Tim Maylander: Youth leaving church has easy fix

9:01 PM, Apr. 10, 2013  |  Comments
Teenage girl (16-17) praying in church, close-up
Teenage girl (16-17) praying in church, close-up

If you look at the statistics regarding Christian youth leaving the church in high school and, most notably, college, you'll find some alarming numbers. Figures can range anywhere from almost no exodus to only 4 percent being Bible-believing Christians as adults.

While the true number is most likely somewhere in the middle, it still must frighten pastors and concerned parishioners alike that the chances of a child remaining Christian are maybe 50-50 on a good day.

Smart church leaders will want to know why. What in higher education is turning our children away from Christ? Ironically, the answer isn't so much what higher education is doing as it is what the church isn't doing.

Now, it should be noted that the church isn't entirely at fault. Co-curriculars are taking over Sunday mornings just like they did Wednesday nights, and some people do leave the church for legitimate reasons. Also, in some of the more dire surveys listed above, many young adults come back to the church, even if they do temporarily leave it during high school or college.

But even if that's true, we're still losing about half of our youth - and half of our future - every year. This loss obviously isn't sustainable for future growth, so what can we do to fix it?

Ask the youth who depart why they leave and they'll tell you that the church is outdated or that it just doesn't make sense to them anymore. What they really mean is debatable, but a couple of options seem most likely.

Perhaps they see the church as a big brother, handing them a list of thou shalt nots that seem so restrictive as to cut off all enjoyment. Or maybe they don't want to be part of an organization that tells other people what they can and can't do in their life. Maybe they had a bad experience in church, or didn't have much of an experience at all.

The solution to all these problems is the same. We need to give youth a reason to stay - a reason to believe. And that reason is simple - love.

The church's history is littered with times when it professed judgment instead of love - the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, etc. - and it never ends well. Somewhere along the line, we turned "love thy neighbor" into "judge thy neighbor" and forgot to take the log out of our own eye entirely.

Biblically, it's clear that loving is what we're supposed to do. The gospel in one word is "love." All the commandments and laws boil down to love. Christ himself is the greatest example of love our world has ever known.

So how is this concept of love a solution to the problem? Because by preaching love, we're also living a lifestyle of love - and that's attractive.

High school and college students are quick to pick up on contradictions and double standards, something many Christians are quite good at. We'll love others only so long or they're like us or they love us back. We believe works don't save us, but we must dress up for church. Worst of all, we live for Christ for a few hours on Sunday and the rest of the week for ourselves.

They'll also point out that Christians who are willing to cast judgment on others are typically the same ones who "know" they'll be saved. Whatever happened to letting he who is without sin cast the first stone and judging not lest we be judged?

Some people will say that, by focusing on love, we're watering down Christianity. While it's correct that we shouldn't belittle Christ's works, maybe we need to take a closer look at what He actually did.

Jesus healed the sick, spoke out against those who neglected the needy, chastised religious leaders who were heaping rules and standards on believers and ultimately gave everything he had for the entire world - including those who didn't know him.

Are we doing that in our community? Are we even doing that within our church, or within our own families? Loving those people is the first step, but loving everyone else in the world is the next.

Gandhi once said, "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

That's quite possibly the most scathing review of the faith. But the problem is, he's right.

Until we get better at loving instead of hating, helping instead of crossing the street to avoid a stranger in need, we're worse off than the people who are supposedly condemned.

Remember, they'll know we are Christians by our love. It's time to start practicing what we preach. Maybe we'll be able to keep our kids in church when they're no longer ashamed to be a part of it.

- Tim Maylander is an Appleton resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. He can be reached at pcletters@postcrescent.com

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1278 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports