One of the greatest phenomena of growing up in the church is witnessing the mass exodus of young adults from it in their college and post-college years. It’s a challenge that the church has faced for several generations now and for the most part it’s a challenge that hasn’t really been given it’s due. All too often we simply throw up our hands and say that it’s just a phase. We console ourselves by choosing to believe that they’ll simply come back once they get married or have kids. We settle for the comforting thought that sooner or later they’ll find their own way back into the church. We rationalize that they really are good kids and we trust that God knows what he’s doing – they won’t stray too far…

Have you heard these comments in your community? Maybe you’ve even said some of them yourself?

In his book, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith and how to Bring Them Back, Drew Dyck argues that this phenomnon is in fact true and that it is much more serious than our churches are willing to admit. Throughout the book he outlines six different types of young adults who leave the church: Postmodern Leavers, Recoilers, Modern Leavers, Ne0-Pagans, Rebels, and Drifters. He considers their typical reasons for leaving and outlines some key strategies the church can use to re-engage them. Overall it is a great book with some very helpful and accessible suggestions on how to connect these six types of leavers.

But even more important than his work on the profiles of the types of leavers is his recognition that this is a serious problem for the church today. Our common rationalizations, that they’ll come back after kids or that they’ll re-engage when they get married, are fairy-tale thoughts. Yes, that may have been the common scenario 20 or even 10 years ago, but there are several factors today that make that the rarity. Dyck argues that (1) the average age when individuals get married is getting older and older. The average young adult isn’t getting married at 22 or 23 anymore, rather the average age for a first time marriage is 27 or 28. This means that instead of only being gone from church for 4 or 5 years pre-marriage, today’s young adults are gone from the church for 9 or 10 years. This increased absence tends to decrease the likelihood of a return. Dyck also points out (2) that while an exodus has been common for many generations – the extent of the exodus has not. He quotes Harvard Professor Robert Putnam and Notre Dame Professor David Campbell who write, “Young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30-40% have no religion today verses 5-10% a generation ago).” Dyck concludes that, “Comparing today’s young people with their parents, may be like comparing apples and oranges.” (pg. 188)

So what are we to think about the exodus of young adults from our churches? Can we afford to be complacent and simply wait for their return? Dyck would argue a strong, “NO!” and I have to agree with him. We must reach out to these leavers and work to re-engage them with the transformative message of the Good News. For with out it they may never return.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.