What happened to all of our young people? (Part 1)

Since I am a pastor on a college campus I am often asked the question by other pastors or church leaders where have all of our young people gone?

Why have all the young people left our church?  How do we attract more young people to our church?

I think some people are looking for an easy answer like go buy 2 smoke machines, a fedora hat & girl jeans & have your worship leader sing 7 Hillsong songs each week & they will come.  Others are looking for validation to their philosophy that the next generation is a lost cause.  Others genuinely want to examine the problem.  So I would like to spend the next few weeks giving some reasons why I believe young people are leaving the church & what we can do about it!

The reality is young people are leaving the church at alarming rates you can read article after article discussing the problem.  The facts are around 70% of students in our youth ministries will leave the church when they go off to college.  Only around 12% of 18 – 25 year old’s attend church consistently and those numbers get worse every year!

I want to start this series with some thoughts by  Will Mancini & from his blog – I don’t agree with all of his solutions but I certainly agree with his diagnosis of the problem.

Here is what Will says,

Generational relevance is always a leadership (I would say discipleship) issue first.

 Because the gift of leadership naturally develops leaders in its wake, a lack of presence with the next generation is a lack of leadership discipleship in some way. The implications are:

  • Leaders beget younger leaders
  • Those leaders and churches who reach young people aren’t thinking about it as much as it is happening naturally
  • The more conscious you are of the problem of reaching younger people, there is a leadership issue to identify
  • Younger people are primarily reached by younger leaders
  • If you don’t have young leaders, you don’t have old leaders

That last one is very difficult to swallow but true for every church I have examined!  My working premise is that 90% of people under the age of 35 have never been discipled.  It is alarming how many young pastors, students or leaders sit down with me & explain to me that they know how to teach a lesson, they know lots of leadership principles and church growth strategies but they have no idea how to disciple anyone.  Why?

Not because they don’t have the desire but because they have never been given the tools.

We need to train the next generation & give them a language & a license for what disicpleship is & isn’t.  It isn’t a class you take on Sunday it is a relationship with a mentor who says to you follow me as I follow Jesus.

The first question I ask anyone who asks me what happened to all of our young people is, how many people under the age of 30 do you meet with weekly to pray, study, eat, laugh and do life together.  95% of them say none!

The reason we don’t invest in young people varies but the most common are:

  • Fear – that the generational gap is too large & that I can’t connect.  Fear that I have nothing to offer or don’t know all the answers
  • Time – This takes an enormous amount of time away from sermon prep & other church duties that pull us away from our “other responsibilities.”
  • Young People let us down – They are not dependable, they don’t show up, they fall, they fail & make mistakes
  • Discipleship can’t be microwaved – There are not 4 easy steps or a simple 6 week program this process takes years and is often messy & disappointing.

So my first answer to what happened to all of our young people is……..

  • They need more than a sermon they need a leader
  • They need more than a program they need a partner
  • They need more than a principle they need a living example
  • They need more of you!
  • They need to be in your home, they need to eat at your table, they need to watch you love your family & they need to see you live as Jesus lived!

So for anyone looking for a start, please don’t go out & buy a pair of skinny jeans or use the phrase “you da boss” in your sermon.  Start by sitting down with a young person who you see potential in & tell them you believe in them!  Tell them you see Jesus in them and you want to walk beside them.  Ask them to allow you to disciple them & start pouring your life into them.  Simply say, Follow me as I follow Jesus!


2 thoughts on “What happened to all of our young people? (Part 1)

  1. JM says:

    Hey man, just found your blog. I think it’s really cool what all’s going down with you at Louisville.

    “My working premise is that 90% of people under the age of 35 have never been discipled.”

    I think the even scarier thing about that is, if that 90% have never been discipled, then that 90% probably aren’t making disciples and doing mission well themselves.

    College students that are believers have got to realize that we are all priests, we all have the Spirit of God, and we have our authority straight from Jesus Himself to train and apprentice others in the ways of the kingdom. It’s sounds cool, but it’s so hard bro.

  2. Very good point JM – I think we want to find the magic solution or the golden ticket instead of putting in the hard work of discipleship!

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