Friday, March 2, 2012

Why have young people ditched the church?

I can't pretend to fully understand why religion and politics have become so clumped together, but the recent catalyst for the conversation is GOP presidential candidate, Rick Santorum.  Even if you don't find him to your liking as a potential leader, his candid attitude toward answering questions is very refreshing.  The former Pennsylvania senator is abrupt and perhaps even abrasive to some Americans.  But I appreciate at least knowing precisely what he believes on certain issues, which is more than I can say for other presidential hopefuls, including President Barack Obama himself.  Politicians are adroit in their ability to play both sides of the ideological spectrum. 

People often leave because of our inaction.
One of Santorum's latest blurbs pertained to the idea that college was detrimental to the faith of young Americans.  He told conservative talk show host Glenn Beck that "... 62% of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it."  I suppose the first question into most people's minds would be to ask precisely how committed they are if college can derail them so quickly.

Though Santorum did not actually specify where he derived this number, I don't actually doubt the truth of his statement.  The church attendance of Americans has been consistently declining for the previous two decades for all age groups.

With respect to Santorum's assertion, I did have to spend time wondering if 'college' was the culprit for chasing away young Americans from church.  However, I wasn't the only one considering this question.

I regularly enjoy reading about faith based topics, including a series of blogs posted on CNN's website.  Among these was an article maintaining that college is not to blame for causing people to leave their faith.

The author asserted the real problem that pushed young people away from Christianity was hypocrisy -- such as the political 'spectacles' put on by religious politicians, or agenda seeking preachers like Franklin Graham.  He even cites his own experiences as nearly pushing him away from the Christian faith.

That article, to me, is beyond ludicrous in examining only a narrow aspect of what really turns people away from Christianity.  Why would anyone let politicians or television evangelists determine their beliefs about God and what exactly is in the Bible?

And let us be honest about one fact:  we are all hypocrites in some way.  If this excuse is legitimate for leaving a church or religious faith, then we could use that answer to rationalize giving up humanity altogether.

Despite the article making me cringe, I still questioned what factors led young people to leave their Christian faith behind.  In answering this question, I believe multiple factors are in play.

1.  Little background in the Bible - When people who are believers don't know the basic elements of their faith and why they believe, they are more apt to fade away.  Consequently, when questioned about their faith, they have no defense or answers to life's difficult questions.

The prevalent misuse of Scriptures by so-called evangelists has also left a terrible distaste for organized churches of any kind. The twisting of the Bible leads people to see a wrongfully contorted image of Jesus' teachings and what the church ought to be doing.

2.  College is a factor - When many young people are left to live on their own for the first time, they are prone to making poor, life-altering choices.  The environment surrounding colleges and universities encourages behavior that distinctly contradicts what Christianity teaches.

3. Little ownership in their church - Just as children were dismissed and ignored in first century Judea, they continue to be regarded as unimportant to the church. Though many churches emphasize the desire to bring in youth to the faith, that effort stops when it comes to structuring a worship service.

Young people are not aware of why certain styles of church worship are actually part of services. And if members of a church truly believe in their way of worship, they ought to explain to children why various pieces of worship are used and permit them to more fully participate.

4. Christianity is difficult - Living out the principles of the faith requires patience, self-discipline and denial of oneself. In the society we live in, humans places their own needs and wants above others, they are accommodated by instant gratification of their every whim, and they somehow believe God owes them a life without problems or pain.  Leading a life not in tune with Christian beliefs and values is so much easier.

5.  They believe no need exists - Young men and women in modern society don't see a need for Christianity.  The Bible speaks of salvation for sinners, but many Americans don't believe they need to be saved from anything.  

The issue of Americans leaving the church is far more complex than I can write in one post, but I believe there also is one major component that connects to the five reasons listed previously.  Church families have failed in truly teaching the Bible, given no ownership to young people, provided little help to children in preparing to face worldly struggles, and not shown them precisely what is at stake.  That's not so much an indictment on the church itself -- because it's ultimately the people in the churches who have dropped the ball.  I hope we start to turn it around.


  1. This is really interesting. Regardless of how I feel about the truth of religion, the slow death of social institutions we're going through right now is a little scary. I tend to think the problem is cyclic -- that eventually some calamity will force us back together -- but you see this same problem in dozens of different communities.

  2. Personally, I left my church because of 'church politics'. God really took the back seat while influential members of the church went against each other in order to either gain or retain power within the ranks. I don't think I ever truly left religion behind just because I left the church, and I don't think I'll leave it behind for college either. Especially seeing as one of my top choices is a Roman Catholic affiliated university. Yay required religion classes.