Why Young People Leave the (Mainline) Church

Earlier today, I posted a question on my Facebook wall about young people looking for new ways to express their faith. It kind piqued the interest of some young adult friends. Here’s what I posted:

How many of the young people in the mega-churches / new Christian groups / emerging churches came from mainline denominations?

Just some random reflections: Maybe young people are looking for new ways to experience faith;

or better connection with other young people in the same journey;

or a more relevant approach to / presentation of the gospel;

and they feel limited by the hundreds (or thousands) of years worth of tradition in the mainline denominations.

Maybe it’s the ministry “innovation” part that drives youth to new groups and new expressions of faith.



And here’s the reaction from several friends:

Reaction from Ron:

Just my opinion – many youth/young adults are drawn to big churches simply because of the “social factor” – of being part of something big & active. there’s a silent desire to be challenged which gets satiated by the “activities” and events and gimiks that only innovative or big churches can provide…

HOWEVER, social relevance is not the same as spiritual relevance; a socially relevant program which forgets the essence of Christianity – which is, to preach Christ – is but a empty attempt to create a ‘crowd’. Likewise, a spiritually relevant program which alienates the church from society is likewise self-defeating; while Christ wants us to draw closer to Him, He himself established the church to reach out to the communities…

Thus said, the most radical innovation of the church will always be its most fundamental message: of God the Father’s love, of Christ’s eternal hope, and of the Holy Spirit’s power.

From Hezron:

Two things: 1. Testimony (lifestyle) of the Leaders; 2. Genuine Community.

The next one’s from Cheekai:

Maybe faith is something to be experienced outside the ringing halls of churches. smile maybe in the real and textured lives of the people, maybe with the poor and the oppressed. Maybe that church should preach more of that. Maybe faith is a tangible thing that makes God Emmanuel even more real. Maybe.

A reaction from Val:

maybe some people have to go back to the gospel and why the church was in existence in the first place. Maybe people ought to commit themselves to what their local church really is called to do by God. And churches ought to stick to what their calling is.

Churches have their niches, that may attract or detract some people. This will might cause sifting of people and only the ones who remain in line with their local church’s vision will remain.

Regardless of members and population, i think we ought to focus on the one thing (as Paul said) that drives the existence of the church. the Gospel.

From Mariell:

Maybe some people prefer a church that is not bound by laws and principles. Maybe they want a Jesus Christ focused church, that they are under Grace, they are no longer under the law, as Jesus sacrificed Himself at the cross thousands of years ago=)

More thoughts

As a member of mainline denomination (the United Methodist Church), we need to come to terms with the reality that a lot of young people are leaving the church, or a lot of them are attending the Sunday services there instead of our local churches. Here are some evidences:

1. Some of our most active youth leaders meet with each other in the lobbies of churches like CCF, VCF, and/or other emerging Christian churches. Please take note that I’m using the term “emerging” in a loose way here, and I’m referring to new groups that have been in existence in the Philippines for less than 20 years.

2. Some youth ministry folks from other mainline denominations in the National Council of Churches in the Philippines have also expressed similar sentiments.

3. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that a lot of our former United Methodist youth leaders are moving to what they perceive as more vibrant, more dynamic, and more mission-oriented churches. If you have some doubts about this, shoot me a Private message via Facebook or Skype and let’s talk. 🙂


From the responses of my Facebook friends, here’s what I can glean:

  • Young people can be attracted by the joy of becoming a part of something big, or at least something bigger than themselves. Worshiping with 5,000 other people on a Sunday morning definitely has its appeal. But so does worship with only 50 or less people.
  • The testimony of the leaders. Mind you, it’s not just about the top leader or pastor. It is about the authenticity and integrity of those who lead the flock–be they pastors, Bible Study leaders, or youth leaders.
  • Young people are thirsty for true community… where they can be held accountable; where their faith can grow; where they can practice the tenets of the faith; where they are challenged to step out of their comfort zones in faith!
  • Young people also care about how faith intersect with the “real world.” Because of the once-a-week, Sunday worship service, it’s easy to compartmentalize faith as being exclusively part of our Sundays. But how does faith interact with our neighbors? Or the grubby, greasy, homeless man under the foot-bridge? Or those who cannot afford a computer, much less an internet connection?
  • Young people can also be choked by blind adherence to tradition and rules. While I pointed out to Mariell that churches have rules, it’s the bureaucractic and strict traditionalist stance of the church that turns off a lot of young people. Personally, I do believe that rules are good, but they should not hamper creative expression of faith!
  • Lastly, on the part of the Church, we need to remain true to what God calls us to do. That’s a commitment to the gospel and the proclamation that God’s kingdom is at hand. Like I said in a comment on Facebook: “Evangelism means communicating the gospel, and when you communicate, you should know your audience.”

I’ve heard in a podcast from Victory Christian Fellowship that they exist to reach students and young people for Christ. They know who their audiences are! And the way they present the gospel of Christ is very relevant to the lives of these students.

How about us in the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations?

Are we clear on our mission?

Are we clear on our mission – field?

Do we know who our audiences are?

Do we have a sound strategy in communicating the gospel to our audiences?

What’s working? What Isn’t? And what do we need to do next?


  1. Hi Bro,

    Great post about what’s been happening lately. In my own opinion, bigger churches have been an enticement ever since because of their creativity but that doesn’t mean that small churches can’t do the same.

    Nevertheless,it is actually the outcome,or the lifestyle of the believers in that church that will matter. Creative or not,if we don’t see a life-changing,bible-believing,spirit-filled youth in that congregation,then I guess there’s still something missing in that church.

    Besides,not all great leaders are coming from mega-churches,I know some great youth leaders who are not from big churches yet they can impact their generation profoundly.

    Just some thoughts,


    1. Thanks for your thoughts bro! Ako din, I know a lot of great youth leaders from mainline denominations. It’s just that the young people in these “new” big churches seem to be more active in sharing the gospel and doing many, different ministries. I really wish that most of our young people would also have their vibrant spirit and enthusiasm in serving the Lord. 🙂

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