Losing the Millennial Generation

Several years ago my husband, (also my pastor) became burdened by the growing number of young people who were leaving the church. Sadly, his burden was backed up by alarming statistics:

  • 69–94 percent of Christian youth forsake their faith after leaving high school.
  • An additional 64 percent loss after college graduation.
  • 75 percent loss of students from The Assemblies of God churches within one year of high school graduation.
  • 88 percent loss of students from churches within the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • 94 percent fallout within two years of high school graduation was reported by Josh McDowell Ministries.1

What is the problem?

A heavy burden for the next generation of Christian leaders caused my husband to spend an extended period seeking God’s guidance and direction for insight into this growing trend. What he came away with resulted in (for us) a completely new approach toward ministry.

We grew up in the “program-driven model” of doing church. That’s all we’d ever known or experienced. My husband surrendered to ministry when only 13 years old and was asked to preach a message at youth camp the very next evening! He was called to pastor his first church when he was barely 18, before he even started college. We kind of “slid into” the pattern of “doing ministry” the only way we knew how. But after seeking the Lord on His view of the church, my husband came to a few different conclusions than what we’d practiced most of our lives.

We noticed our young families were spending more evenings attending church activities than they spent at home, often dragging young ones through the church door, rushing them into some childcare program, dashing down a hall to slip into an adult Bible study class without even having time to eat an evening meal until possibly 9:00 at night! We started counting up how many hours that our church was dividing up the family in order to have “spiritual activities.” We were alarmed by what we discovered.

We are not opposed to church activities. Bible study classes, outreach events, and even church softball leagues can have beneficial aspects in our spiritual formation. But what may have begun as discipling opportunities in many cases seems to have grown into a high-speed treadmill of activities with no way to jump off.

Is the church accomplishing its mission of making disciples? Equipping believers? Evangelizing the lost? It seems we can’t even keep our own kids.

Really, should it surprise us that we are losing our teens when we’ve spent so many hours away from them through the week? Has church robbed us, many times, from family meal-times, family devotion-times, family game nights, or family camping trips? Is this what the church should be doing?

How does Scripture address this issue?

We have a clear model for “doing church,” and it may be aided by various programs—but it definitely is NOT program-driven. Study this model in Titus 2:1–8, combine that with the parental instructions given in Deuteronomy 6:1–7.

How does your church stand up to scrutiny under this model? How does your life?


Originally posted 06.22.09 on


  • Debbie S

    What an important message for the church! Just because a family plugs in to numerous activities at the church throughout the week does not mean they are being built up as a family unit.
    I’ve always been in a small church that doesn’t have many “extra curricular” activities. In fact, our leadership has stressed the importance of the family unit and encouraged parents to take the responsibility of family worship and child training in their own homes and not leave that up to various teachers and program leaders in the church.
    For example, we encourage parents as much as possible to have their children in corporate worship yet still provide a nursery for times when the child needs to be removed. We encourage the congregation to welcome the voices of our littlest members and expect disruptions because we celebrate their presence with us.
    Our annual mission trips to an Indian reservation even transitioned from a young people only group to encourage whole families to participate.
    Another and perhaps the biggest issue about losing the upcoming generation is that the parents may have been deceiving themselves into thinking that spending a lot of time at church is what it means to be “set apart” or even what it means to be a Christian. Meanwhile they have abdicated their roles as mentors, confidantes, and role models for their own children. They have become so busy “doing church” that they have not been modeling a living faith for their children. The children are not prepared for the “real world” when they are on their own and have not developed the filters they need to live according to a Christian Worldview in the midst of a fallen world.

  • Linda Gaye Goines

    This is exactly the mistake we made in raising our own children, who are now grown. I wish we could go back and do it all over again. But, even though its very sad, I’m thankful that people are realizing its not the answer. We were way too involved in the church, but God has taught me a lot since then.

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Hello Linda ~

    Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me a comment, I always love hearing from you!

    I hope I didn’t leave the impression on this post that being involved in church is “harmful” to our children. My point is that the church is to support and equip parents in shepherding their children. I think the danger has been that parents have relegated their responsibility (specifically the fathers) to the church and the church has picked up that baton of spiritual discipleship. That type of church-culture has allowed many families to replace family discipleship with church activities.

    If the church requires families to attend activities 4 or 5 nights a week, how will their families have the opportunity to develop a regular form of family spiritual instruction and devotional time?

    The answer is not for families to abandon the Church or for the Church to neglect child-friendly activities and training, but the Church needs to equip parents with the knowledge and tools to train and disciple their children at home through the week–and allow them time in their schedules to accomplish this.

    Children need to recognize the Church is a sacred institution–Jesus shed His blood to purchase her and sent out His disciples to establish her. We don’t need to remove our children from the church, but the church is not to replace (or hinder) the parents’ responsibility to instruct their children spiritually.

    Really good to hear from you, friend. Hope all is well!