[reasons they leave #2] shallow experience of christianity

Written by J. K. McGuire

J. a wife, mother and Christ-follower attempting to find the sacred in the ordinary.

October 26, 2011

mannequin

[serialposts]

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%). (The Barna Group, Six Reasons Young Christians Leave the Church)

I grew up in the church. I was a witness to what the Christian adults around me lived during the week and who they were on Sunday morning. Sometimes this added up and other times it was not even close. The children will always be the first to see our hypocrisy. They will bear witness and suffer the consequences to what comes out of our mouths and how we live. If we demonstrate a “Sunday only” faith: putting on our masks and Jesus-speak, while neglecting His word the rest of the week… they will see the pretense and not be impressed.

Somewhere in the generations before my own a warping and shifting has taken place. A warping in what it means to follow Jesus Christ, what it means to love our neighbor, and how church fits in the mix. Many in my generation and in those that are following are finding the church to be a nonessential in a world devoted to material success, finding happiness, being charitable and self-sufficient. The shifting has come because young people have found more fulfillment and acceptance beyond the walls of Church. Non-Christians are seemingly more loving, generous, charitable and forgiving while their Christian counterparts are judgmental, angry know-it-alls.

How can we expect youth to take church seriously when many of us fail to take Jesus at His word?

It is hard to swallow why young people believe we are shallow. What we are finding in many ways is the younger generation’s rejection of the hypocrisy and shallow faith of their elders, while embracing a culture that accepts them as they are.

“He began to tell me the story of his prodigal daughter, how she went to college and totally turned her back on the faith….when he finished,… he put his finger on what he thought happened. Here’s what he said…We raised her in Church, but we didn’t raise her up in Christ. You hear what he is saying? We raised her to look right on the outside but didn’t teach her about the inside. We taught her to keep all the rules, but she never really had a relationship. We made her feel guilty for the wrong things she did, but somehow she missed God’s amazing grace. We taught her to be a fan of Jesus – instead of a follower of Jesus.” (Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan)

We raised her in Church, but we didn’t raise her up in Christ. We can not expect that by bringing our children to Sunday School, youth group and church that they will through “osmosis” learn the truth of Jesus Christ, accept it as their own, and follow Him with their whole hearts while remaining connected to a church.

Everything has to change?

If we think that by changing our church programming we will be able to draw these fleeing generations back into the pews… we are wrong.

If we think by adding a laser show, fog machine and hip attire into the worship that we will encourage a younger crowd to come and see and stay… we are wrong.

If we think that by eliminating the cross, changing the Christianese to a blood-free, pain-free, hymn-free and easier to relate to vocabulary, that we will appeal to those who are seeking… we are wrong.

Are we bringing them to church or bringing them to Jesus?

This question needs to be asked along with many others: Are the young people who attend our church there because they have to be, is it a family expectation or because they want to be there? Is it out of guilt or fear of going to hell, or because they desire a relationship with God and His people? Are they drawn to the Jesus found in our congregations, or repelled by the Jesus we think they should see in us? What kind of church are we asking them to be a part of: a church that reflects Jesus or this is the way it has always been done?

Let me end this with a story: There was a young woman who in her late 20s found herself leading worship, loving others, leading small group and a homeless ministry. Over time she began to see a disconnect between what people were saying and what they were living. She began to wonder why there were so few youth beyond those who grew up there… why so many were leaving. Over time she began to question the gossip, hiding, and spiritual manipulation that was occurring. She was confused by the trendy sermon series, small group models, and use of a new leadership structure in an attempt to get people excited to live what Jesus asks. She watched them isolate people who threatened their way of ministry. She was offered a shallow way to walk the narrow way. Than one day three years ago that woman walked out those church doors and she never went back.

Hello. My name is Jessica. This is my true story. I left the church…

 

25 Comments

  1. Andy Carlson

    From my perspective: As youth….we (when I was one of those) followed role models, our parents example and those who taught us (when I was young…and as a graying oldster)….we had time to reflect and grow….our parents actively participated with us in our activities….  These days we exemplify practically zero role models (Tim Tebo?), our parents are hypocritical – separated or divorced, our families are fractured with two incomes and our activities leave zero time for play (except for the parents who can “run errands while the coach “takes the kids”), personal family interaction, personal relaxation or individual study….church is a place that either shows us empty lessons..or is practically dictatorial in expectations – without individuality..and school is a place of “pass them on” with a “you are OK feeling”…we are not permitted or encourage to explore or understand the world around us…..and whoa if we should even consider friendly relationships with those are are not “like us”…..they are the “enemy”…..we have divided our world rather that become a participant in it……and the youth see us – the church – as shallow….that is a right perspective……..to see the problems of the youth we need to look in the mirror….for they mirror us……as Pogo once said looking in the mirror….”I have seen the enemy, and he is us”…….it is we who need to change first…unless we are in right order (yet to be defined?) how on earth can we expect those who we expect to follow us…do so…….or even more to the point ….. why should they.  

    Reply
    • Andy Carlson

      Follow up….I am sorry to take so much space…I am passionate about our shortcomings for our children as individuals, as a church…and as our society represents the failings of them both. We can not rebuild society in order to change the church or parents…..we can not create laws to instill what ought to be our personal character……it is the other way around…

      Further, In my experience….those who were motivated towards the arts were practically ostracized from  the church community…..art, music, dance, theater, circus, ballet, unique sports activities……..”we don’t want our kids there because of who they might be with”…..how shallow is that….one of the primary environments  for thinkers, intellectuals, motivators and those who shape our society and culture….we chased our children away….often to the determent of their character and God given talents…….

      I can’t encourage enough the reading of Mark A Knoll’s book, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind…

      Reply
      • J.K. McGuire

        Where do I begin to list the things we agree on? Good thoughts. We chased our children away… why would they want to follow us?

        So many great questions. When we start to ask and than allow young people to really answer and not just assume we know what they are thinking or why they are not going… than we’ll begin to get it. Active listening skills 101 🙂

        Reply
        • Andy Carlson

          Yes, we need to hear them…..and we need to be more concrete in sharing our own values….and share them lovingly as Christ would……

          Reply
  2. Andy Carlson

    From my perspective: As youth….we (when
    I was one of those) followed role models, our parents example and those who
    taught us (when I was young…and as a graying oldster)….we had time to
    reflect and grow….our parents actively participated with us in our
    activities….  These days we exemplify practically zero role models (Tim
    Tebo?), our parents are hypocritical – separated or divorced, our
    families are fractured with two incomes and our activities leave zero time for
    play (except for the parents who can “run errands while the coach
    “takes the kids”), personal family interaction, personal relaxation
    or individual study….church is a place that either shows us empty lessons..or
    is practically dictatorial in expectations – without individuality..and
    school is a place of “pass them on” with a “you
    are OK feeling”…we are not permitted or encourage to explore
    or understand the world around us…..and whoa if we should even consider
    friendly relationships with those are are not “like us”…..they are
    the “enemy”…..we have divided our world rather that become a
    participant in it……and the youth see us – the church – as shallow….that
    is a right perspective……..to see the problems of the youth we need to look
    in the mirror….for they mirror us……as Pogo once said looking in the
    mirror….”I have seen the enemy, and he is us”…….it is we who
    need to change first…unless we are in right order (yet to be defined?) how on
    earth can we expect those who we expect to follow us…do so…….or even more
    to the point ….. why should they.

     

    Follow up….I am sorry to take so much space…I am passionate about
    our shortcomings for our children as individuals, as a church…and
    as our society represents the failings of them both. We can not rebuild society
    in order to change the church or parents…..we can not create laws to instill
    what ought to be our personal character……it is the other way around…

    Further, In my experience….those who were motivated towards
    the arts were practically ostracized from  the church
    community…..art, music, dance, theater, circus, ballet, unique sports
    activities……..”we don’t want our kids there because of who they might
    be with”…..how shallow is that….one of the primary environments 
    for thinkers, intellectuals, motivators and those who shape our society and
    culture….we chased our children away….often to the determent of
    their character and God given talents…….

