Flight From the Church

Another book from Barna has just come out, this time focusing on the reasons young people have disengaged with the church (this article is a short introduction). Now before you even read the article or the rest of this blog, please know that our linking it doesn’t express complete agreement with all the definitions or conclusions that are reached. In fact, I find it profitable to sift anything I read or listen to, and so should you. But that being said, the work that Barna does is profitable and can be learned from so give it a look!

I’d like to take a minute or two to focus on reason # 2 in this article –Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.” My experience in youth ministry, and the church in general as a matter of fact, is that the tendency is to teach and build programming down to a level where we feel it is appropriate for everyone. Now I understand the heart in this, to do the best we can to make sure no one is left behind, that everyone can walk into our churches and feel at home. The heart here is to see everyone engage with the Gospel. The problem lies in how this approach is received by those who want to go deeper in their walk with Christ.

Just as an example, we have a summer camp each year we call bootcamp. The teens that come to this camp have to apply to be accepted, it’s not a first come first serve registration process. They apply to come to a camp where the focal point of each day (of eight days) is five hours of Bible study in a book of the Bible or a biblical topic. Many times, when I tell an adult about this camp for teens, they look at me like I have four heads. As if to say “teens can’t (or won’t) do that!” Well my answer for that is yes, they can, they have (for 35 years!), and they will!

Now it would be unrealistic to think that every student in a youth group would be ready for the depth of bootcamp, but the point is that it’s a place of engagement for those who are looking for more. And oftentimes, the students who come to camp and thrive feel like aliens and strangers in their youth groups, like there is nothing meant for them in their own churches! Please don’t take this short blog to be an all-encompassing take on the subject. I’m not even suggesting that every environment should be like bootcamp. I’m only suggesting that we need environments for those students who are craving authenticity, craving the Word, craving to know their God as the central pursuit of their young lives!

So let me hear from you. Adults and youth workers – why do you think so many young people are leaving or have left the church and what can we do about it? Students – what are some things that you see in the church that actually distract you from pursuing Christ rather than driving you towards relationship with Him?


Ritchie Johnson
Director, Transform Student Ministries

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5 Responses


The main factor that church does that is distracting to youth from pursuing Christ more is simple but big. The church doesn’t believe in the capability of what the youth can do. It’s time the church gets behind their youth and support them and don’t treat them as though they have no affect on their community or any real input on what they believe can be done in the church. It is time we challenge our youth. We expect them to be adults in every aspect but their walk in Christ it seems. We need to push the furthering of the walk with Christ what ever the stage may be and stand behind their thoughts and ideas on how to impact their church. When we don’t give them a voice, then we take away any ownership they might have in the local church, which affects the way they look at church and in turn their relationship with Christ. Give them ownership and nurturing and watch them grow. I will admit Ritchie was my youth pastor for my last two years of high school and my walk today i credit a lot with the way he challenged me to further my faith and the way he supported my thoughts and ideas.


Right on Pierce. We have to set the bar high, up the expectations the culture has for young people. If we aim low, we’ll shoot low every time!


I attended a large church (not a “mega-church”) in my area from 6 months to 16. For most of my experience I felt “odd.” Whenever I would talk about a desire to study scripture or seek discussions on the meaning of scripture, my peers would look confused and my leaders would gloss over.

My mother began attending a Precept Bible study at a nearby church when I was 5 years old. From age 7-10 I sat in the back working my homework during the class discussion and video lecture by Kay Arthur. I personally witnessed the word of God transform my mother’s life. She used to be involved in a large charismatic women’s movement and the word of faith movement. Through the Precept studies on Covenant, John, and Romans, she began to understand the true Gospel.

As I began to attend the youth group at my church, I thought everyone knew it was important to study the Bible. Frustrated with the lack of maturity, I looked forward to high school and joining the leadership team. That was a great disappointment. On the outside it seemed that these students were more “mature,” but it was not a spiritually maturity that comes form being soaked in the Word of God. When I started a part-time job at age 16 I could no longer attend the youth group meetings. At 17 I left the church and visited other churches in the area. A few months later my family left the church and we began attending a brand new, tiny church focused on the preaching of the Word of God and equipping Christians to be discerning.

