Why Some Young People Leave the Faith

In this video, G’Joe and Aimee Joseph share insights on young people who leave the faith and how churches need to respond.


The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.

G’Joe Joseph: So this is a broad question, a very general question in that many 20-somethings leave for many different reasons. So it’s very difficult to answer this question in a succinct manner in just one or two bullet points. So let me just try to kind of address some of the trends that might be happening from our perspective.

Lack of Multiple, Long-Lasting Relationships

I think that some of our thoughts on this probably are less about their 20-somethings as much as kind of what happened a decade earlier or even two decades earlier. And in their relationships that are formulating within the church outside of their friend group, it’s usually just one person, a youth minister, a youth leader that they have built kind of deep relationships with.

And I think that even a book that was referenced to us in raising our children was a book called Sticky Faith that talks about this idea of needing to have a constellation, like, three to five other mentors outside of parents to really begin to speak into that. And it’s not only that book, but Michael Lindsay’s book View from The Top. It’s a book on leaders and how they’re developed, and in that, he talks about the need for organic relationships. Not just institutional mentoring or structural mentoring, but the need for real authentic and organic relationships. And the best institutions and the best churches, I would add, create opportunities for those organic relationships in an ecosystem of relationships. And so, when you have three to five, to ten folks that really know you in your teens, when it comes to your 20s, I think there’s a less of a likelihood to just be simply leaving. But if it’s just one or two, a pastor, a youth pastor, and they’re gone by the time that you’re into your 20s, I think that, that is inevitable at some level.

Lack of Gospel Authenticity

The other trend that you can see is just the lack of real gospel authenticity. I think that we’ve created a culture in which the celebrity Christianity is king, and to be strong, and to have it put together, and to have incredible gifts of speaking, and whatever is on the surface has been what it looks like to be a real follower of Christ. And unintentionally, we have not proclaimed a gospel of weakness, a gospel of authenticity, the gospel of brokenness. And I think with that, when 20-somethings begin to see that in the real world, if you would, and they don’t see an answer coming from the church, that there’s a divide that happens, that ends up guiding them away, if you would.

Unintentionally, we have not proclaimed a gospel of weakness, a gospel of authenticity, the gospel of brokenness.

Context Is King

Aimee Joseph: Yeah. And I think I would add the idea of content and context. A lot of churches are really great at offering content, and maybe systems, or structures, like you said. “This is our women’s Bible study,” or “This is our track.” And I think this generation is really looking for, not to lose the content, but the context is incredibly significant, and it needs to be safe, and it needs to be authentic, and it needs to be relational, like you said. Relationship, relationship, relationship. We’ve really moved toward a lot of church systems and programs, and what they really need are people in their lives. And living out that content, not just talking about it. And so, I think the onus is on us, as the church, to adorn our doctrine. I think we’ve done a really good job declaring our doctrine before the world, and I think to adorn it, to live it out, to show them that there’s substance underneath the flesh, that we’re not just saying it, but it’s really changing our lives. It’s vitally important to our lives, and therefore, it can vitally impact theirs.

We’ve really moved towards a lot of church systems and programs, and what they really need are people in their lives.

Ownership Is Essential

The other thing I would say is “ownership.” I think that in part of our pandering maybe in trying to mimic the culture as the church, we’ve created this very consumeristic model of Christianity. And so, come and have this great experience since we’re going to have great branding, and great music, and great snacks, and great coffee, and all great things. And they’re getting a great experience, but they’re not part of it. They’re coming to receive, and I think that this generation, this upcoming generation really wants to have their hands to the plow. They want to roll up their sleeves and they want to get to work, and they want to be part of owning something. And I think we haven’t done a great job of giving them a seat at the table. They want to know that they are part of shaping something that’s real. And I fear that they think if I don’t show up, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t leave a hole in this place. And not that they are the center of it, but they have a significant part to play in the kingdom going forward. And I think allowing that next generation a seat at the table, not to take over and completely control, but beginning to kind of posture them for leadership and to hear what they have to say, to hear their insights from the younger generation rather than just kind of decry it as, “Oh, you’re just a millennial.”

I think a mutuality and a reciprocity of relationships between the older generations and the younger generations is very “New Testament.” I think the church seems to thrive when both of those things are present, and both have something to receive from the relationship.