5 Reasons Young People Are Leaving Your Church

5 Reasons Young People Are Leaving Your Church

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

I wonder, what keeps you up at night?

When it comes to your church or ministry, what issue is forefront? You find yourself saying, “If we don’t fix this...we might be in trouble!”

For me, it is the reality that young people are increasingly missing from our church. We have tons of kids, teenagers, parents with kids, middle aged people and, increasingly, older people. There is one age group missing from that list; 20 somethings.

I’m guessing you’re in the same boat. If not, I invite you to leave copious suggestions in the comments below.

While we haven’t solved the problem yet, we are working very hard at becoming a church that keeps and attracts young people. We’ve studied all the research and conducted surveys and exit interviews ourselves.

And so, I’d like to share 5 reasons why young people are leaving churches and offer a few suggestions on how to change the script.

1. Lack of Authenticity

Something that we’ve learned from our own research, as well as an important book on this subject, Growing Young, is that young people value authenticity.

By authenticity, I mean that people from our church, especially those speaking, talking or singing on the stage appear to be real people with real lives and real struggles.

At my church, one of our values is excellence, which is a great value to have. Our hope is that everything we do in our services is done well.

Our musicians are technically great, our lighting and sound all enhance the experience. Our preaching is done without notes and with a high level of skill. The entire service is scripted down to the minute.

All of these facets of our service are fantastic except for the part that they can inadvertently make us appear overly produced, too polished, too slick and even fake.

What we’ve learned is that the younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) place a much higher value on authenticity than on polish and perfection. Repeated feedback has shown us that the most appreciated moments of our services are when we go a bit off script, when something breaks down and we have to adlib or when the preacher shares a meaningful story from their personal life.


Because in these moments the audience gets a glimpse of real people. The audience feels like they actually get to know the worship leader or speaker.

Authenticity isn’t about sharing your most embarrassing moment, a deep dark secret or anything like that. It’s about feeling like you are getting to know the person with the microphone and that the person on stage isn’t afraid to be real.

Over and over again, research has shown that young people are leaving churches that feel inauthentic. So, if you want to keep and attract young people to your church, find ways to be appropriately authentic.

2. Lack of Warmth

Another value of younger generations is warmth. This is a term I’m stealing directly from Growing Young.

When you walk into an environment that is warm, you feel like the people there are happy that you just showed up. You feel like they care about you and want to make sure you have a great experience.

If you want to have a warm church, we’re talking about great hospitality.

Let’s think of a few examples:

  • Chick-Fil-A is warm. They greet you. They serve you really well. Everything you ask for they simply respond with, “my pleasure.” Oh, and the chicken is out of this world.
  • Southwest Airlines is warm. Unlike other airlines, you get the sense that they are actually excited that you are flying on their plane, sitting in their chairs and eating their snacks. The flight attendants are actually funny!
  • You get the idea.

    What research and our own experience has taught us is that younger generations place a high value on warmth. They are very likely to choose a church that makes them feel like they are actually wanted.

    So, if you’re wondering where all the young people at your church went, you may want to evaluate your hospitality ministry: parking attendants, greeters, ushers, information desk people, etc.

    Also, great coffee will help.

    3. Lack of Community Engagement

    One of the main reasons young people are leaving churches is that they don’t believe their church cares about the needs of the community. For Millennials and Gen Z, a church that is perceived as selfish is just the worst.

    And, the churches that are attracting young people are the churches that are engaged in projects and partnerships to serve their community.

    Our church recently shifted the way we talk about community engagement. For years, we have served our community in a variety of ways without much fanfare. During our weekend services, we didn’t talk that much about what we were doing as a church in the community because it felt sort of like bragging.

    But, what we’ve recently learned is that we need to talk about what we are doing in appropriate ways because our young people, in particular, are dying to know if we actually care about our community. They perceive our church to be all about ourselves - getting bigger, more campuses, etc.

    One of our main focuses for the next few years is to become a church that leads the way in serving our community, both because that is what a church should do and also because we want to influence young people and young people want to be part of a church that is active in the community.

    4. Lack of Courage

    Here’s something that I find surprising: With as pluralistic and tolerant as our society is, you would expect that younger generations would prefer that we keep silent about difficult and controversial issues.

    Based on my experience, this is actually false. Younger generations want to belong to churches that have the courage to engage the issues of the day.

    When a tragedy strikes our nation, young people want their church to talk about it in church. And, even more surprisingly, they want us to talk about what we believe as followers of Jesus, even about controversial issues from politics to LGBT.

