Why Young People Drop Out of Church (Protestant and Catholic) and Leave the Faith

by Steve Ray on November 26, 2011

empty-churchA book and a review evaluate the sad but predictable situation. The Zenit article begins:

1. Churches do have an active engagement with teens, but many of the young people do not grow up to be faithful adult followers of Christ.

2. There are a variety of reasons people drop out, so it is important not to generalize about an entire generation.

3. Churches are not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ in the context of a rapidly changing culture.

The problem, Kinnaman explained, is not that teens are any less active in church than in previous times. In fact, around four out of five teens in America will spend a part of their childhood or teen years going to a Christian congregation or parish. What happens is that this activity fades away during their 20s.

imagesFor both Catholics and Protestants the age group of those in their 20s is the least likely to say that they are committed to Christ, in spite of their previous religious experience.

An even greater problem is the disconnect with the church. Even more than a struggle with their faith in Christ, young people cease their institutional participation.

For the whole article, click here.


My own thoughts on this are these: We have changed our philosophy as a culture from God-centered to Man-centered — from theistic to materialistic. No one explained this to us. Most people catch their worldview like they catch a cold, by being too close to someone who has it. Our world view is not something we should “catch” but something we should CHOOSE. We should think through the philosophical possibilities and CHOOSE to be Christians and Catholics because IT IS TRUE!

We have failed to teach out children to think about our surrounding culture, to ask “Why is Christianity true? And if it is true then the alternatives must be false, right?” Our schools, the media and entertainment tell them there is NO GOD and to live as though He is dead. Our young people have been lied to and no one inoculated them from the humanist, materialist world view.

Janet and I During the Time we Spent Studying with Dr. Francis Schaeffer in Switzerland with our First Chrildren

Janet and I back in our Switzerland Study Days with Schaeffer

I taught my kids to be rebels, to argue with the secular culture, to resist pressure from the modernist philosophy and to know why we lived and acted differently. Many parents parents have failed to set the example. Children will usually love what their parents love. We should love the truth, love the Church, love to speak out and be counter-cultural.

Below are two good video clips of about 8 minutes each (Part I and Part II) which explain the situation in the modern world and why we have failed — not only our young people — but most all of our people.

This man in the videos is a Presbyterian minister and philosopher who was (and still is) a hero of mine. His name is Dr. Francis Schaeffer. I moved to Switzerland in 1982 to study with him. I affectionately call him my Protestant Patron Saint. I wouldn’t be a Christian today without his earlier influence in my intellect and wider life. He taught me to think and to think like a Christian who has the ultimate Truth of reality.

He taught me that it is not true because we believe it, but it we believe it because IT IS TRUE!  (He was thoroughly Protestant for which I am now saddened. (Had he lived longer I am convinced he would have become a Catholic because from my perspective his intellectual momentum was heading in that direction.)

It is because of him that I was able to stay Christian — and to love and commit my life to Christ in my early twenties.  Catholics will profit greatly from his pithy, prophetic words which he spoke in 1982 when I was in Switzerland. He predicted our state of affairs today but I think he would have been surprised and dismayed at how quickly we are falling and proving him unhappily correct.

Part I (eight minutes)

Part II (eight minutes)

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary J. Sibio November 26, 2011 at 7:23 PM

Sadly Francis Schaeffer’s son has fallen away from the faith.


Vince C November 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM

“This has a positive side, in that the Internet and digital tools have opened up immense opportunities to spread the Christian message. However, it also means there is more access to other cultural views and values and it invites people to question more their beliefs. There is also less emphasis on linear and logical thought.”

To me, this is the mixture of factors that is at the root of all the factors. Today’s youth are bombarded with negative and erroneous information about religion, which they seem to accept at face value. This is because, even if they are lucky enough to have access to counter-arguments, they seem to lack the practice or ability to sort out rational arguments or recognize logical fallacies. I am constantly amazed when I encounter the views of today’s youth that seem to operate on the premise that a logical argument and an emotional response hold the same weight in assessing whether something is true or not. One possible reason for this, which the writer did not mention is the over-feminization of society where everything is now feelings based.

Anil Wang November 27, 2011 at 1:09 AM

You’ve stated we’ve changed as a culture from God-centered to Man-centered. Actually, we’ve moved beyond that. We’ve moved from a Man-centered to an animal/machine centered view. It’s pretty common for modern humanists say it is better to kill a baby than an adult animal (since the latter is “more intelligent” and “feels more pain”). Back when I was growing up, the morality of sex was being questioned. Now, it’s no longer about morals since in modern thought, pre-teens can’t help themselves (i.e. they’re machines/animals) so not helping them have sex “safely” is “immoral”.

Everything was being uprooted when I was growing up (the 70s and 80s), and all religions were supposed to be the same, but it was still possible to find some roots that were not yet touched. For me, that was Stoicism and Platonism. That pre-modern thought protected me.

But I don’t know what this generation can latch onto. Yes, there are more internet resources now than I ever knew existed, and they played a critical role in me becoming Catholic, but the signal to noise ratio is very bad. For every one good podcast or e-book, there are a thousand distractions. And unless you are a bit of a premodern (or neopagan as C.S. Lewis was), none of it will make sense. It’s like trying to read St Augustine with Protestant eyes…you can’t see any of his Catholic ferver, and when you do, you mentally dismiss it as one of his quirks.

Actually I do know what they can latch onto. They need to see more living saints. It’s what brought people into early Christianity. Truth be know, logic is great as a defense, but it rarely changed people’s minds unless they are already looking for an excuse to have their minds changed. People are great at rationalizing inconvenient facts away. But we’re lousy at rationalizing away saintly actions. Christopher Hitchens tried to do a hatchet job on Mother Teresa…she only got more sympathy. The saintly people near us that sacrifice patiently and joyfully help us when no-one else will, do more to influence us than all the arguments in the world.

Ricky Jones November 28, 2011 at 3:38 PM

Steve, thanks for sharing those videos. I hadn’t even been born when those videos were filmed. It is true that in school we are taught to dismiss religion and even faith, I distinctly remember my high school english teacher and the effect he had on my beliefs. For those of us who grow up in non-religious families with no knowledge of God or faith, it’s easier for us to mindlessly follow these false teachings.

Only as I begin to enter adulthood do I realize the damage that this humanistic worldview that was spoon-fed to me in school really does. I’m thankful that God called me to Him when He did and for people like you who do all they can to get the message out to those who need to hear it.

@Anil – Your concluding statement is spot on. Thanks for that.

Michael Gormley February 1, 2012 at 7:09 AM

Keep up the ‘good work,’ Ray; God bless you!

hermie Serbanes May 21, 2012 at 10:52 AM

(Had he lived longer I am convinced he would have become a Catholic because from my perspective his intellectual momentum was heading in that direction.)
– this kinda illustrates what religion is: the result of wishful thinking

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