Sunday Reflection: Why are young adults leaving the established churches?

This question keeps popping up. Why do we have young adults walking away from the organisation, the church, even when they confess a faith, and practice spiritual rituals?

It is of course a very complex question with many views. I would just like to tease out a few of them? From a psychological view, it could be argued that children need to differentiate themselves from their parents and distancing themselves from their parent’s church is one view, though if this was so, then why are they not filling the pews up in other congregations? 

Another view is one expressed by the Intergenerational movement, that we should engage our children with other members of the congregation, mentor or befriend them so that they have safe intergenerational connections. I can’t fault that thinking, as I have seen the empty looks on my own children as they stand in “their” church but don’t have a bond with any of the adults present. The other side of that idea is that even in places where I have seen bonds with trusted adults, they will not stay.

Another idea, is that they need people their own age to form a faith community. That I do think is an important need. Yet even young adults that have enjoyed each other’s company through the decades from their birth to adulthood, may not necessarily continue to worship together. Is it something to do with the changed role of the social lives of our young?  To me it appears that they are more sporadic with face to face connections, while they stay in contact now more easily with friends and acquaintances as they move from schools, jobs, university, and around the world (when able) due to social media. One focal point for their social activities is not the role of the church in their lives. 

I wonder if a weekly service is necessary, when you can pick up a Bible Reading and reflection app, that also connects you to others views on Instagram, when you can eat with your family and share ritual and talk faith? 

Are we experiencing a social change that requires structural change and new formatting? Have we failed to keep abreast of change? 

Now my church history is not my strong suite, but bear with me, when did a weekly service happen? During the industrial age, we know that Sunday Schools were created as a social outreach to occupy the children, who were free from work that day and running wild because they didn’t go to church. Further in time, in past agrarian eras, we read of feasts, that bought people together, but many farmers especially poor farmers would not leave the farm and walk to church every Sunday. Even in the days of Jesus, Jerusalem was THE temple. Not every Jew went to Jerusalem every week. They went to give an offering, and if male to listen to a teacher. It is only in the early days of Christian faith communities that we hear of breakfast gatherings to pray and eat together. (Acts 2:43-47, 12:12)

Society is experiencing a massive change in the way we work, where we work, how we communicate, it is only logical to me that people are changing the way they worship, and that the young are leading that charge, we just need to catch up with them. They are leading the charge and they know all the podcasts, apps, Youtube channels that allow them to form a virtual community of faith, and to look to the old local church for the “feast” day experience. 

Not every geographical community wants to change their ways, some because they need fellowship and hospitality as their expression of faith. But in being dogmatic about the way faith is expressed fail to plug their youth into the great Church, leaving them to wonder in the social media vastland instead of preparing them for what they might find out there. Forming faith connections that allow not just an expression of spirituality, but also an identity or frame in which it fits, for a communal expression of faith. 

I see OddSonder an outreach of the Murrumbeena Uniting Church in Australia as being a wonderful example that may be leading the way in this. 

There is much to pray and ponder on.

Please add your thoughts, I’d love to hear what others think.


Wendy L.

I am writing this on Wurundjeri land and wish to pay respect to all Elders, past, present and emerging.