists only through the community which brings him Christ, which incorporates man in itself, takes him into its life. Man in Christ is man in community; where he exists is community. But because at the same time as individual he is fully a member of the community, therefore here alone is the continuity of his existence preserved in Christ. Therefore man can no longer understand himself from himself, but only from Christ.'

Chip Huber said...

I love the central focus on Christ and his life and vision...where did the Jesus focus go astray?that's why I engage so strongly with the passage and NT quote in my latest Bonhoffer's wording...