Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.
This alarming fact has an easy to recognize cause. Churches for the past 30 years have emphasized the entertaining of teenagers to build their youth programs. Much more effort has been put in to the style than the substance. The thrust has been placed on making it fun and exciting instead of being centered on the Word and being Christ-exalting. We have spent money on props and sets and all those things that attract but we give little time to the only thing that can truly transform a teenager—the Gospel. The Word is almost an after thought.
So when teenagers graduate out of the youth program to the regular church, all the glitter and excitement is missing. No skits, no sets, no pizza, nothing to make much of them. And so they disappear. It’s really not their fault. The blame lies with us. We have made them what they are. We have fed their narcissistic appetites. When we had the opportunity to invest time in the Gospel we were more concerned about them having fun. It hasn’t worked and it still doesn’t work.
We must be careful in our zeal to reach our kids that we don’t fail to reach them with the Gospel. We are not left here to build our youth program but to build His Kingdom. And we only get one chance. At the end of the day–only the Gospel will matter, not the skits, the sets, and the entertainment.