This article is from Issue 50: Mar/Apr 2011

The Vanishing Church Body

A growing number of young Christians are leaving the Church but keeping the faith

Gin grew up going to church regularly with her three siblings and parents. She fondly recalls the hard wooden pews, kneeling at the altar and feeling the pastor’s hand on her head as he blessed her while her parents participated in communion. She remembers drinking Kool-Aid and eating hot dogs at church potlucks. These are precious, faith- filled images in her memory, of a time and place she holds very dear.

Now in her early 30s, Gin hasn’t attended a church regularly for about four years. The last one she attended was a seeker-friendly Baptist church in her Canadian town. While she maintains her Christian faith, church has lost its luster for Gin.

“It’s as impersonal as the gym I go to twice a week and lacks all the things that made it central growing up,” she says.

For Gin, the way church is viewed in today’s American Christian culture (as “a building with programs, services and tax-deductible receipts”) doesn’t fit with her faith. In order for the idea of church to fit, it has to be more than a gathering, she says. It has to be more about the Body, the community, the “other,” rather than just a place people go once a week.

“Being in community is so much more than attending a service or associating oneself with a particular congregation,” Gin says. “It’s living life together, in all the ordinary ways, in all the common things. Does this include gathering together? Sure. And to be honest, I miss intentional gatherings. I miss hearing public prayers, I miss the ritual of liturgy and feeling connected to history. But the gathering is only one piece of rich spirituality; when it’s gone it doesn’t take with it all the other dimensions.”

WHY WE’RE LEAVING

Gin’s gradual disenchantment with church is a common refrain these days for twentysomething Christians who grew up in the faith. Most have heard all the facts and figures. More young people than ever are abandoning church in their 20s. Some two-thirds of young people who attended a Protestant church regularly during high school will stop going once they leave high school (Lifeway). Young Americans are dropping out of religion at five to six times the historic rate (Pew).

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