Several years ago my husband, (also my pastor) became burdened by the growing number of young people who were leaving the church. Sadly, his burden was backed up by alarming statistics:
- 69–94 percent of Christian youth forsake their faith after leaving high school.
- An additional 64 percent loss after college graduation.
- 75 percent loss of students from The Assemblies of God churches within one year of high school graduation.
- 88 percent loss of students from churches within the Southern Baptist Convention.
- 94 percent fallout within two years of high school graduation was reported by Josh McDowell Ministries.1
What is the problem?
A heavy burden for the next generation of Christian leaders caused my husband to spend an extended period seeking God's guidance and direction for insight into this growing trend. What he came away with resulted in (for us) a completely new approach toward ministry.
We grew up in the "program-driven model" of doing church. That's all we'd ever known or experienced. My husband surrendered to ministry when only 13 years old and was asked to preach a message at youth camp the very next evening! He was called to pastor his first church when he was barely 18, before he even started college. We kind of "slid into" the pattern of "doing ministry" the only way we knew how. But after seeking the Lord on His view of the church, my husband came to a few different conclusions than what we'd practiced most of our lives.
We noticed our young families were spending more evenings attending church activities than they spent at home, often dragging young ones through the church door, rushing them into some childcare program, dashing down a hall to slip into an adult Bible study class without even having time to eat an evening meal until possibly 9:00 at night! We started counting up how many hours that our church was dividing up the family in order to have "spiritual activities." We were alarmed by what we discovered.
We are not opposed to church activities. Bible study classes, outreach events, and even church softball leagues can have beneficial aspects in our spiritual formation. But what may have begun as discipling opportunities in many cases seems to have grown into a high-speed treadmill of activities with no way to jump off.
Is the church accomplishing its mission of making disciples? Equipping believers? Evangelizing the lost? It seems we can't even keep our own kids.
Really, should it surprise us that we are losing our teens when we've spent so many hours away from them through the week? Has church robbed us, many times, from family meal-times, family devotion-times, family game nights, or family camping trips? Is this what the church should be doing?
How does Scripture address this issue?
We have a clear model for "doing church," and it may be aided by various programs—but it definitely is NOT program-driven. Study this model in Titus 2:1–8, combine that with the parental instructions given in Deuteronomy 6:1–7.
How does your church stand up to scrutiny under this model? How does your life?