    Of course, they want us to speak with grace, kindness and empathy, but it feels inauthentic and even manipulative to skirt around controversial topics.

    When we avoid talking about difficult issues, the vibe we send is that we are more concerned about not offending people than speaking the truth. In other words, we are more concerned about our attendance than speaking up in a way that could possibly offend someone.

    Now, this is obviously an area where we must tread carefully, but if you are serious about keeping and attracting young people, I would encourage you to create appropriate environments for talking about difficult topics from theological and biblical perspectives.

    5. Lack of Leadership Opportunities

    The last reason young people are leaving our churches is that there aren’t opportunities to lead and serve in meaningful ways.

    For a variety of reasons, some good, some bad, we have a tendency to require leaders in our churches to be older. Obviously, some leadership positions should require wisdom that only comes from life experience, but many other important roles could and should be open to younger people.

    Younger generations grew up with social media. They are accustomed to being heard, speaking up and making an impact, even from a young age.

    In almost every other aspect of their lives, age has no bearing on their ability to influence and lead. And yet, in the church they are often required to sit back and watch because they are the church of tomorrow.

    This makes us feel archaic and irrelevant.

    If we are interested in keeping and attracting young people, we must allow - actually we must empower, them to be the church today.

    If you are a church that is losing young people, I would encourage you to evaluate where young people are allowed to lead and serve and wherever possible, find ways to include them in appropriate ways.

    Wrap Up

    Let’s be honest, many of our churches are growing older because we are losing young people after they graduate from our youth groups.

    There are a variety of reasons why this is happening.

    The five I’ve described in this post are just a few that I’ve experienced or encountered in research. Hopefully, this post has encouraged and challenged you to consider how to include, welcome and empower young people.

    We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

    Share this Article:

    Looking for an easy-to-use software to help manage your church?

    We'd love to show you what we built!

    Join 10,000+ happy churches using Breeze ChMS™.

    loves Breeze

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    loves Breeze

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    loves Breeze

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    David P.
    loves Breeze
    St. Pauls United Methodist Church

    Breeze has been incredible. Their customer service, commitment to innovation, and their product are top-notch. I love the features, the ease of use and the mobile applications.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Karen M.
    loves Breeze
    Hillcrest Church

    All of our database needs have been more than met, it's easier to use than the last database we had, and the price is amazing - what a value this has been to our church! All of our staff can use this software and they do regularly. We use it to track…literally anything a church could possibly need to track regarding it's attenders.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Chris K.
    loves Breeze
    Crossroads United Methodist Church

    Breeze has been a great asset to our church and congregation. Especially from an administrative standpoint, it has been the most adaptable and easiest church database I have ever used. The features from blast emails to giving on-line, and texting have been one of our greatest assets. Thank you!

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Ed R.
    loves Breeze
    Church Admin

    We switched from a major, web-based ChMS to Breeze and our decision is confirmed every day. We are a medium size church and we use Breeze for contributions, member management, event checkin and a few other applications custom to our church. I had trouble getting any staff to use our previous ChMS but almost all staff are using Breeze. The product is very well designed, extremely easy to learn and use and customer service is incredible.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Ellen G.
    loves Breeze
    Grace Church

    Breeze has opened the communication highway for our congregation and staff, with very little training. Because members can update their own records and search easily for other members - and map their locations, send emails and text right from Breeze, they love it and our data is more real-time accurate. Our ministries are stronger, because they can trust the data in Breeze, which is easily accessed anywhere, anytime.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Steve H.
    loves Breeze
    First Presbyterian Church of Ramsey

    Breeze is the first ChMS my volunteers have actually embraced. That's because it's so easy to use. The software is very flexible and gives us the opportunity to make decisions based on actual data we've collected and not just hunches or stories we believe to be true.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Allicia B.
    loves Breeze
    Ellel Ministries Canada

    I cannot say enough about Breeze. Their customer service is so friendly, you feel like you have friends and family helping you get started, they're prompt to reply and will do whatever they can to help you get things sorted out. It's been so easy to learn, our staff is loving it and best of all even our staff who are not computer savvy find it a breeze (pun intended). We are just thrilled by our choice.

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!
    Kevin D.
    loves Breeze
    Central Baptist Church

    From the start of our process looking for an online solution, Breeze has exceeded all our expectations. Fast data import, fast and friendly customer support, and we can’t say enough about how much we like the program itself. Very well designed and user friendly. On a scale of 1-10, Breeze gets a 15 from us!

    Try a demo of Breeze for yourself!

    Rated 4.9 stars – 560+ reviews on Capterra