As one interested in ministry to youth and the current generation of younger people, I was interested to note an item by one Christian Piatt titled, "Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church." Piatt admits that he speaks of general trends, and it is a good thing he qualifies that way. The seven reasons are a questionable mix of valid complaints and what can frankly only be termed unbecoming whining. In the latter category are complaints that sound vain and empty to anyone familiar with the current sufferings of Christians in places like the Sudan, or in the first century.
Over the next 3 entries, let's have a look at the reasons Piatt offers. I'll also offer something contrary to his emergent-nonsensical invitation to "sit with the tension of not having the answers" and stand up with some answers.
We've Been Hurt. Here Piatt offers sub-reasons ranging from the legitimate (e.g., physical or sexual abuse) to the absurd (a youth leader throwing a Bible at him for "asking the wrong questions") to the apparently trivial (rhetoric they disagree with from the pulpit or during a study group). Being that that is such a broad range of actions, I won't fall into the trap of generalizing to the extent Piatt does.
This much can be said: The more isolated and/or trivial the offenses, the more absurd the reason becomes to leave church. Today many classify as a "wound" something a Sudanese Christian would happily endure instead of what they are now experiencing. I can also say that I'd have even harsher words for the youth leader Piatt references -- our youth "boot camps" on apologetics have as a key feature a time when each youth member (as well as attending adults) get to ask a question on any topic related to apologetics as we go around the room in turn.
The solution? On the one hand, some of these "wounded" need to buck up and get thicker skin. On the other hand, individual church members need to be taught greater responsibility so that jerks like that youth leader will be called to account and put before church discipline. The irony here is that it is, in a way, attitudes like Piatt's that have created an atmosphere in which someone like that youth leader, or even someone who commits sexual abuse, feels free to do what they feel like doing. The desire for a non-judgmental atmosphere cuts both ways.
Adult Life/College and Church Don't Seem to Mix: This one too is a mixed bag. Piatt's admonition against Sunday morning services when "young people tend to go out on Saturday nights" is rightly posed as the least important aspect of this reason, but it should not even be there at all. A life of serious discipleship tells you that if you're called to serve Sunday morning, you don't go out Saturday night, period. And I say this with the qualification that there's much about the modern church that can discourage one from serving in it.
The rest of what Piatt says on this point, however, could have been written as one of our blog entries:
In college, and before that by our parents, we're taught to explore the world, broaden our horizons, think critically, question everything and figure out who we are as individuals. Though there's value in this, it's hyper-individualistic. But Church is more about community. In many ways, it represents, fairly or not, sameness, conformity and a "check your brain at the door" ethos. This stands in opposition to what the world is telling us is important at this time in life.
Perhaps an emphasis on a year of community service after high school would be a natural bridge to ameliorate some of this narcissism we're building in to ourselves.
That's a good idea, and it can be part of a solution. It's also in line with what we've been on about here again and again about the huge difference between the social world of the Bible as collectivist and that of our modern world as individualist. What makes this of interest, and highly ironic, is that what Piatt is seeing is a somewhat distorted version of that collectivist mindset -- while at the same time, not being aware of how much that "hyper-individualism" is in opposition to original Christianity. So the other part of the solution: get educated about the roots of this problem.
That's the first two. We'll look at some more next time.