[serialposts]the back story, my story, and his story (about why young Christians are leaving the church)

In Barna’s research on why young Christians are leaving the church, they identify some numbers worth repeating here: 1) the project spanned five years; 2) the research included eight national studies; and 3) nearly three out of five young Christians “disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.” The Barna Group summary explains that a variety of reasons lurk behind this disturbing trend, and the researchers have lumped the various reasons into six themes.

I’m tackling theme #1: Churches seem overprotective. Note that this theme contained several reasons within the reason, such as “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%) or “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23%). The Barna article says that, “…much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”

OK, there’s the back story.

But I can only tell the story I know.

Let’s get something straight. When we talk about “the church,” we have to drill down. Who is the church?

I am. You are. We are.


So if I extrapolate, young people are leaving the church because I am overprotective or you are stifling or I am fear-based or we are risk averse.

When my youngest was about six, a new family arrived at her conservative Christian school. They were Hindu, first generation Americans, and had chosen the school for academic and protective reasons after their darker skinned children had been poorly treated in an Alabama public school. We became friends, and when summer came, my daughter went to their house for regular play-dates. When I needed daytime childcare for my part-time work, the mom welcomed her into their home.

We experienced Indian food; she shared photo albums of their traditional wedding, a marriage arranged by parents. I shared openly about my faith and she showed me how she had converted her kitchen pantry into a prayer closet for her household gods.


You let your daughter play there?

That’s what I heard from some of the other school moms.

I almost bought into the fear and protectiveness, until I remembered that my God could certainly handle it. If Jesus had been an earthly dad and had little kids, I thought he’d let his kids play over there too.

But lest I judge the church’s over-protectiveness, let me tell you what my kid thinks of me.

She’s 16. She thinks church is boring. She thinks me and my friends are waaaay over-protective when it comes to  movies, music, and video games. We disagree about dating and boyfriends. She has one, and she thinks church people judge her for it. (I don’t like it but I caved.) She has friends from school who have sex, do drugs, and cut themselves, and she says she’s one of the “good girls” but that church kids look at her like she’s one of the “bad girls.” She faces a lot of pressures. And she can cop a mean-girl attitude when she wants to.

Sometimes, on edgy days, I question her on her lack of faith and she scolds me and says God knows my heart, OMG mom, WTF?

I don’t want her to be a church-abandoning statistic. I pray for her daily. But from what I can tell, she already feels that “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” and “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” and “…much of my experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”

As a representative of the church, I never meant it to be that way. I meant to hold up higher standards. I meant to infuse holiness. I meant to show the love of God mixed with the fear of God. I meant to spare her from the agonies of a culture-gone-wild; to raise her in an atmosphere of Jesus is the only way to go, honey, I promise. I’ve tried it both ways and His way is so, so much better, trust me on this.

My opinion? We’ve got a double-edged sword. Young people are leaving the church for reasons that seem extremely valid to them. And in this crazy world, we—the church—have much to be over-protective about.

I guess it’s up to God to sort it all out, huh? After all, he’s the one who will write their story in the end. And then he’ll open the big book…

Lord, have mercy on the young people. And Lord, have mercy on the church. We both desperately need your touch. Amen.


[reasons they leave #1] churches seem overprotective

by Leslie Rowe time to read: 4 min