Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Youth Ministry FAIL: The Church's 70% Dropout Rate

Happy, well adjusted ...
and out of the church within 5 years
How's your church's youth ministry going?  Before you answer that question, look beyond the crowded Wednesday night gathering with its rockin' Praise Band and the hip youth pastor who can "get real" with the kids.  Instead, look at the post-high-school dropout rate.  Where are those kids 5 years after graduation?

Statistics say 70% of them will have left the church.  Seventy percent. 

That's a very big number, and is going to include a lot of "great kids" who seem to be "on fire" during their teen years.  That also means the church is badly failing to equip our kids.  We've traded in disciple-making for the long term in favor of the short-term satisfaction of seeing happy kids in church.

If you haven't been there already, get over to Marc5Solas and absorb his observations on what is happening to our kids after they leave the church.  It's well worth reading in full, but I'll give you the condensed version here.

In short, we're working so hard to get our kids to emote for Jesus, that we're sending them out without even a rudimentary understanding of why they should.  We want so badly for them to see our Christianity as accepted and cool, that they trade in our phony hipness for the world's better product.  In other words, we're not teaching them Scripture.  We're targeting them with relevant-sounding messages by relevant-looking people and begging them to feel good about being Christians.  This is utterly inadequate, and a very thin reed on which to build authentic faith over the long term.

Now, the job isn't easy.  The American family--both inside and outside of the church--is a shattered mess.  I'd venture to say that most parents aren't looking for the kids they drop off at Youth Group to receive Biblical instruction.  To the extent they know what they want, they're looking for someone to entertain them in a safe, healthy, and positive environment ... or they want someone to fix them so they can survive high school without permanent damage.  They get little spiritual reinforcement at home.  Frankly, many of them are practically orphans ... at least spiritually.  So the church has a tall order to meet the need that presents itself.

But therein lies the temptation. There are lots of safe, healthy and positive environments.  Scouting, Boys & Girls Clubs, sports, after-school programs ... if the church is trying to compete with these we have already lost our way, because our mission and our message are utterly different from theirs.  Let them specialize in practical life skills for this world.  We preach Christ and Him crucified for eternity!  Or we're supposed to ...

It's great to focus on community, but community for what purpose?  Lots of organizations offer community.  As Francis Chan once said, "This is why I didn't believe in 'fellowship' before, because I didn't need any more 'friends'." Yet that is precisely what many of our youth programs most specialize in delivering--happy, well-adjusted kids in church.

Read Marc's crushing conclusion.  We've passed down a "faith" they simply don't need:
Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community … you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before? The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be “relevant” to them would be a comical clich√© if the effect weren’t so devastating. As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ. Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer.

We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on God’s graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, pragmatic gospel based upon achieving our goal by following life strategies. Rather than being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross we’ve set our goal on being “successful” in growing crowds with this gospel of glory. This new gospel saves no one. Our kids can check all of these boxes with any manner of self-help, life-coach, or simply self-designed spiritualism … and they can do it more pragmatically successfully, and in more relevant community. They leave because given the choice, with the very message we’ve taught them, it’s the smarter choice.

Our kids leave because we have failed to deliver to them the faith “delivered once for all” to the church. I wish it wasn’t a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: “I’ve never heard that.” I’m not against entertaining our youth, or even jumbotrons, or pizza parties (though I probably am against middle aged guys trying to wear skinny jeans to be “relevant).. it’s just that the one thing, the MAIN thing we’ve been tasked with? We’re failing. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our kids. Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.
"This new gospel saves no one."  Well, at least 30% stick around to see what happens next.


  1. Amen and amen!

    As Christians, we try so hard to be "relevant"... when what we all need is simply the REAL PRESENCE OF GOD. And without that, we've got NOTHING!

    My twin and I have a worship dance ministry. We learned the same lesson early on. The dances filled with advanced technique may be pretty to look at, but they don't hold a candle to the effect of anointed, passionate (though less challenging) choreography.

    Above all, through our ministry, we want the life-changing presence of God. We appreciate that you're doing the same thing here with your blog. We love visiting this "jail house" :)

    Blessings, Misty & Kristy

  2. This is one of those things that makes me glad that I did not grow up in the Church. I have served as a youth pastor in the past and was chastised by some parents for teaching the kids too much! The biggest problem is that Youth Group is not really a biblical idea. Fathers have the responsibility to teach their own children in their own homes (See Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6).

    I recently wrote a paper on this very subject for my MDiv and I would like to share it with you, not to get kudos, but because I honestly believe, based on the history of the Church and the way Christian Education has been done in the past, we are missing the forest for the trees! You can read that paper on my blog if you are so inclined.

  3. The Jailer, and his source document, both make an important point, from which I'll "jump off" a bit.

    Parents: Raising your child is your responsibility before the L-rd. You can't expect your church, or a Christian school, to "fix" the kid you've not disciplined and trained. The recurring command in Scripture is, "Fathers, teach your children ...", not "Fathers, pass the buck to ..." Sadly, that's something I had to (gently) explain to a number of parents in my years teaching. (Yes, I actually had a parent tell me that my job was to "fix" their kid -- I was good and passed the opportunity to disclaim any veterinary training ... that wisecrack wouldn't have helped!)

    The church and a Christian school are your co-laborers, but in a secondary role. Nothing is more important (or, frankly, more fun) than being a parent. (It's just not easy!)

  4. This is really a message for pastors and elders (and, listening in, for all of us): If you're shepherding people who have such a shallow grasp of the faith that they aren't desperate to evangelize their own children - and for you to participate in it! - are you really shepherding Christians? Is your church really a Christian church? Read 1 John 4:7-12 in light of your eagerness to evangelize the little ones in your congregation.

  5. Wow, I really can relate to all the comments. I don’t even think the problem is with the lack of teaching the youth; the adults aren’t getting the Word any more either. The Church today is worried about numbers not about the spiritual condition of their members (kids are the members as well). The Church isn’t equipping the sheep any more. I pray our pastors go back to the Bible and stop trying to make the message like the World. We are supposed to be in the World but not to conform to the World. But I also think the sheep have forgotten to pray for the pastors as well and they are falling to a lie and diluting the doctrine. Our pastors need prayer!

  6. Great post and comments by Presbyter and Cynthia. I totally agree.

    "We’re failing." So true! "We’ve failed God..." totally, that's why we need a Savior... "and we’ve failed our kids." Yes, that's why they need a sure anchor - God's truth and wisdom - to rescue us all from all of our failings. So, "Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel." Amen!! And don't let another adult walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.


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