Thursday, February 26, 2009


I'm still pondering some of the things that grabbed me in Thom Rainer's recent book Essential Church. This book, based on research, talks about why two-thirds of 18-22 year-old church-going adults drop out of church. They don't necessarily leave their faith; they just leave the church

Rainer debunks one myth--that these dropouts leave the church because of their desire for personal freedom. Actually the opposite is true. Eighty percent of high school church-going students do not plan to leave the church. They feel connected and believe the church is essential in their lives. Yet when they turn eighteen, they leave in droves.

Certainly if blame is to be given, some must go for those young adults who drop out. However, the church must accept a significant part of the blame as well. These young adults are not angry at the church. They are not rejecting their religion. They are just quietly leaving the church in epidemic proportions.

Style of worship plays a significant role, especially if the style of adult services is much different from their teenage experience. But actually, more important than worship style are relationships and service. The church must do everything it possibly can to keep older students connected in community-building small groups. And the church must do everything it can to keep them serving in meaningful areas of ministry responsibilities (greeting, children's ministry, media, etc.). Those churches that have done well keeping this age group in church verify the accuracy of the above statements.

Here is another area of weakness. Churches have done well converting children to Christ; but they have not done well discipling them. As a result most of the dropouts don't see the value of staying in church. They see it as just another social venue that they can readily give up. Pizza parties and high energy programs aren't the key. Teaching them how to live life is the key. Older teenagers especially search for truth. They don't want a watered down quick devotional thought. They want to know what the Bible teaches.

Again, Essential Church is an excellent, though convicting, read. I encourage you to pick up a copy. The news is not all bad. Some churches are doing a great job keeping them. Moreover, many of these dropouts find their way back to church later in life. But our quest should be to keep them in the fold all through this critical stage of their life.

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