Recently, I have been reading Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by authors, Thom S. Rainer and Sam Rainer III. It’s a good read for pastors and other congregational leaders who are concerned about the rise in generational decline within local churches across America. The book compiles information gathered from studies that reveal a staggering fact: Over two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.
Here are the ten most common reasons the dechurched said they left the church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two:
1. Simply wanted a break from church.
2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.
4. Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.
5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
6. Became too busy though still wanted to attend.
7. Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.
8. Disagreed with the church’s stance of political or social issues.
9. Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
10. Was only going to church to please others.
The study concluded that churchgoing students drop out of church because it is “not essential to their lives.”
Essential Church? identifies seven sins of dying churches that serve as the driving factors behind losing the generational battle – the battle for every generation to see the significance of the church.
Sin 1: Doctrine Dilution
“Teaching anything less than the absolute truths in Scripture will make the younger generation feel betrayed when they learn that a large gap exists between what the Bible really says and what they were taught in church” (16).
Sin 2: Loss of Evangelistic Passion
“Dying churches have little evangelistic passion. It is the responsibility of the pastor and other key leaders to exhibit this evangelistic passion” (17).
Sin 3: Failure to be Relevant
“Churches that do not find ways to become relevant in their respective communities will eventually falter. Churches that keep their internal culture unchanged for fifty years while the world around them goes through continual periods of metamorphosis typically die with the old culture” (17).
Sin 4: Few Outwardly Focused Ministries
“As crucial as Bible studies and fellowship are, dying churches gorge themselves on closed study groups and churchwide fellowship events while neglecting outreach in the community. Dying churches heavily skew their ministries internally” (18).
Sin 5: Conflict over Personal Preferences
“People within the church can squabble over the most insignificant things (pews, seats, sofas, style of newsletters and bulletins, etc.). When the church focuses on trivial matters, the greater gospel message is left on the sidelines” (18).
Sin 6: The Priority of Comfort
“Dying churches are comfortable with their ministries. They do nothing outside the bounds of their comfort levels” (19). These churches are often plagued with the attitude, “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”
Sin 7: Biblical Illiteracy
“We are to be diligent to present ourselves to God, workers not needing to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). If a church member does not understand the basics of Scripture, then they are hampered in their witness” (19).
May we prayerfully join hands and hearts for our churches that we steer clear of committing these sins that lead to failure in reaching, retaining, and if necessary, reclaiming those who become church dropouts.