The Barna Research Group has released a report containing six reasons young people leave church after age 15. This report is a summary of a book by David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church is based on eight national studies of teens who disengage from the Christian church/faith. Kinnaman discovered that the six major reasons teens leave church can be summarized under the following umbrellas (3 out of 5 teens disengage from the Christian church/faith for one or more of these reasons):
- “Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
- Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
- Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
- Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
- Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.”
I would like to focus on reasons 3 and 6. According to the report, 35% of respondents said ““Christians are too confident they know all the answers,” 29% said “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in,” 25% said “Christianity is anti-science,” and 23% said they are “turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” I think this is a wake-up call for pastors and youth pastors to deal with more with the question of how science and faith are related, showing how many scientific findings support the Christian worldview, and critically examining scientific claims that seem to conflict with Christianity. Science is an important issue to young people. If the church fails to address this issue, or dismisses science altogether, it will only cause our teens to become skeptical of the Christian faith.
As for how the church treats doubters, 23% reported having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” and 36% did not feel they were free “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.” We must understand that our young people are having their faith challenged all the time by alternative worldviews, and even direct attacks on the Christian faith. Anyone who is intellectually honest with themselves is going to have doubts about the veracity of Christianity from time to time in such a context. The church needs to be seen as open to intellectual inquiries about the faith. Teens should feel that the church is a safe place to ask difficult questions, and/or to express their personal doubts about the Christian faith. Only in such an environment will we be able to help teens work through these important questions. If the questions are not addressed, they will continue to fester in their minds and hearts and in many cases, eventually lead them away from the faith.