Where is everyone going? And why have they gone?

Why are so many young people leaving our churches? And why is it so hard to get “outsiders” to consider following Jesus today?

These are a couple questions I have been thinking about recently as I am reading three books; The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith, unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity … and Why it Matters, and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church … and Rethinking Faith both by David Kinnaman (president of Barna Group, which is a group that does actual – real – research on Christianity, Culture and other Faith-based topics).

The latter two books both present the results of years of research on why “outsiders” are not interested in faith and why young people are leaving.

Their extensive research has found that people outside the church have the following perceptions of Christianity:

  • 91% see Christians as antihomosexual
  • 87% see Christians as judgmental
  • 85% see Christians as hypocritical
  • 70% see Christians as insensitive to others
  • 72% see Christians as out of touch with reality

As for why young people are leaving the church in their 20s in droves, their research has found the main themes that emerge (in order of importance) are that young people leaving church do so because they feel Christians are:

  • Exclusive and not accepting of others different than themselves
  • Antiscience and believe faith and science are not compatible
  • Repressive and too concerned with rules and regulations
  • Presenting a shallow faith that has easy answers with no depth
  • Not a safe place to express doubts or hard questions to which there are no quick and easy answers
  • Overprotective; not allowing for risk-taking because of fear this could lead to dangerous places

These are hard words to swallow. Hopefully, like me, they make you at least pause and wonder about a) whether or not this tends to be true, and b) if it is unwarranted, what might be giving this impression to people.

Because I was also reading The Bible Made Impossible, a potential root problem seemed to present itself to me as well.

And that problem seems to be a way of looking at God, the bible and the world as clearly defined, black and white, and right and wrong.

We have tendency to setup borders and edges; to define the box of truth; to clearly identify who is in and who is out. To question these boundaries is to attack the entire system of certainty and security that has been constructed to make us feel assured of our standing with God.

But God isn’t like that. God cannot be contained. God is bigger than any system we construct.

God expands the boundaries and says people we think are in are actually out and people we think are out are actually in.

God invites us to have faith, not to have certainty.

God asks us to trust him – to take a leap and risk it all for him – not to have safety and security.

God is often ambiguous and has a habit of meeting us where we are rather than asking us to meet his standards first.

God’s word contains multiple voices and many perspectives intended to speak to any and all situations without having to do so directly. This diversity in scripture allows the Holy Spirit to show us what it looks like to be a follower of Christ in our own present circumstances that could never be explicitly dictated if the bible were a handbook for living.

I believe we are invited to become more like Christ and accept others where they are. Encourage risks. Invite questions. Embrace truth wherever it is found. Demonstrate authenticity and recognize we don’t have it all together. Hold beliefs loosely and be humble enough to admit we could be wrong.

These things may not stem the exodus from our churches or immediately change peoples’ impressions of Christianity, but it would be a step in the right direction and make us more like the one we follow.

So take a leap of faith. Jump without a safety net. It may seem scary, but it’s the way to life.

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