Why didn’t I drop out of church?

Post after post announces that young people are leaving the church. I’ve read some good insights on the problems and the solutions.

But it makes me ponder: Why didn’t I drop out?

Full disclosure: I first went to church because that’s what the family did; later I came to believe that it was part of my new life and necessary for my growth; then a place where I could minister – the church became my calling and from age 22 and onward I have been in part or full-time ministry. [1]

All to say that, my church didn’t have to try very hard to get my interest. And while in college, church attendance was mandatory anyway!

But why not put all that to one side, because beyond these points, there were “centripetal” forces that pulled me into the church. And I’m going to add in some insights from Facebook friends, who helped me work through this topic.


I was challenged to have a first-hand faith. This factor is frequently mentioned these days, and I have to agree, it’s #1 in importance. Sure, my parents would have given me a hassle if I had tried to stop going to church. Nevertheless, a point came (when I turned 14), when I crossed a line to where I was saying: This is my church; this is my faith; this is my life I’m living, and this is the spiritual nutrition I need. Cliché alert: I began to ride my bike four hilly miles each way to go to midweek prayer meeting. And yes, even in the rain. [2]

Our first Facebook friend adds this: We happen to live in a society that encourages its teens not to take life seriously or act grown up. We should be open to the possibility that young ones in our day are especially ill-equipped for devotional life. If that’s the case, then plenty of blame also lies in the hands of parents and schools, too. Thus it is part of the Church’s work to take a prophetic stance against aspects of the surrounding society that undermine young people’s ability to maintain a lasting commitment to God and the Church.

They taught us to cultivate spiritual discernment. Somewhere I picked up that there is truth and error, and that we shouldn’t just take some adult’s word for a thing. Today young people are taught in school that there is no absolute truth, and in church they are told that there is. The result is that they tend to buck when the preacher says “I am the pastor, and what I am telling you is the absolute truth, so just believe it.” I don’t accept that kind of dogmatism from anyone, and younger people shouldn’t have to either.

Our central narrative was the Bible, not Twilight or Game of Thrones or even Tolkien. To which central narrative we related the events of our lives, our thoughts, our loyalties. Enough said?

There were leaders who asked questions and who listened to our responses. Not always, but sometimes my leaders showed themselves capable of taking our opinions into account. One year we even petitioned the pastor to dismiss our youth group leaders – I have always felt a little badly about it, but truly they did not belong in that important post. The pastor asked us probing questions. Now, I have seen what happens in many churches: Judgment would have rained down on the kids! Not so in our case: that week, out went the youth pastors, and shortly after, another couple took over, who were great. No big deal, no long lectures on why couldn’t we be more submissive.

A Facebook friend says that she counsels people who were hurt emotionally, sexually, physically by people who claimed to be Christians. So many churches prefer to maintain the status quo, rather than accept that they might be doing harm to their members. Young people need to be free to speak up when someone is hurting them.

She goes on to say that in her counseling ministry, she helps those who were harmed in churches that emphasized program without personal relationships.

I was part of a tribe. Many of my parents’ church friends were also among my friends, and they made me feel like part of the circle. We camped out together, shot pool in various basements. When I was home on college vacation I dropped in on them as I did friends of my own age.

A Facebook friend says this (and I note the importance of having adult friends in the church): My friends brought me to church and kept me in! They were my spiritual family. Along with their loving parents! If it were not for them I probably would have never gone to church the first time.

Another says: When some friends began to drive, my parents wisely let us go to church with them at night – as many as 15-20 of us went to church together, on our own volition! Of course, they came a few times to be sure it was legit, but having that freedom to choose was important.

My church did not promote itself as the only game in town. I didn’t realize what that meant until we visited other churches, and the pastor often made clear that, this was the place where God was at work. My church presented itself as a place where one could meet God. Your young people are going to figure this out for themselves, so it’s best to concede the point upfront.

