Had a conversation with a friend from church yesterday regarding a lost tribe. No, not one in the Amazon basin of South America, but in our own church. Truthfully, many churches suffer for the loss of this people group. Maybe yours does too.
The lost tribe? Adults 18-28.
Sure, some of these youth group graduates go on to college or leave the area to pursue jobs elsewhere. But, in general, churches don’t seem to retain this group. These young adults aren’t sticking around.
My experience has been that young people from churches with denominational or theological ties to the Azusa Street revival fare the worst. Pentecostal and Assemblies of God churches seem hardest hit.
My friend suggested that perhaps those young people never really grasped the reality of Christ. If true, what does that say about our youth groups and all these conversions and “changed lives” we keep hearing about?
It’s especially troubling when the youth group grads DON’T go away to college or move out of the area. What are we to think of their sudden disappearing act once they get their high school diploma?
True, some young adults do drift back once they marry or have children, but as many do not. What about them?
What thoughts do you have as to why this group goes missing so easily? What do you think might be the solution?
“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ “
In his book The Courage to Be Protestant, David Wells writes: “The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.
“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”
If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.
I’ll comment on the loss of teens in a future post.