Hemorrhaging Faith

At Vox Alliance church (the new name for Redwood Park Church) this morning, we were treated to a review of the report Hemorrhaging Faith, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  This report looked at the reasons why people, and especially those in the 18-34 year old age group, are leaving the institutional church in Canada.

In some respects it addresses the same ground that has already been covered in the excellent book unChristian, but does so in a Canadian context.

I have yet to read the entire report, but several points caught my attention from the overview we were given.

Firstly, people’s attitudes towards the church are shaped by a variety of sources.  The primary influence on young people, perhaps surprisingly, is still their parents.  Whether positive or negative, our family experiences have a huge influence on the choices we make in life.  After parents, respondents said that their attitude towards church was shaped by their experiences or lack thereof of God, whether their church communities had felt authentic or hypocritical, and the nature of their churches’ formal teaching.

Another important point that was raised was that the biggest drop-off in church attendance is not at the end of teenagehood, but in tweenagehood.  The transition between Sunday School age and youth-group age, when kids start taking more responsibility for their own use of time, is one of the most critical life-transition events they will experience.

Unfortunately, however, the publication did not actually survey anyone in this age group, and so I feel missed out on one or two important reasons for kids choosing to leave church.

I attempted to correct this oversight this evening, with a couple of interviews with representatives of this age group, and learned that kids may choose to cease church attendance for the following reasons:

  • They do not feel they are able to ask questions, or engage in honest dialogue.
  • They are made to feel unwelcome.
  • Their time is constrained with growing responsibilities such as homework and jobs, and and there does not seem to be a clear sense of purpose in church attendance.
  • They have no age-group peers, and feel isolated.

But most importantly, I learned that kids also leave church not because they choose to, but because they are kicked out.  Kids who look wrong, dress wrong, talk wrong, or ask difficult questions are made to feel unwelcome or even asked directly to leave.

I appreciate the insight of the EVF report, but I feel that it is incomplete if it does not address the way that as well as failing to retain young people, at times the church directly drives them away.