Christian young adults are leaving church at an alarming rate. In a study of people ages 18 to 25, researchers found a large increase in personal disbeliefs about faith and a noteworthy decrease in overall church participation.
The research is featured in a new book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith, which debuted October 2011, and was published by California-based spiritual research company, the Barna Group.
Researchers found that 38 percent of Christians ages 18 to 25 have significantly doubted their faith. At the age of 15, 57 percent said they were less active in church and 59 percent have dropped out all together.
According to You Lost Me, one in five young Christians have transformed from the faith practices of their childhood and uprooted the church habits that were developed in their upbringing.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Author David Kinnaman said, “Everyone has his or her own mix of reasons for leaving church. It can be a pretty wide range of perspectives that create disconnections.”
These findings derived from a five-year study of 1,296 young adults who were current or former churchgoers. If these young adults used to attend services, why are they abandoning church in their post-teen pre-adult period?
According to the Barna Group, young people view churches as judgmental, overprotective, exclusive and unfriendly toward doubters.
“We are trying to understand their spiritual journeys away from church and faith,” said Kinnaman, the president of Barna Group.
Kinnaman’s research recognized that everyone is different but his book explored prodigals, nomads and exiles as the three major categories of young Christians leaving the Church.
As defined in You Lost Me, nomads are those wondering away from traditional religious institutions but say faith is still important to them. Exiles are still hopeful about their faith but feel stuck when they consider life's challenges. And finally, prodigals have completely disavowed themselves from Christianity.
However, Kinnaman explained that he loves the generation of modern 18 to 25-year-olds and views them as an intelligent group of individuals.
“I want to see the church and this generation have more connection,” he told CP.
According to You Lost Me, one in four 18 to 29-year-olds said, “Christians demonize everything outside of the church.” And one in three believes “church is boring.”
You Lost Me explored the idea that young people feel a particular disconnect with church doctrine that in their opinion is not relevant to modern society.
When it came to church teaching on sexuality and birth control, about 40 percent of young Catholics said the doctrine was “out of date.”
The book also examined the actual or perceived judgment a young adult may feel from a particular church’s congregation or leaders.
For some young people, church expectations and individual sexual experiences collided. One in six Christians said “they have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”
Kinnaman, who designed and analyzed nearly five hundred studies for a variety of churches, nonprofits, and corporations, said the issue of church dropouts is “particularly urgent.”
According to Kinnaman, churches are catering to the outdated notions of traditional young adulthood that assumes young people will leave home, get educated, find a job and start a family before age 30.
“A lot of church ministries are oriented around teens, kids or married adults,” said Kinnaman, who explained that there were only a small number of church programs that catered to the age bracket most in need.
The author cited technology, alienation from various institutions, and skepticism towards external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible as potential reasons for the rise in youth church dropouts.
In the trailer for You Lost Me, a young woman in her 20s expressed her faltering faith. However she stated, [her lack of faith] “doesn’t necessarily mean forever.”
Her account revealed the notion that while some young people have left the church, they still claimed to be Christians and may be waiting in limbo for renewed church practices.
“The key is that they want to take risks with their faith,” said Kinnaman.
He explained this phenomenon was like a train station that has various consumption points with spiritual trajectories – where people ages 18 to 25 get off and choose how they want to live their lives.
Kinnaman told CP that this particular age group consumed a lot of media and they are aware of what is happening around them potentially contributing to their decrease in church participation. He said “every story matters.”