why young christians leave church

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

October 21, 2011

Three out of five.

That’s what the research shows. According to Barna Group, 59% of young adults leave church permanently or for an extended period for one of the six reasons that we’ll be talking about here.

Regardless of the reasons, that’s a number that disturbs me. I don’t like it when I think about everything that I’ll pour into my kids during their lifetime, only to realize that (statistically speaking) more than half of them will likely walk away. Not necessarily because of anything that I’ve done, but because of issues with the church.

I know, I know… The statistics don’t mean that it will definitely happen to MY family. But I cannot help but think about all the pastor’s kids and the elder’s kids and all the other ‘prodigal parents’ kids out there leaving mom and dad to wonder where it all went wrong.

Statistically speaking, I’m not sure that I can be all that different.

That’s why this Barna study interested our blogging team. Barna recently published the results of study called Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. This study is also the foundation for a new book by Barna Group’s David Kinnaman called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.

Our team of bloggers will be talking about the reasons listed in this study, mostly because they resonate with us too. In this series, we’ll tackle one at a time as we search for ways that we can overcome some of these obstacles.

As you can imagine, some of these conversations have the potential to be quite explosive. But our prayer is that you’ll join in with us as we explore these reasons, and offer possible solutions. I’ll also say that we need to go into this discussion with a teachable heart.

Changing the church isn’t about changing someone else. It’s about changing ourselves.



  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Can’t wait. I met with our church youth group on Tuesday and we had a great discussion about my assigned “reason.” It was heartening and eye-opening all at once.

    • @bibledude

      i think just the fact that you talked to them about this stuff is huge! i don’t think i’ve ever met a youth or young adult that is afraid to talk about how they feel… and when they do, many of us will seem surprised to hear the truth about what they think/feel.

      i’m looking forward to your contribution to this series!

  2. journeytoepiphany

    As the mother of three young adults, I am very excited about this series…Thanks for your hard work!!

    • @bibledude

      i really believe that this will be an eye-opening and challenging series for anyone with interest in the youth (and young adults) of the church today. it’s definitely an interesting and worthwhile subject!

  3. Andy Carlson

    The book, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind kind of summed it up for me.  As an online mentor with PowertoChange, 97% of my mentees are young men 13 to 21.  I see those 6 reasons lived out every day.  To me, the church (and parents) have been more about “these are the rules you better keep them” or “let me be your friend at any cost to make you feel good and have fun”…rather than growing personal relationships, providing practical discipline, considered character building;and showing by living the values of our faith.  Kind of like…”dump” the “truth” on them…then turn away. We close the door to open and developing minds and hearts rather than lead, share and participate with  nurturing the growth.  To impart the wisdom of Proverbs is certainly different than pointing to the Book John and ,in effect, saying “Turn or Burn”.  I am not talking about the building “self esteem” thing…though important, I think that has been taken to the extreme of to the point of “enabling” – not everyone gets a trophy for all things.

    • @bibledude

      there’s definitely a balance involved when dealing with these issues. it’s important to not go soft on the Message, but still be sensitive to how we handle/communicate it. thanks for the book reference! i’ll have to check it out!

  4. Anonymous

    My sons are not in church these days. i wish one of the six reasons could apply to them, and then we could talk about it. But basically, it’s apathy. They don’t seem to see the reason for it all. They’re good kids and they believe, but right now, fellowship is just so unnecessary to them.

    • Andy Carlson

      There is a time to cultivate habits (whether infant, child, youth or adults) that are beneficial whether we like them or not…….how does a youth learn the benefits of a disciplined habit and life style….unless provoked.  Of course the need for balanced encouragement and love and personal support are necessary…and a supportive community.  I kind of thought church was more about our relationship to the Trinity…than our relationship with those in the pews…..how can our youth see “the reason for it all” unless they are shown and taught…to be absent from the environment and teachers is to be uninformed and intimately ignorant. It is kind of hard to learn math or English…if you are not in class…is our spiritual growth any different?

