Take a good look at the children in your church. By the time they’re in their 20s, seven out of ten will have left the church behind.
Not just moved away from their childhood church, but left church entirely. Staggering, isn’t it? We are retaining only 30% of the young people who come through our churches.
I believe God wants us to take this seriously. So does David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and author of You Lost Me—Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.
From interviews with some 5,000 18- to-29-year-olds, the Barna Group identified the spiritual journeys of three groups, which they call nomads, prodigals, and exiles. David is quick to note that people don’t leave the church the same way, and cautions us to be careful when talking about the journeys of faith of individuals.
The spiritual journey of nomads
Nomads are individuals who walk away who are not necessarily walking away from Christianity, but they’re walking away from the church. About 4 in 10 Christian young people will go through that sort of spiritual journey. They say that Christianity is still important to them, but it’s no longer important enough for them to go to church.
Nomads will say things like:
- “I think going to church or being with Christian friends is optional.”
- “I may return to church when I’m older, but I have no interest now.”
- “I used to be very involved in my church, but I don’t fit there anymore.”
- “I grew up as a Christian, but since then I have tried other faiths or spiritual practices.”
The spiritual journey of prodigals
Prodigals are the ones who typically come to mind when we think about young people who lose their faith. About 1 in 10 Christian young people lose their faith in Christianity altogether.
Prodigals will say things like:
- “Christian beliefs just don’t make much sense to me anymore.”
- “I don’t plan on ever returning to the church.”
- “When I was a Christian, I wasn’t encouraged to think for myself.”
- “I used to be a Christian, but I’m not now.”
The spiritual journey of exiles
“Exiles are individuals who we might describe as sort of halfway in and halfway out of the church,” David says. About 2 in every 10 young people would meet the definition of an exile.
Exiles will express things like:
- “I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world that I live in.”
- “I want to be Christian without separating myself from the world around me.”
- “I want to help the church change its priorities to be what Jesus intended it to be.”
- “I feel stuck between the comfortable faith of my parents and the life that I believe God wants for me.”
Nomads, prodigals, and exiles present a tremendous challenge for the church. They represent a loss of 70% of the precious young spiritual lives the Lord has entrusted to parents and churches. Lost sheep matter to the Good Shepherd.
But there is one more statistic that gives us hope. According to research, says David Kinnaman, “If you as a young person, a teenager, have a significant relationship with some other adult Christian in the church—beyond the youth pastor and beyond your own parents—you have something like a double or triple chance of staying faithful into your young adult years.”
What can you do to encourage relationships between mature adults and young people in your church?
About Michael Stickler
Mike is an author, radio host, and a highly sought after motivational speaker. His best-selling book, A Journey to Generosity, is widely acclaimed throughout the Christian community. Mike Stickler is the founder of The Vision Group, LTD. This organization offers ministries and nonprofit foundations a Christian perspective in overcoming the challenges of raising funds.
Over the course of his career, Mike has published over forty books that have made a difference through thousands of churches, nonprofits and foundations as they serve the world.