Politics did not divide us, or if it divided the adults, they must have kept it to themselves. If I remember correctly, in my younger days, some church members were for the war in Vietnam, some against. Some thought Nixon was a crook, others no. What I am pretty sure of is that political dissenters were not informed from the pulpit that they were being disloyal to God and country – at least not in the way we have experienced in the evangelical church in the past 25 or so years. Focus on the Family, perhaps ironically when we consider their politically rhetoric, has observed that, “Millennials are increasingly disassociating with churches and individuals who practice what they see as strident conservative political rhetoric.” [3] I spent most of the last quarter century outside the US. Probably the greatest culture shock I received was this: when I left the country, evangelicalism was a religion; when I moved back, I found it had tranmorgrified into a political ideology.

I was given space. When I started a Bible study for teenagers, I suppose that someone must have okayed it, although I don’t remember who or how. My sense today is that the general attitude was, “Sure, why not?” Are we positive, “yes let’s!” leaders in the eyes of the young ones?

Great youth leaders. Our youth group leaders were by no means alike, but with the one exception (see above) they all were exemplary Christians, good listeners, and obviously enjoyed spending time with us. Our youth group was always smallish – 8-12 people.

Christian Service Brigade. I participated in Stockade and Brigade as a kid, served as a Stockade ranger in high school, and later helped lead AWANA for a few years as an adult while our kids were members. All great stuff.

Not everything was handed to us. It would be a truly lame generalization to say that Kids today! They just want everything handed to them; we won’t go down that road. So let’s phrase it positively: there is value in asking that young adults, teens, and even smaller kids share the work load. Any parent knows that children need to participate in chores in order to feel truly part of the family; the same goes for the church.

For me that began early: we would often have Saturday night church suppers, and afterward, when we boys (9, 10 years old) would start tearing around the church property, there was always some man to step up to say, “Okay, boys, let’s put some of that energy to good use! Let’s break down these tables and chairs and put them back in the Sunday School rooms!” Which we were happy to do; he just had to mention it! He was signalling to us that we were part of the church – the ladies had cooked us a nice dinner, and now it was the time to do our part. (Later, perhaps, one of those same boys would take charge before an adult had to ask, and we would team up and just do it). Today, I seem to hear more and more pastors complaining that no-one wants to work in the church. Well, let’s ask them. Or in addition, let’s ask what they think needs doing in the church.

Later: I thought more about the preceding and remembered: when I was maybe 5 years old, the daughter of the farmer near us dropped in to ask me a question. Our church was going to hold a Vacation Bible School, and there were many kids who didn’t go to any church. Wouldn’t I want to be her Helper and hang invitations on the door knobs? I agreed. Now, I imagine it would have been easier for her to do the job without having to supervise a small boy as well. So why did she choose to do it? In hindsight, I understand completely that her task was double-duty: invite many kids to VBS; invite one kid to serve God.
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A Facebook friend says: the church provided me with structure and stability that I had never experienced at home. The influence of godly men in my life at that time taught me more about being a man than anything or anyone. I really enjoyed working with the men of the church on various projects, cleaning the church after services – anything at all. I never wanted to leave the place. The people there accepted me and made me feel valued.

I was invited to join in. I’m not a joiner by nature, and so sometimes the “invitation” was more like “persuasion”. I cannot tell you all the small and medium tasks I was asked to do in the church. Past a certain point I started volunteering to do things and didn’t wait to be invited.

A Facebook friend adds: Give the kids a place to serve in some way. Ushering, helping in the nursery, teach the younger kids in junior church, etc. It helps them to feel like they are part of the church, which they are.

I was challenged to act like an adult. A wise mother was once asked, what was her secret to raising boys – I wish I could trace the source of the quote. Anyway, she responded: “I am not raising boys; I am raising men!” When I think of young people leaving church today, my impression is not that they are deciding to leave, but that they are failing to decide to stay. We need to show children and young people that a mature level of firmness and resoluteness are part of our walk with Christ.

Ed Stetzer sums it up this way: We cannot posture our student ministries to think like and act like a four-year holding tank with pizza. Instead, we need to prepare young adults for the spiritual challenges that will come and the faith questions they will face. [4]

A Facebook friend comments: We should expect the young ladies and young men to act like adults and treat them like adults. We tend to let them live in the “teen” world. Give them good Bible and theological training. Parents, show them the joy in serving Christ. Do things outside the church for the poor, orphans, widows. Ask the kids to help. Encourage them to “act like men”.