      • @bibledude

        i totally understand where you’re coming from on this, but am not sure that i completely agree. we (the church) put a LOT of emphasis on getting people into the church building. when we do that, it think sometimes we become reliant on the organization to teach others everything they know… when our spirituality should be evident in EVERY part of our lives… 

        i just think that if my son only learned about spirituality during the couple hours a week that he’s in the church building, then i’m missing some BIG opportunities to teach him how to make God central in every part of his life every day.

        and with the example about learning English… class may be where you get basic instruction, but you master the English language by how you use it outside of the classroom.

    • @bibledude

      yeah… that’s tough… but with my little knowledge of your situation, it seems like #2 might hit on something with them… a shallow experience may result in that kind of apathy. i really look forward to your thoughts on this series!

  5. Keri

    Wow.  Super excited for this series.  Thank you for delving into something that may make many of us uncomfortable, but that we really need to hear!

    • @bibledude

      uncomfortable… definitely. but also much needed for all of us. i think this is one of those conversations that could ultimately define what the church looks like for the next few generations.

  6. Amos


    I see the big reason people leave the church is because the
    church is filled with programs to keep people engage with very little of the manifested power of God. Churches have done very poorly at equipping the saints.
    wrote in Eph. 4: 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some
    evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for
    the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the
    body of Christ, 13 till we all come to 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 should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with
    every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of
    deceitful plotting,—.
    Churches have focused on retaining people
    within the church but Gods ways are to equip, train, and send. We support those
    that go to foreign places but seldom launch into the local area.

    Everything in nature demand growth. When growth stops decay
    sets in. When the church try to retain instead of equipping and sending we stop
    the manifested power of God. When this happens church becomes nothing more than
    a bless-me-club. This leads to designing rules and programs to attempt to keep
    people connect to our church. When we should be teaching Jesus Christ and what
    he did for us on the cross. If we can fully grasp that we will not want to
    indulge in sin. When the church starts equipping their people and get them involved in the work of ministry, sometimes within the church by often they need to be commissioned out. When this is done they will not leave. People want something real if they do not see it in church as a
    child they will look elsewhere when they grow up.
    I see the six things listed here more as the symptoms or manifestation of the problem then the actual problem itself.

    • @bibledude

      great points! i know that the reasons listed here are the things that are cited by people who leave as the reason that they left. but i’d also be willing to bet that if the church approached much of its ministry differently (as you’ve stated here), then we wouldn’t have as many of these issues. you’re absolutely right in thinking through how the church needs to change its approach, and i think we’ll see more of that throughout this series.

  7. doryan250

    It is so sad why young christians do this, I hope they will learn someday!

    Zero Dramas

  8. Kathy Robbins

    Looking forward to reading this. I have recently started going to a new church in the Methodist system. It is a new church plant. Things are being done very differently. The conversation must occur about why we are losing the youth.. Thank you for this series.

  9. Jamaal Bell

    Being in high school ministry I say there is a 7th reason: sometimes parents aren’t modeling christian behaviors in the home. In some homes there is a lack of honesty, lack of biblical knowledge in answering spiritual and life questions that teens have, and lack of willingness to journey with the teens in their christian walk. And regretfully, some modeling of christian behaviors come across as oppressive to teens and parents have a hard time articulate their purpose as a parent. Parents also sometimes do connect with youth ministry. At times we can be treated a day care instead of a interconnected community. I’ve seen the difference when parents are involved in the their kids walk and those who let their kids walk alone. My thoughts are deeper and more expansive. However, this may not be the best forum. It is difficult to talk about this and not indite the parents as if it is ENTIRELY their fault, because that is not true.

  10. Jamaal Bell

    In some black churches or churches in poverty stricken neighborhoods young people are seen as enemies of the church and the community. Especially if those young people are in gangs, deal drugs, etc. There are many systemic problems that influence young christians leaving the church.


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why young christians leave church

by Dan King time to read: 2 min