Why Churches Decline, Fail to Grow and Sometimes Close (Part 3)

In two previous blogs we began a discussion of 12 reasons why churches decline, people leave and they fail to grow. Topics so far include that the church:

  1. Is not being united in prayer.
  2. Is a place of conflict, gossip and judgmental attitudes, refusing to deal with sin.
  3. Is not friendly.
  4. Does not empower their people.
  5. Is risk averse and takes forever to make decisions.
  6. Is unorganized, the music is poor and the services aren’t engaging.
  7. Has the domination of a few strong members.
  8. Is a poor steward and always on the brink of financial disaster.

Now today we’ll look at the final four reasons. However, since I’ve heard many church leaders talk about the need to attract younger people, this blog will focus on why young people either leave or don’t attend church.

A LifeWay survey revealed that 70% of 18–22 year-olds stop attending church for at least a year. Likewise, Barna surveys reveal that most 20 year-olds leave church, never to return. Here are just a few reasons:

  1. The church seems unfriendly to people with legitimate doubts…It’s important to feel safe in asking questions and dealing with doubts. In one study 36% of millenials felt they were unable to ask their most pressing questions in church.

 As a 13-year old, Apple founder Steve Jobs was a regular church attendee. However, he had questions regarding why God seemingly did nothing for the starving children around the world. His pastor gave him a rather simplistic answer and Jobs left the church never looking back. When people have doubts like this they should be taken seriously and addressed thoughtfully.

  1. They don’t feel connected to or valued by the people in their church. Psalm 130:14 says that we praise God in part because we’re fearfully and wonderfully made…and God’s works (including millenials) are wonderful. In 1 John 3:14 we’re told that, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”

When young people don’t experience that love in the church it’s not surprising that they leave. Churches are supposed to be communities where everyone is welcome. When they’re not welcome church growth stops and eventually that church dies either spiritually, physically or both.

  1. They believe the Bible contradicts itself, so they stopped believing in its teachings…It’s not sufficient anymore to respond to concerns by saying simply, “The Bible doesn’t contradict itself.” While that’s true, young people need more thoughtful answers.

For example, in “Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith,” Josh McDowell and Don Stewart note, “Certain passages appear to be contradictory, but further investigation will show that this is not the case… remember that two statements may differ from each other without being contradictory. “

The authors explain this concept further with examples, but their answers are thoughtful and well studied. 

  1. They don’t agree with the Church’s “simplistic and judgmental” attitudes towards sex or their antagonism towards science…In one study 1/3rd of respondents believe Christians aren’t flexible because they believe they “know all the answers.” Additionally, 30% believe the church is out of step with science and an equal percentage do not like the exclusive nature of Christianity.

There are several thoughtful answers to these objections, but they have to be presented logically and patiently. Jesus’ words were exclusive, but pastors need to earn the right to explain them by loving young people first instead of arguing with them.

In the next blog we’ll look at ways churches can address these issues.