Why are so many young people leaving mainline churches with no end to the trend in sight? That’s the question being asked as a result of some surprising reports from the Association of Religious Data Archives and a 2016 Faith Communities Today survey.
In his February 2016 online column titled “Ahead of the Trend,” David Briggs wrote, “New research suggests that not only is there no end in sight, but there are few signs of hope for revival in rapidly aging, shrinking groups such as the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Consider these findings from two of the largest surveys of U.S. congregations:
In just the last five years, the percentage of mainline Protestant congregations where more than one-fifth are ages 18 to 35 has decreased dramatically. In 2010, some 4.8 percent of mainline congregations reported having that large a proportion of young adults in the pews; by 2015, just 1.3 percent reported that high a percentage, according to initial findings from the 2015 Faith Communities Today, or FACT, survey. Sociologist David Roozen, a FACT study director, reported the findings at the annual meeting of the Religious Research Association.”
Some statistics show 79 percent of cradle Catholics are no longer Catholic by the age of 23 and only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing. Roozen stated, “Just how many of today’s struggling mainline churches will survive in the next half-century will depend on their ability to embrace younger generations.”
But younger generations are becoming disillusioned with organized religion. Many do not see religion as progressive when it comes to social changes in race relations, gender equality, same-sex relationships, abortion and scientific findings. Many feel that religion puts too much emphasis on money while religious leaders — unlike their flocks — enjoy extravagant lifestyles. Also, sex scandals involving religious leaders, abuse of power and religiously sanctioned violence have youths speaking out against religious hypocrisy.
Sociologist Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute of Religion Research said for many churches, it’s no longer “a matter of tweaking a few things. It’s a matter of reinventing yourself, almost revitalizing yourself, from ground zero.”
Can religious institutions reinvent themselves to stop the downward spiral of meeting attendance by youths? Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ provided the answer to drawing people of all ages and nationalities to a spiritual movement that continues to thrive today.
Jesus spoke the truth and exposed religious hypocrisy (John 4:24; 8:32; 14:6, Matthew 7:15-23). He shared a message of love, enlightenment and inclusion for all those willing to listen, learn and make changes to please the true God (Matthew 11:28-29; 16:24-27, John 17:21-23). Many young people today experiment with drugs and sex or become members of a clique or a gang in an effort to belong and be loved. They are trying to fill a longing that is a natural human trait.
This void is best filled by parents and spiritually mature people guiding children into a real and meaningful relationship with God and His only-begotten son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3, 21). Young ones need to be helped to see God as real and interested in them (1Peter 5:7). They need to be taught the importance of how to pray and be heard by God (1John 5:14).
This takes time, patience, understanding, sympathy and love from someone who also has a close personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ. Do you? If not, why not ask your child if you can work on this together? Start a Bible study with a qualified teacher and make it an exciting family project!
Unless parents and teachers of God’s Word reach the heart of youths and help them feel engaged in their worship, young adults will continue to turn away from attending Christian meetings. They need to feel included, wanted and appreciated. We all do. Overlook children and children will overlook you.
Some children may even abandon their faith but later come to their senses. Never give up on your children. Many youths can attest to the truthfulness of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” — King James Version.
Do all you can to reach out to your children and make them feel a part of God’s diversified family. Remember, each one is trying to find their way, their place in life, and each one of them is as important to God as each one of us (Luke 15:3-7). Always make them feel that important to you.
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