The last month has seen a number of recent articles on people leaving church. The Colossian Forum published an article about losing faith in church, a Christianity Today article notes that many young people stop attending church when they go off to college, and Christian Courier is publishing a series on why your church is losing numbers.
When talking about people leaving church (and faith), there is always the question of why. As Rob Barrett points out, the why is not always as obvious as we might think:
Christian doubt doesn’t always stem from intellectual puzzles or encounters with evil. Those sorts of difficulties are real and serious, but I focus here on a different, and perhaps more pressing, reason for doubt: disappointment with lived examples of the faith. . . . There was no compelling vision for Christian living. These representatives of the next generation were looking for a pattern to step into, and what they saw as available to them, both individually and corporately, was unconvincing.
As Barrett further notes:
Research by the Barna Group has revealed six themes young people cite in their explanations for their disconnection from the church. They characterize the church as overprotective, shallow, invalidly exclusive, anti-science, simplistic and judgmental about sex, and intolerant of doubt [David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith (Baker Books, 2011), 91-93]. One way of drawing this together is that they find Christians unwilling to engage the complexities of the world as it really is.
Barrett’s words of advice about how to respond echoes how we try to talk about and live out faith at Campus Edge: an honest, transparent – even vulnerable – faith that includes our uncertainties and mistakes. As Barrett puts it,
We too often think that faith is bolstered by hiding the difficulties Christians face. Quite the opposite. Young people can sniff out hypocrisy from a mile away. The world is filled with people offering quick fixes and easy answers. Christian communities have the possibility of offering a richer vision of human flourishing, one that rings truer. When we confess our lack of easy answers and vulnerably invite others into our difficult places of struggle, the difference the gospel makes becomes apparent.
If you’d like to join others in discussing further the reasons behind why people are leaving church, including looking closer at the Christianity Today article mentioned above, come visit our Pub Theology on February 12.