Defining the question about the 20-somethings dropout

In a couple weeks I’ll be part of a discussion with some other denominational leaders about the missing 20-something age group from churches in our conference. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately as the meeting approaches. As far as I can tell, it seems that we’re drawing wrong and unsuccessful answers because we’re asking the wrong questions. Typically the questions are phrased something like, “How do we attract 20-somethings to church?” or “How do we retain students in our church after high school?” thus unintentionally equating church involvement with spiritual growth. Any of us could attest that this just isn’t necessarily true (i.e. Pharisees). The question also seems to indicate that we’re trying to win people to our church more than to a relationship with God. Granted, I understand what the question implies, but let’s make the question more pointed and specific so we’re not accidentally going down the wrong rabbit trails.

The question should be, “How can we help lead 20-somethings into a growing personal relationship with Christ?” If we do this, church involvement becomes a natural outcome, not a primary goal.

Theologically speaking, there’s nothing we can do draw people into a relationship with Christ — that is solely a work of the Holy Spirit. But practically speaking, it’s not an excuse to hopelessly throw our hands in the air and say, “It’s all the Holy Spirit and there’s nothing we can do about it.” It does help alleviate some of the pressure from us, though. Our job is not to make people grow because that’s impossible for us to do. Rather, our job is to lead them to Christ where they make that decision between themselves and God. We can’t be held responsible if they choose to reject Him. We can do everything we can to see that it doesn’t happen, but we’re not going to get down on ourselves and start ranting about the failure of youth ministry because of it. Let’s just talk about how we lead them to that decision and leave the results up to God.

Honestly, as both a growing believer and as someone who is very active in church, there are some things about the church that would push even me away from it. That has to be part of the discussion, as well.

I still think the real issue lies somewhere in the fact that many parents have adopted Christianity as a ritualistic religion instead of a relationship and their facade is passed on to the kids. Parents are willing to fake it at “social club” church, but kids aren’t… and neither am I.

Oh, and by the way, I’m a 20-something myself.

Links to my other posts on this topic:
What I dream for a church
Why church is often a student’s last priority
Why students are dropping out of church
Why graduates drop out of church
Youth group reflects its church
What parents’ actions often teach kids about God

Posted on March 25, 2008

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