I have just started to read a new book by Thom and Sam Rainer. The title of the book is Essential Church? and even after only reading the introduction, I am already convinced this is going to be a book that I will want to think through carefully.
In the introduction to Essential Church?, the authors point out that many of those who attend church in the U.S. drop out between age 18 and 22. In fact, 70% of those in this age range will drop out. Here are how some dropout percentages look by age category:
Between 15 and 16: +1%
Between 16 and 17: -15%
Between 17 and 18: -24%
Between 18 and 19: -29%
Between 19 and 20: -5%
So, according to the authors, churches typically pick up a few attenders in the 15 to 16 age group, but after age 16 there is a mass exodus. By the time this group reaches age 21, most of them have already left.
Why are they leaving? The authors say it is because we have failed to make church an essential part of people’s lives.
How do you know if your church is on a path to becoming non-essential? Here are seven warning signs:
- Doctrine Dilution – Watering down Scripture to cater to a younger generation only works for a short time. They eventually learn what the Bible really says and this approach stings worse in the long run.
- Loss of Evangelistic Passion – Dying churches stop speaking of Christ to a lost world.
- Failure to Be Relevant – “Churches that keep their internal culture unchanged for 50 years while the world around them goes through continual periods of metamorphosis typically die with that old culture.”
- Few Outwardly Focused Ministries– “…,dying churches gorge themselves on closed Bible studies and churchwide fellowship events while neglecting outreach in the community.”
- Conflict Over Personal Preferences– “When the church focuses on trivial matters, the greater gospel message is left on the sidelines.”
- The Priority of Comfort – “…’the way we’ve always done it’ will not pass muster if the American church is to thrive. Churches that flourish get outside comfort zones and reach into areas that are uncharted for them.”
- Biblical Illiteracy – a neglect of theological teaching.
As I stated, I just started reading this book, but I am already evaluating the ministries of my church. I have to admit we fail in many of these areas. How about you? Is your church essential to your life? How is it doing in each of the areas listed above?
I will be posting more on this book as I get further into it.
Thanks for that review; this book just moved further up my reading list. This is especially valuable to me, who seeks to integrate rising generations into the church (I’m currently posting some thoughts on the issue on my own blog). I hope to hear more of your thoughts on Rainer’s latest. God bless.
Thanks for commenting. Are you familiar with Simple Church from Rainer? I have not read it, but probably will after I finish this one.
I am, actually. It’s actually been very influential in my thinking. I would recommend it, as well as Frazee’s “Connecting Church,” which seeks to articulate church as a collective of communities.
I wonder how many people come back to the church once they’ve left at a later age.
As Christians, we often consider the endgame as most important.
Hey Ben. I do not have any stats or studies to cite, but I know I have read a few books / articles that talk about this. It is true that many come back to church after droping out, especially after marriage and having children. However, the majority either stay away or are never regularly involved in church.
Even if they do come back later, it still should make us wonder why they leave in the first place. What difference could it make if they stayed through those years?
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I left because of dogma. I never understood the correlation between living your life a certain way and following a utilitarian highly structured service. How does singing four versus of “He Leadeth Me” make me closer to God?
Having grown up in the Catholic church up north, and now attending Baptist services in the south, I see very little difference between the two mass/service structures. Plus, I have been reading since I a very small child, why do I need someone to read to me from a book I already own?
I think that also, as a child, you are forced to go to church, and you have no say on what church, faith, or religion. As you grow older, you want to see what is out there, and you should. How ccan you trust your convictions if you do not question or challange them?
Singing a song in a worship service is not about getting you closer to God. In fact, the worship service is not about you at all. It is about God’s people praising him and honoring him with our songs.
Why do you need someone to read to you a book you already own? Well, you should read it and study it on your own, but you should also value the insight of someone who has studied theology at an advanced level. Of course, it is still up to you to ultimately decide what you will do with God’s word and what you think it means.
Studies show that only a small percentage actually leave the church because they question or do not believe its teaching (or because their parents made them). The studies behind the book Essential Church? that I have been blogging about show that most leave due to life changes and a feeling that church is not vital to the person or that the person is not vital to the church. It comes down to the fact that many people who leave do not feel like they are connected in a meaningful way to the church community. They are not abandoning their beliefs (for the most part), only their involvement in a church.
I read this after I commented on the other post about why people are leaving the church at this age group. I think the fact that 17-19 shows the greatest drop emphasizes that there is something connected with becoming “an adult” and no longer being attached to parents in the church.
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