Generation Change: Why Our Youth Leave

The church needs to wake up to the realization that the emerging generation is not just the so-called church of the future, it is the church right now. This generation of young, courageous, and bold Seventh-day Adventist Christians are redefining the very fabric of how we “do church” in our cities, communities, and country.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

And what about those who are staying? What about them? Why do they stay?

And what’s the correlation with those whose parents were active church members? Studies have shown that’s the greatest indicator of whether young adults stay or leave. (

My observation is that those specific factors identified by the Barna research can be lumped into one deadly misconception that rules in many churches: that the youth are not truly part of the church until they become adults. Our services expect them to sit quietly and pay attention when they want to be active and expressive. They are looking for spiritual purpose so they can apply what they are hearing but are given only theories about how to apply spiritual principles in their lives. They hear about missions but are not given opportunities to be missionaries where they are except for doing the same outreach methods they quickly see don’t produce results. So our challenge is to re-focus our churches on including children in everything from early childhood. That requires changing the music we use, radically reforming our worship services and ministering according to the model of Jesus instead of tradition. That’s a change few of our churches will be willing to do to more than the most minimal degree.


Two words can describe this, Hypocrisy and Absolutism

The 1919 decision to bury notes from the GC sessions and the subsequent elevation of EGW to Saint status against her expressed counsel. The notion of the infallibility of certain non-salvation ideology and practices that cannot be supported by Biblical principles. The promotion now of unsound and dare I say coercive and dishonest governance practices which are antithetical to the principles of the Adventist church. I could go on,

These are the reasons people leave the church and often results in thinking of the entire Gospel message as a fraud.

The past and present leadership, clergy and others who have practiced and perpetuated this culture have the blood of many on their hands and will not be guiltless.


Refuting this study would be nonsense however the answers you get in a study depends not only on the questions but on the soul searching honesty of those who participate. Leaving a church is a process that is very individual dependent on the imprinting associated.

I would like to see a study that measures the level of imprinting and those determining that church was no longer important. It’s hard to buy that technology, ( social media ) moving to a different community and judgment by church members are stand alone triggers. Observation of college students is that most find church to be a formal class of structured spiritual development that easily should fit anyone coming through the doors. Most of these young people are not looking for a one size fit all spiritual development.

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A similar study VALUGENESES done in the 80/90s came up with the same information. Do you think anyone did anything about it? I was teaching at that time and was continually running into opposition to anything that would interest the kids (academy age). The kids that came from strict SDA families drifted off as fast as those who didn’t.

It seemed that the biggest problem is “canned religion” that gets old after a while - even for the 50+. Institutional religion comes across superficial - still, a conglomeration of following dos and don’ts. The Bible in our schools is just another textbook that elicits moans and groans - no excitement and no depth. Perfunctory prayers before, during and after everything cheapens prayer, making it a habit like “thank you and please”.

Having said that, these schools are potentially unifying and could be spiritual gems; but spiritual innovation is seldom possible. Kids can detect superficiality better than adults. It’s not their fault they are leaving. It’s ours.


My experience with youth and the church that was the most telling was when my daughter went off, with bright eyes and youthful enthusiasm for spiritual things, to one of our North American SDA universities and by the end of that year was disillusioned an on her way out the back door of the church due to the campus having been embroiled for the better part of winter and spring term by political infighting that ended up seeing a favorite professor of nearly all students run out of his post for no other reason than jealousy.


I am one of those on the outside of the Adventist church. Having made the transition I discovered quite a community of “formers”. And not one of them want to be back in. They see the Adventist church as a joke - political maneuvering, disrespectful of women’s God given abilities, weird theology and prophetic mumbo jumbo. And no regard for science. In short - the church of yesterday, attended by people who behave like a flock of sheep, following the leader wherever he or she goes.

Not to different to what makes up most of society.


Over jealousy John? Jealousy because she or he was popular with students? If you wish to expound on that tragic situation that would be interesting.

Hi Chuck. Honestly, I don’t wish to delve too deeply into the story. The fact that I do know is that there was a long standing animus between the professor and another of the long standing faculty members that predated said professor’s very brief sojourn at this particular university. I have no direct knowledge of the guilt or innocence of either one involved. I just know of the devastating impact on our daughter and others of the students.

Can we state that this is the reason she and other young men and women started the process of checking out of the denom? Not entirely, no. It’s a matter of collective impact, I think. Impact of many things, including the thought, feelings, and attitude of the young people themselves. I’m not sure it’s productive to direct blame. I’m also not sure what would be productive in solving it.

