The One Reason Kids Leave Church (A Response to Jim Daly’s “Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church”)


Over at Focus on the Family, someone is thinking. That usually spells trouble.

Ha! I jest.

Jim Daly wrote a piece about why young people abandon the Faith (“Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church“). It’s not a bad postmortem. Many of those reasons are decent secondary excuses. They play well.

What doesn’t play well is the real reason why youth leave the Church:

Kids today look at their parents’ Christian faith and see that it changes nothing.

That one’s not in Daly’s list. And probably for a reason. Because it asks those of us of parenting age to change the way we live because of what we say we believe.

Kids are not stupid. Because we live in a therapeutic culture where everyone is aware of the world’s, the nation’s, the state’s, and their own individual problems and the need to address them, kids are constantly aware of talk vs. walk. Constantly.

Every Sunday, kids go to church, hear about the way we’re supposed to live as a Church, and then they go home and witness not one iota of that message being lived. Nada.

Sure, mom and dad may pray and read the Bible, but what part of their life is actually changed by doing so? In what ways are their Christian lives at odds with the World at all? In what ways does anything they believe change their community for the better?

Kids are highly aware of B.S. This generation can spot hypocrisy like no other generation. We live in a cynical culture that is always taking a look at reality versus talk and applying a hammer to it all. Anything that survives a bashing is worthy of a further look. Anything that doesn’t, well…

Sadly, Christianity is not holding up. The reason? Kids don’t see that the beliefs of the generation that came before them make a lick of difference.

Leaving, walking out of churchThey HEAR an ideological distinction espoused, but they don’t see it lived.

They HEAR about the Church as a countercultural community, but they don’t experience it personally.

They HEAR about a mission, but their parents don’t center their lives around that mission.

They HEAR about a relationship with Jesus, but they don’t see what that relationship changes, because it certainly hasn’t changed their parents’ way of life.

So what do kids do? They toss it all. Because it’s irrelevant. Better to join the Sierra Club. At least it ACTS on what it says it believes.

There is no greater disconnect in a church than the wildly committed youth group that does mission projects, helps the poor, evangelizes, and on and on, but then those committed kids see their parents doing none of those things.

The message sent to those young people by their parents: That “Jesus stuff” doesn’t really matter in the end. It’s something you do before you do the REAL work of being an adult. And that REAL work of being an adult is to keep your nose clean, bolster the status quo, and settle into a traditional American Dream lifestyle.

Now, I’m going to throw one more log, a big one, on this fire.

This generation of children has seen no genuine Holy Spirit revival. For the most part, the real gifts of the Spirit are not practiced before them.

Sure, in Pentecostal and charismatic churches they’ve heard a ton of prophetic words that didn’t come to pass, and words of knowledge that were off, and on and on, but the REAL gifts are outside their experience. They haven’t been shaken to the core by a genuine move of God either.

And in those churches that don’t believe that “stuff,” the kids learn that Christianity is just something you think. It’s all in your head.

Parents who don’t live the faith and a powerless church.

I want to leave too. Don’t you?

No Shield Big Enough


We can't always shelter, can we?Though we serve a big God, no shield is large enough to keep out the world.

Tuesday literally burst with life. We had a day that epitomized gorgeous here (mid-70s, dry, slight breeze, and sunny with cotton candy clouds), so I bagged work. My son and I went geocaching instead. We hunted caches down by the Ohio River in Kentucky, the shoreline scenery adding to the picturesque day.

But before we got to our destination, I had to deal with the radio.

I don’t listen to kid-friendly radio. In other words, my listenership of Christian radio borders on the non-existent. I stopped listening when they refused to play a single one of the artists I listen to on a regular basis. You know, artists who talk about Jesus, sin, and repentance.

Instead, I tend to listen to classical music, which is primarily on Public Radio. Same for my news. And as I flipped to the news station, it just so happened to be discussing gay marriage as we drifted down the highway on that stunning June afternoon.

Where’s the force field when you need it?

My son was largely oblivious because he doesn’t know that gay means anything other than happy. You know, the way I understood it as a kid, too. Sadly, it just doesn’t mean that alone anymore.

My parents didn’t talk to me about “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” When I was in college in the early 1980s, a few men tried to hit on me. Clueless, I just thought they were overtly friendly in an odd sort of way. I didn’t know that there were men out there having sex with other men. I was in my mid-20s before I finally understood what homosexuality was. Even then, it made no sense to me. How was such a thing even possible?

My son won’t get that same shielding. None of our children will.

So I had to talk about homosexuality with my son. In the end, his reaction was much the same as mine: “I wish we could get the word gay back, Dad. It’s a good word.”

I wish we could get a lot of things back.

When I was a kid, things were different:

  • You could leave your house unlocked.
  • Adults were trustworthy, not potential molesters.
  • People looked out for each other and their neighborhoods.
  • The rules everyone knew actually worked and most people weren’t fighting to change them.
  • A boy might take a gun to school and the principal would admire it, not declare a lockdown.
  • Civic pride meant something.
  • You got the sense that people lived for some aspiration or belief greater than themselves.
  • People didn’t go out of their way to avoid someone in need or in trouble.
  • Social groups that hold our society together saw increases in membership, not precipitous declines.
  • A collective trust existed that each of us knew we were a part of a great nation, the best that had ever been.

