My husband is the director of the GSAE (Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals). Last Thursday he sponsored a panel discussion on youth and why they are leaving the church. It was eye opening. Convicting. Humbling. And full of truth, whether we are able to accept it or not.
The panel was made up of four leaders from our community, who spoke what the Holy Spirit had placed on their hearts. Ken Ortize, senior pastor at Calvary Spokane; Jeff Ross, youth pastor at Calvary Spokane and pastor of Union Skate Church; André Lewis from Spokane’s Youth For Christ; and Ryan Brown, youth outreach director at the Union Gospel Mission.
~ Please note: I am going to share highlights– what grabbed the attention of my husband and me as we frantically took notes. Forgive our “shorthand”. Hopefully the general message from each person is well communicated…
The Union Gospel Mission, and their director Phil Altmeyer, graciously hosted the event and fed a lovely brunch to all in attendance. Phil was also the moderator and opened up the morning with some statistics (from Barna and elsewhere):
- 6 out of 10 young people don’t stay in church.
- When millenials were asked what factors influenced their faith, church was not in their top 10 answers.
- “Church is something you attend, not something you do.”
- 80% of adults who were asked remembered being in Sunday School or some other religious training before the age of 12.
- Today’s generation wants a family– so many biological families are broken.
- They are looking for genuine relationship with authenticity and honesty. Be real.
- They see right through our “act” of having it all together. Don’t be self-righteous, with all the answers.
- They want to be accepted and affirmed.
- They don’t consider church relevant and feel they can find God elsewhere.
Ryan Brown continued our discussion:
- Not since the printing press was invented has our culture changed so radically (Facebook, internet, gaming, lack of real social interaction).
- We can’t out shout the world, but we can out love the world.
- There is a new age grouping: 9 is the new 13, 13 is the new 17, 17 is the new 20, and 20 is the new 12. *
- Our youth want to serve, to be given responsibility at a young age.
- This generation will soon be making the political choices for our country.
- We must allow hard questions and doubts. Allow cultural conversations to happen. Even when it is uncomfortable, and you don’t know the answers.
- We have created “silos of separation” in our youth ministries (preschool, grade school, junior high, high school, college). We need to connect them with a discipleship pathway.
André Lewis: “Why are they leaving the church?”
- Because they aren’t saved in the first place. Why go to church if you’re not a Christian? You don’t golf if you’re not a golfer. Why is this? Do they fully understand the depth and beauty of the gospel message? Have we been communicating the joy and excitement of our relationship with Jesus? And the justice, toughness, and holiness of Jesus?
- Because it looks like the world. “I wanna be your best friend.” Kids have a B.S. meter, and it goes off in church.
- Because church is weird. Think about it. We read an ancient text. Jesus was born of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He had to learn to walk, have His diapers changed. And then He grew up to be our Saviour. When we take communion, we are eating Jesus’ body, drinking His blood (Matthew 26:26-28). We try so hard to not be weird, that we are, in fact, fake.
- Because being slick, relevant, and hip drives them away. They want authentic and real. A multigenerational body.
Jeff Ross shared about Union Skate Church:
- We go to the hungry, broken, wounded. Those who need to hear that Jesus loves them.
- Come as you are. Gang bangers, druggies, whatever. All are welcomed.
- We disciple and mentor them. Then let them step up to lead and disciple others. We want to raise up indigenous leaders.
- The older generation is coming alongside them. Many don’t have dads, grandmas, grandpas. These people pour into their lives.
- We let them take over the service and give them a voice to share verses and what God has done in their lives.
- They desire to see what God can do. And then share it with others.
- We don’t lose them after high school. We raise up soldiers, empower and equip them, give them leadership training.
- We plug them into other ministries, where they can serve.
- A 12 year old boy came back from YFC camp and gave the gospel message to 500 – 1000 people. 40 came to Christ.
Ken Ortize shared his perspective, from a church where God is doing a new thing:
- God will show you your pride, your arrogance, your prejudices. Where you must change.
- We need to be speaking and living the truth in love.
- People are more concerned with who you are when you are not behind the pulpit.
- There are 6 generations alive right now– that is unprecedented. The “boomlets”, Generation Z– teens and preteens– will soon be the largest group ever.
- Be willing to have hard conversations. Find out what our culture thinks.
- This is a broken and damaged generation. The knee jerk reaction is to avoid them, with their piercings and tattoos and attitudes. Instead, we need to love and embrace them.
- Christian girls are getting pregnant. When their sin is discovered, they are no longer welcome. Cast off. We have become a place that is not safe for sinners, and not safe for saints.
- This is a vicious, cast-off, predatory, unloved generation.
- We must ask ourselves: Are we safe? Are we welcoming? Are we willing to love the sinners? “I just did x,y,z.” “Okay. Jesus forgives you. And loves you.”
Some more takeaways– when asked about “good kids” versus “fringe kids”, the responses were all similar:
- The “good” kids are no different, just more afraid to share. (JR) They feel ashamed, like they have let everyone down when they are not as “good” as they pretend.
- Every kid hurts, and many are cutting and suicidal– same percentages, across the board. (JR)
- No more of “not my kid”. No more shame.
- God is never shocked. The “good” kids are very similar to the “fringe” kids. The same culture permeates and fills them. (AL)
The same culture permeates and fills them. Oh, what a battle is raging for our young people! Please join us in praying for this generation!
Three final thoughts:
- Raise up an army of young people. If you want to take our city for Christ, our young people are our sharpest weapons. (JR)
- Make it a point to reach them. Include them. And embrace that Christianity is “strange”. (AL)
- Our churches are meant to be bridges, not beacons.
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” ~ 1 Timothy 4:12
* My husband and I have certainly found this to be true– both with our Sunday school class of 9 & 10 year olds, and with the 8 -11 year olds at UGM summer camp.