    I can’t encourage enough the reading of Mark A Knoll’s book,
    Scandal of the Evangelical Mind…

    Reply
  3. Andy Carlson

    Oops…my comments were there…then after awhile they disappeared.  I had saved the comments so I pasted in as a new comment…..because the original was not there…now after the second post, the original is back.  Sorry…..Andy

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Hi Jessica,
     Have You read “Foxes book of Martyrs”? (It’s older than the King James Bible):
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22400/22400-h/22400-h.htm
    I think You might find some pleasant or unpleasant, forgotten historical facts about the Bible and Church in it’s pages, the Bible being true, and the “Church”, well, It’s(Foxes) inclusion in “Bible study” would, indeed, keep the kids coming back to learn more of what the Bible “really” says.

    Reply
    • J.K. McGuire

      I have not read “Foxes Book of Martyrs”. Thank you for the link. Since seem to be drawn to stories maybe these would be beneficial? Perhaps if we had to suffer or watch the suffering of our parents because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ we’d find the state of “church” (in America) to be different? There’s nothing like a gun to your head or a torch to your feet to put things into perspective. Maybe we’d have less masks and more prayers.

      “Bold” that’s the word that always seems to get my attention when reading about the early church.

      Reply
  5. Karie

    Hi Jessica! Here’s my story & comment. I live a few feet from my non-denominational protestant childhood church and pass by it daily.  Gone is the big wooden cross that hung on the front of the building, gone is the large stained glass picture window.  It was a tiny church by some of today’s standards, a small ranch type building with an upstairs that held the pews and pulpit and a small furnished basement that held sunday school classes divided with petition, a small nursery room, a small kitchen area and bathrooms.  Today it is an apartment rental office and houses a couple of other office spaces.

    My church experience is wholly abnormal and so is what happened to my church (….or maybe not).  I grew up in the 70’s and started to go to church with my older sister and our three next door neighbors when I was about 8 or 9. Neither mine or my neighbor’s parents went to church– so we were basically unsupervised.  The church being small, had a core membership of about 6 or 7 families. The minister, with a young family (his wife the organist) worked by day as an electrician and did not receive pay for his services and dedication. The young church was barely paying the overhead each month and mine and my sister’s weekly quarter our parents gave us for the donation plate wasn’t helping much.  There were lots of teens–the majority,  and then a smaller group of younger kids of which I was part.  We were pretty involved at our level– attending youth group and church camp.  I attended until I was 12.. then hit that rocky pre-teen period and left church with prospects of coming back when I was ready or needed too.  My sister continued on attending until the church broke apart.  The reason?   The movie “The Exorcist”!   The local Drive- In movie theater was doing a second showing of the movie “The Exorcist” about 5 or so years after it was first released and a lot of the teens heard about it and were curious to see it for themselves (you know the story:  Satan incarnates the body of a child and the Catholic Church is called in to perform an exorcism– graphic and gory, scary, but kinda fun and informative– the author maintains it’s based on true occurrences). It struck up a volatile dialogue and upheaval within the church with the teens on the “pro-see-movie” side along with some of the more open minded-members including the minister.. and of course there was as much passionate dissent on the other end. Basically,  it opened up a can of worms that could not be mended between the more liberal and conservative facets of the church causing a permanent rift and a few of the core families leaving the church and in a predicament of further financial instability until it was no longer able to sustain itself.    (Probably a lot like today’s LBGT dialogues).    What a mess!  I so wish our little church had been there for me to go back during my teen years.  And now stepping into an established church as an adult is probably never going to happen for me. Unless it is a megachurch (which we don’t have here) that I can get totally lost in.. they just seem very unwelcoming, very cliquey and very judgmental. 

    thanks for letting me unload! It’s been on my mind for years! 

    Great discussion points, Jessica!  Great blog bible dude!

