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Why are young people leaving the church when they reach their young-adult years?

The Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Younger Leaders’ Forum relayed some of their key findings at a recent gathering. They include:

·   A diet of “Bible stories and rules to follow” is not preparing youngsters to deal adequately with the dilemmas of the real world.

·  Churches aren’t being outward-looking communities.

·  There’s a general lack of care once young people leave the youth group.

Instead, the Younger Leaders’ Forum concluded, churches should look at being inclusive communities for all, ensuring that all are cared for uniquely and providing a place where young people are given space to grow and question without fear of failure.

The policy of reading to children and giving them a series of rules was not making them followers of Jesus, according to Chris Eddison, one of the members of the forum.

Consequently when they faced real-life dilemmas, many found themselves ill-equipped to do so.

“Many people I spoke to said church had not prepared them for the real world,” Eddison said. “They needed help in coming to moral choices rather than being told what the answer is. They’d heard the stories and the rules but felt there was a lack of preparation in their personal faith.”

For others, it was a struggle to fit into church once they had reached their 20s.

“The people I spoke to said there was a lack of care for them, no space for that age group,” said Ruth Swift.

After swapping stories and focusing on the good and bad in churches, the group was asked to picture what church should look like. The picture that emerged was a flexible place that accepts everyone for who they are and has a commitment to focusing on Jesus and preparing followers of Jesus.

Suggestions ranged from a place which “looks to develop ‘real’ faith in young people which they learn to continually question, apply and grow within” to being a place which “belongs within its community and whose community belongs within it.”

The discussions were both fascinating and challenging, according to Rev. Ian Bunce, head of mission for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, who facilitated the meeting.

“There was a lot of frustration with church, but in many cases it wasn’t ‘we are not looking for church,’ but more ‘church is not working for me,'” he said.

“They’re not even necessarily looking for emerging church, but church which is real. The inherited church can do this when it focuses on discipling people.”

The substance of the Younger Leaders’ Forum discussions will be incorporated into the Encouraging Missionary Disciples document, which will be presented to the Baptist Union Council in March.

The group met as Christian leaders and denominations wrestle with those who leave churches once reaching adulthood.

A new book on the issue was released by Andy Frost, son of the late Rob Frost. “Rediscovering Faith” is a series of interviews charting why young people leave churches and forget their Christian faith.

“We need to create space to talk about doubt. We need to hear what’s going on in their personal lives,” Frost told The Baptist Times. “It’s about looking at how we disciple people.”

The book is accompanied by a tour in which Frost hopes to unpack some of his findings.

Generation Y, a Church of England study of more than 300 young people in England from 8 to 23 years old, was recently published. The findings show that while “religion is irrelevant for day-to-day living,” many young people have not “inherited the rebellious hostility to the church of their parents’ generation.”

This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.

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