All those good things (and more) seem to have vanished. Our children will never personally experience how it was for us to grow up in that environment. Instead, they’ll have to deal with the fallout of the jihad we declared on our own values.

In geocaching, you search for little treasure containers scattered all over the planet. I think that in many ways, our society has gone searching for similar containers, each a box with Pandora’s name carved on the front. And when we find one, we fail to ask whether it should be opened. Instead, we forge ahead, unable to contain our glee over what we might find inside.

There’s nothing I would like more than for “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name” to shut the heck up already. I’d love for us to close a few of those Pandora’s boxes and know that what Pandora could not repair, we could. But I know better.

The second law of thermodynamics applies beyond the laws of physics, doesn’t it?

More Cowbell Award V


More Cowbell!I don’t normally begin a week with a More Cowbell Award, but I spent most of last week ruminating on the topic, then spoke to someone who totally agreed with the need to give out an award for this. So the award that no one wants to win returns to smiting duties.

For those following the scorecard, the More Cowbell Award is Cerulean Sanctum’s virtual stoning of stupid, vacuous, and over-the-top trends in modern American Christianity. Previous More Cowbell Awards have gone to the Church Growth Movement, children’s choirs in adult CCM, Christian conspiracy theorists, and Christian adware.

What makes this fifth edition of the More Cowbell Award so unusual is that I have nothing funny to say about the award recipients. Truth is, I’m continually appalled by them. Worse yet, I don’t read a lot of Godbloggers blogging about this issue. And unlike some other More Cowbell Awards, I have professional training and experience that may actually qualify me (GASP!) to speak on the subject.

And what would that subject be?

Well, this More Cowbell Award is given to that sound and fury that signifies nothing, yet is remarkably prevalent in our churches on Sunday, and well known throughout the summer. In other words, the fifth installment of the More Cowbell Award is presented to

Children’s Christian Education Programs
(including Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Summer Camp)

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Let’s face it: most Christian education programs for kids are little more than babysitting functions wrapped in a Christianized veneer ultimately devoid of the Gospel message.

I don’t know the people designing the curricula used to teach kids about Christ, but all I can say is those folks are doing a horrendous disservice to the parents of those kids and the kids themselves. I used to design curricula for camps and was routinely horrified at the assumptions the curricula designers made about a child’s eternal state.

Somehow we’ve created this sheen about kids that says that all of them are flesh-and-blood Precious Moments figurines. That bedrock assumption fuels almost all learning materials aimed at little kids. But here’s the truth: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Unless someone is born again, they have no relationship with God. Yet all of the Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Summer Camp curricula I’ve ever come across overlooked that truth and naturally assumed that somehow every kid got magically saved by little fairy evangelists that hovered around their pillows for ten years and whispered the Gospel in their ears.

Is there anything more tragic than a kid who’s heard every “Bible story” in the world, but never once got a real Gospel presentation aimed at their age group? By the time they’re teens, I suspect most kids can recite the stories of David & Goliath, Moses & The Burning Bush, Joseph & His Coat of Many Colors, and any other “X & Y” story we can give them each Sunday, but they don’t know the Lord and they have no idea how to be saved.

Some reading this will yell, “Well, where are the parents?” and that’s a great point. But on the other hand, the parents are assuming their child is getting a “Christian Education” from “Christian Educators,” only to find out too late that this education never went beyond the crayoned picture their child brought home captioned with the message, “God made a rainbow!” God made a hell, too, and we certainly don’t want anyone to end up there.

Too harsh? I think we parents need to get more harsh. Yes, a child may get the Gospel message at home, but until it sinks in and makes a difference in his or her life, I don’t think we should encourage Christian educators to waste time on “Jesus wants me to be good” stuff that has no effect on an unregenerate soul.

When I worked in Christian Camping I automatically tossed all the curricula the camp gave me and went back to a clear presentation of our sin nature, our separation from God, our eternal destiny, Christ’s atoning work, and our need to die at the cross in order to be born again. Anything else was gravy, but at least the kids got the basis of the Gospel.

While we’re at it, let’s also clarify that “Ashley, did you ask Jesus into your heart?” coupled with little Ashley’s head nod does not equate to knowing that Ashley is born again. In fact, what’s the deal in so many churches with cajoling kids into asking Jesus into their hearts? My Bible doesn’t list that as being the mechanism for salvation. We know what the Bible says about leading a little one astray, don’t we? Well, evidently not.

Is it any wonder that 85% of kids drift away from church between the ages of thirteen and sixteen? They’ve been David & Goliath’ed and Noah’s Ark’ed to death, but they never heard about their own need to die at the cross and be born again. Again, am I being too harsh? Well, I double-dog dare you to find any presentation of the Gospel in this popular VBS program. Evidently, asking teens how they feel about Ashton Kutcher is more important than being saved and growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I’m disgusted by the throwaway junk I see kids coming home with from Sunday School. Makes me sick to see the content of the typical VBS program. And don’t get me going on the stuff they teach kids at camp.

Am I the only one that feels this way? I guess I am, because I see little uproar from parents over the vapid Christian education their kids are getting outside the home.