    Reply
    • Andy Carlson

      I too truly appreciate your comments….a reflection of the self righteous and judgmental…..it closed the door of your heart.  I hope you have found a relationship with the Trinity in whatever your circumstance and that you are able to share your experiences with you family…to lead them in a new way…..keep unloading….the world of the church and church circles needs you story….I am part of the generation that caused your difficulties…maybe together in our mutual transparency others might know and grow….keep the faith….guard your heart…..allow the Holly Spirit to work….let us walk a new path together……without our sharing we contribute to the problem…..

      Reply
      • Karie

        Thanks, Andy!   yes!  By grace, I have always stayed in the word somehow (Him), even during the most rough and unchristian-etiquette. God always called out to me and I always heard it through my daze and haze!  Other than this, I’ve never spoken about my one and only church outside my sister and family. So repressed into the past– until I recently moved up the street from it.  And so strange!  To me it is a church and just seems so desecrated being anything else.   I want to go in and clear everyone out —“This is a church”!!  How I get Jesus and the Moneychangers!   And then so odd “How” it became a non-church after so many years of worship there. I know “The Exorcist” is radical and off-putting and so unbelievably unsettling.  But, maybe the bigger issue is.. how do Teens and People — all of us–live in the world?  Do we shield ourselves from the day to day realities or should we confront even the most uncomfortable aspects head on because they do exist?  And basically that is the horror movie we see everyday.. the homeless and sick and destitute and the people who have noone… All these people Jessica speaks about. It’s sad that our churches– in the present and in the recent past.. and distant past… just don’t want to deal with such horrors! 

        How do we change that?   

        As for me.. I probably won’t walk into a “church” until that can happen —Until there are open arms for everybody…

        Reply
    • J.K. McGuire

      Your church broke up over a movie? Oh man that sounds about right. SAD. I’ve watched churched-folk fight over the status of a piano lid (up or down… I am being serious), paint colors, artwork for the foyer, new sound equipment, no hymns/yes hymns, women teaching/preaching, blood references/no blood (cause that cross was blood free?), and more.

      Since leaving the church I’ve watched online churched people argue about sex, heaven/hell, LBGT issues, and more.

      We are really angry people and I’m not sure why? Loving Jesus doesn’t make you angry.

      Thank you for sharing your story. You are not alone. 🙂

      Reply
      • Karie

        Thanks J.K.–  yeah! all it took was a movie and a ‘generation gap’ to destroy a sound church congregation. but, I think those walls are fragile things.

        Reply
    • Andy Carlson

      the LBGT as well as Muslim dialog are great examples of what we (the church and church circle – however, not mine at all – I welcome a conversation with all of them….with all that are different from me) of what we are keeping the the darkness of the closet….The church is in the closet……hiding..shriveling away -.hoping (in the guise of prayer) that it will go away….shame on us, while the world passes us by….ugh

      Reply
      • J.K. McGuire

        You can’t mention LBGT and Muslim in the same comment thread… someone get the tar and feathers 😛

        Reply
        • Andy Carlson

          thanks for the humor relief!!….smile back at ya!….o/

          Reply
      • Karie

        great heartfelt sentiments, Andy.. I so feel the same.. it is so hard to state in writing….

        The world is in such fracture… and again the question arises as how we as Christians represent Jesus as this loving being.. who forgives and heals all our wounds.  The world awaits….   I too, don’t have the answers…   I guess we must each just love those in front of us.. not judging.. but doing our best to represent Christ… .We know what He would do and that is He would not turn anyone away….

        Reply
        • Andy Carlson

          Thank you Karie….I have another suggestion…why don’t we, the ones who are willing to have the conversations and to participate in the broader culture of our time, but unsure or inexperienced in the “method” or attempt….come together for our own conversation and encouragement….rather than being islands of opportunity looking for a “happening”….unsteady, unsure and fearful…let us talk about the what how and why and content….for the purpose of encouraging the conversation. Not to simply read a book…but to join in mutual direction…. I am looking for help in this isolated environment…kind of like a lone sojourner tired of the isolation form the world….longing to participate with it….while being a light…..I am so tired of the division…and turned away eyes…Help me Lord, Help us Lord to be more in the world….knowing not to be of the world……Lead us Lord in your ways of love and truth….showing love and grace and mercy (when called for)……and care and concern….and appreciation for those not of the Christian Faith….I struggle Lord to find that way….may we find your light on the path ahead….Amen..

          Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing Jessica, and I’m just musing out loud here more than responding to the post itself. I was raised by wolves (sorry mom if you read this, haha)…and found the church at age 21 when I met Christ. I haven’t left; the church has been good to me as long as I manage my expectations. Her people are my friends; they have my back; they’ve raised my arms when I needed to collapse. What I’m learning about the church is that she has many faces, many personalities, and that some are for the “shandala” folks and some are for the calm folks and some are for the studious folks and that Christ’s word can come forth regardless of the personality. Maybe our young people could find a church that’s relevant to their generation – still a timeless word, still a living Christ, just a different flavor? One God, one spirit, different generations. I’m hopeful.  

    But in another vein, there is coming a day when “the love of most will grow cold” and if the falling away is a sign of the times, it’s just a sign of the times. 

    Reply
    • Andy Carlson

      I am not so sure that can happen….the majority of the church has become inward thinking rather than outward reaching…..as individuals and bodies…church seems to be within the walls….not outside the halls….once we get them inside the walls, then they are our friends….until then they seem to be “targets” or “the enemy”.  Until we come Christ acting….with all of those around us…there will be no church….no living faith…..just the business and “practice” of religion……so say I…in the for what it is worth department…

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        I have friends in different churches here in town (Andy and I are in the same town) – The Front, Restoration, Victory, Tabernacle, FOB, and now my niece and husband are starting a new church, Oasis. Each has a different flavor and personality. I don’t agree that they are all inward thinking. Some are working with the homeless, the prisons, some are reaching out to the community (Oasis is volunteering to man the games at a public school’s halloween celebration (gasp!) )…the Tab has several support groups open to the public and I’ve facilitated one there where the people came from all over…so I see positive reaching-out of the local church. As long as we don’t expect perfection from a church (hence “managing expectations”) and we expect them to fail us now and then (like humans do and will) and we extend grace to them if/when they hurt us…then they can live and breathe and function. MANY churches don’t cling to the WORD and those I don’t even count as the “church” in the biblical sense. But for those that do attempt to preach the word and live the word, I say, “grace, grace, grace.”

        Reply
  7. Nikole Hahn

    Such a sad ending. :o( Powerful though. Yes, we can get caught up in church and treat it more like a corporation than a place to draw people closer to Jesus, but take heart…change takes but a whisper and a perseverance through difficult circumstances to reap the fruit of our labors; labors of love for a Christ who bore our sins on a cross!

    Reply
    • Nikole Hahn

      Sadly though some leave because of the first reason I put on the other post, two-income parents competing against a culture wanting to change a generation away from Christ. I think our young people need to see us apologize when we are wrong and see us follow 2 Corinthians 12:1-10…giving God the glory in our failures and letting them see Him pick us up.

      Reply
      • J.K. McGuire

        What I learned from my parents was what I saw: God changing imperfect people/parents, changing their hearts, their lives because they learned to surrender to Him.

        While the ending to this post is sad, my story is good. “I would have despaired unless i have believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13

        I gave up this huge part of me. The part that believed a certain way, lived a certain way… parts that were all focused around church. My prayer is always that the God who has called me out would show me what church means. I don’t think that will be back inside a traditional church, but I do know that there are many ways to do church. WE are the church. I love the Bride of Christ despite her messy ways. I love that our God is a God of hope.

        Three years has given me much time to think, to process the anger, the sadness and learn to rest in Him. All is well. 🙂

        Reply
        • Nikole Hahn

          My favorite psalm…psalm 27.

          Reply

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  1. why young christians leave church by Dan King – BibleDude.net - [...] Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. [...]
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[reasons they leave #2] shallow experience of christianity

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