18-year-olds can join the military and fight wars; their stay-at-home brethren too need to be trained and deployed in God’s service. Here is one example: The church organized regular youth activities; but we ourselves decided to create and lead have our own Bible study on Wednesday nights.

There were other, more mundane, factors. One was – if you didn’t go to church on Sunday in small-town New England, well, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. Nothing on the 2 1/2 channels of TV that we were able to receive, no video games, etc.

To close: Let us pray for young persons one by one; this is where the battle takes place. And in addition, as we have suggested, let’s make sure that we express our group love for the little ones, teens, and young adults, expressing agape to them in a way that they will properly be able to decipher.

Other Post

“Frenemies of Christ”


[1] The reader might be interested in reading a part of my testimony, “My Four Decades in the Bible,” starting at https://openoureyeslord.com/2012/10/30/my-four-decades-in-the-bible-part-i/

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/december/real-reasons-young-adults-drop-out-of-church.html?paging=off – “The young adults who do drop out of church often lack a first-hand faith – a faith of their own – and a relationship with Christ that matters deeply in their own personal life apart from their parent’s pressure.”

[3] http://www.focusonthefamily.com/about_us/focus-findings/religion-and-culture/~/media/images/about-us/focus-findings/FF%20-%20Millenial%20Faith%20Retention%20FINAL.ashx. See also http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/30/5-possible-reasons-young-americans-are-leaving-church-and-christianity-behind/

[4] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/december/real-reasons-young-adults-drop-out-of-church.html?paging=off

Why didn’t I drop out of church?” By Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

5 thoughts on “Why didn’t I drop out of church?

  1. As a young man, my reason for not going to church is not because I am not a Christian or I have no interest in living my life for Christ. It is because of repetitive bad experience inside churches. In every church that I have been to thus far–and I mean every church–I have seen people who are a part of the fellowship, whom I am supposed to trust, do things that are clearly contrary to the Bible. Namely, I have seen women be abused physically, emotionally and even sexually by members of the congregation. In all of these cases, the church leadership defended the perpetrator and left the woman–the victim–feeling like she caused the problem somehow. I cannot conclude from the Bible that God hates women, but I can conclude from the church’s behaviour that the church does. In each case I was one of a few who stood against what was going on. There needed to be a lot more willing to take that stand.

    I have never experienced a church that has demonstrated different behaviour to this. They tolerate people that they should not tolerate out of greater concern for their social status, rather than living for God. I want to follow Christ’s teachings in my everyday life–and, based on my experience, I’d probably do a lot better in that regard without a church.

    1. Hello friend, Thanks for your note, and also for your patience while I thought over a proper response.

      I sympathize greatly with what you are saying. We would like to believe of ourselves that the church is just and evenhanded with all people, but you and I have both seen cases where it is not. In particular, people with spiritual authority are given preference over those who have none; men over women; people who donate much over people who donate little; people with many years in the church over people with fewer. And the list goes on.

      The church has confronted this since Day One.

      In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:1


      My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4

      And yet the apostles in Acts 6 and James in his letter both jumped in to say, “This is wrong and it can and must be corrected.” This gives me hope, that they rejected wrongdoing, promoted doing the good, and did not discourage people from attending church because of its egregious errors.

      I don’t want to promise you that you will find an ideal situation, or anything close to it, but I do ask that you not give up hope, nor give up on people who are acting foolishly – as you and I also are prone to do.

      Blessings, Gary

  2. Good thoughts through the blog. Biggest thing for me is make young folks feel valued both by Christ through His Atonement and by older Christians by challenging them to act like adult Christians and even accepting their godly opinions and wisdom. Old folks don’t have a monopoly on wisdom. My married son with three young daughters amazes me with the insight, and guidance when I ask him about certain situations I encounter. Sometimes I ask where he got that insight. Yep! He says he learned it from the “Giper” . He does not mean Reagan. I’m humbled.

    This has to be a long term battle for us to succeed in helping young adults: think home cooked meals versus fast food. It takes time and love.

    Good work here Gary summing the comments up and your additional insight. Not bad for a “swamp Yankee”.


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