Today, several of my friends from that youth group have left the church. Many of my friends attended for the social aspect, and now that they are in college there is nothing left to draw them. One young man, whom I greatly respected for his passion for the Lord, has now converted to Catholicism and is focusing his efforts on “deconstructing” the faith. Other young men admire mystics like Thomas Merton and men who disregard the Bible like Eugene Peterson. From the posts I see on Facebook, these young people do not understand of the Word, Who God is, or the meaning and impact of the gospel. They ask questions like “who is Jesus Christ, really?” and then proceed to answer that question through “deconstructing” their former beliefs. I want to cry out, “The Bible tells us the true nature of Christ!”

When I look back on my life, I see the mercy of God in removing me from the influence of my Christian peers and teaching me through His word. My heart breaks for the students I used to know well. Atheists, agnostics, mystics, Catholics, emergent; so many of them fell prey to the wisdom of the age, to the deceitfulness of men.

Why am I different? Through the mercy of God. But how exactly did He rescue me? He rescued me by teaching me through His word. He transformed me through the renewing my mind through online sermons, rich (mostly old!) Christian literature, and teaching me to study the Word of God for myself. I firmly believe that I would not be where I am at today if God had not placed Precept ministries in my family.

I struggled with sin, rebellion, defiance, and anger all through my childhood. At 13 I began to study the Bible for myself. When I was 16 I went to my first Precept training workshop and then Bootcamp. The next year I attended Boot Camp again. I taught through the children’s study on James and will be teaching through Jonah at my church. I have been blessed to see my younger sister saved from the many mistakes I made, through the renewing of her mind in scripture.

Okay, so that is a LOT of background information to give before I answer your question. :) But my story is not unique. The results of my youth group are not unique.

I believe students are leaving the church for four reasons:
1. They do not know the gospel. I did not fully understand what the gospel really was until 17-18. It was a process of forgetting what I had been told and then studying Romans for myself. There are different distortions/gaps in the gospel depending on the church.
2. Students are not taught the Word of God. They hear a bunch of cool devos that are supposed to relate to their life. The youth pastors mean well, but I believe that many of them are nearly as undernourished in the word of God as the students. The students do not hear of their sin, their complete inability to save themselves, and the work of Christ on their behalf. Without out that foundation they are not being sanctified by the Word.
3. Parents are not discipling their students. Most students are only being discipled by their schools (in secular humanism for most public schoolers, private and homeschoolers are slightly better off.) This is a vast generalization, but I really don’t know of any kids in my youth group who were discipled by their parents. Those I have seen discipled by their parents were usually home schooled and/or did not attend youth group.
4. These three things are then crowned with a lack of distinction between the world and the church. In seeking to be relevant, the modern, mainstream american religious establishment has forgotten what it means to be the pure, spotless Bride of Christ.

What distracted me from following Christ:
1. Immorality in the church. Couples making out before/after the service, the life of the students outside of church (drugs, smoking, parties).
2. The lack of maturity in some of the leaders.
3. Worldliness: The T.V. shows discussed, the music played, the content and purpose of the youth group events.

Well, that’s my take. Things look pretty hopeless some days. However, I know that the Lord is raising up young people who love Him, who treasure His word, are unashamed of the gospel, and are passionate for holiness. My prayer is that there will be men and women who will stand up as the Pauls, Nehemiahs, and Josiahs. I pray I may be one of those women.

Funny enough, I desire persecution in the American church more than revival. It seems to me that there has been enough revival talk but not enough holiness. True revival always results in a lasting work of holiness in the believers life. I pray that God will cause something to happen to bring a distinction back to the church; that people would be forced to choose between the world and Christ.

In Christ, Who is my LIFE,

Gabriella (19)


Wow Gabriella, thanks for being so frank and clear in your response. Let me exhort you to not grow weary, to press on in the knowledge that God will preserve a remnant and that there are others with a similar heart as yours! God will use you to spread a passion for His Word and the Gospel which is “of first importance” as you continue to seek Him!

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