What makes the difference between a teenager staying connected to the church or straying from it? A previous article here shares several key observations by David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group on the topic. His organization has been researching what makes for sustainable faith and while the organization is still in the midst of the study, he did share several key observations at the LOGOS Live Conference in San Antonio, Texas in October. This article continues the discussion.
What about those of the “next generation” who do leave the church? Do they share any common characteristics? And if so, does that give church leaders clues as to how we can keep our young people engaged and connected to the faith?
David described three types of young people who leave . . . Prodigals, Nomads, and Exiles.
- Prodigals: These are the ones who have walked away from their faith. They’ve made an intentional break. Presumably they’ve had a negative experience with the church or with Christians. They’re feeling angry or annoyed with Christians in general now.
- Nomads: These are the spiritual wanderers who have gradually disengaged. Church is just not as important to them as it used to be. They don’t feel that they “fit in” to church anymore and they don’t see that church matters. This is the most common group who leave the church.
- Exiles: These are the young people who now find themselves in a culture or environment that is very different than what their “growing up in” church understands or accepts. Because of their occupation or where they live or how they live, they have a need to navigate new territory and don’t see the church as being helpful or supportive.
I’m wondering if many of our nomads started as exiles as they entered college. Unless they were very intentional in connecting with a Christian community it would be all too easy to move deeper and deeper into a place that separates them from what they experienced in their home-church environment — no matter how beloved at the time. And then that separation just becomes the norm and there’s little recognition of the importance of a church community or for practicing their faith.
Some questions to ponder:
What do you do to maintain the connection with the post-high school (and particularly college attending) youth from your church? Is it important to keep them connected not only to their home church leaders but also to their home church peers?
What are some ideas to reconnect with them on a regular basis and when they come home for their natural seasonal breaks? Do you plan mission trips or on-line Bible studies? Fellowship gatherings?
Liz Perraud is the Executive Director of GenOn Ministries, a non-denominational Christian organization that works in partnership with local church leaders to build disciples of Jesus Christ through intergenerational relationships.