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HI John! No you answered the question for me so thank-you. It was between faculty and that is very real problem on many college campuses. Someone once said the reason there is so much fighting in higher education is because there is so little to be gained. Students sense the politics of higher education very quickly. And it is a contributor to students becoming disillusioned particularly if it is a religious experience based college. Religious based colleges that are non SDA experience the same type of political pushing and shoving among either faculty or departments as do SDA institutions.

Like I said in my first post there are other triggers than those found in the study which didn’t drill down in this particular area probably because it would be difficult to quantify. We all can relate to a particular tension that exists between what is said and what is practiced and as a result distance ourselves from the organization. For example, and this might just be me, but the whole women’s ordination issue whereby the Bible speaks to who ever is called by God is a deciple, but a religion that refuses to recognize one sex as being able to attaine a certain recognized status is a tension that distances me.

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Any examples?

What are those answers?
What are the questions?

Uh…does that sound familiar?

Hello pastors & ministerial secretaries.

The church needs reforming of teaching methods & the typical Adventist religious lingo & clichés need to get trashed


For those who believe W.O. is a silver-bullet solution… one that could possibly stop the bleeding of young adults… In any case, I’m just thinking out loud in regard to the possible association with congregational youth leadership by women and men…

I am no longer a teenager (and for quite a while now!!!) but I feel that those same reasons bother me as well. And the Church, the Denomination shows no intention of changing this tragic condition. I would’t be surprised if this Church went defunct one day.

While this condition afflicts the Church, its top leaders are traveling in a happy train playing with growing beards and mustaches, preparing for the AC/18, with an agenda that is just outrageous and determined to perpetuate discrimination of women at any cost. And this time implementing the barbaric practice (discrimination) with the creation of the “40 Taliban force.”


As much as I support the ordination of women to ministry and have been involved with creative ministry to youth all my life, I’ve come to the simple conclusion that after all is said and done for our youth that
our SDA church cannot do very much for it’s youth. What I’ve discovered is that the “magic” key to successful youth ministry is found in three of the most common characteristics of dynamic youth who love God and have made a positive impact in my life:

  1. Their parents lived the gospel to them.
    They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.
  2. They are individually converted.
    We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them. In short, we need to get back to a focus on conversion.” Youth pastors, need to preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our youth by the power of the Holy Spirit! When that happens—when the “old goes” and the “new comes”—it will not be iffy. We will not be dealing with a group of “nominal Christians.” We will be ready to teach, disciple, and equip a generation of future church leaders—“new creations”!—who are hungry to know and speak God’s Word. It is individually converted students who go on to love Jesus and serve the church.
  3. They have been equipped, not entertained.
    If our youth leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them…and it may indeed be time to panic!
    Are we sending out from our ministries the kind of students who will show up to college in a different state, join a church, and begin doing the work of gospel ministry there without ever being asked? Are we equipping them to that end, or are we merely giving them a good time while they’re with us? We don’t need youth fun junkies; we need to be growing churchmen and churchwomen who are equipped to teach, lead, and serve.

There are no “short cuts” in this search for authentic youth!

Can the proverbial ‘loss’ of young people in the church possibly be disassociated with the reality that at a minimum two thirds of adult members have themselves been ‘lost’ to the church while still on the books? That report by a ministerial secretary of Western conference, who told me that two thirds of the members on the books are non-participating (In attendance <1 Sabbath per month).

The president of the Central California Conference reported during a sermon in one of the conference congregations and in which I was in attendance, that only 20% of the conference membership participates by paying any tithe.

Let’s not think poorly of young people while overlooking the incredibly serious matter of ‘lost’ adult members. Perhaps the primary issue is conference leadership believing that simple truth trumps love. And let’s not blame failing to make disciples after the teaching is finished, when we have inverted the sequence of the commission. Remember, the commission is to make disciples, then baptize, and then teach. Having fully inverted the sequence of this commission this is what we now have: baptisms barely keeping ahead of deaths and church truancy at an all-time high. It doesn’t take a college education to realize that this group has too little to warrant participation. Often high-school is sufficient to figure this out, even if the young person attended a church academy.

Shedding young participants only means the church cannot grow out of whatever the cause of its plight may be. What if solving adult truancy also solves youth truancy? That may be actually quite likely. And it will be way more productive for the church near term as well as long term.

Any reports from out there describing congregations where more than 50% of the members are in attendance? Time to emulate success …

To discover that answer all one needs to do is remember the questions they were asking back when they were desperately seeking God. If they’ve never found themselves in that particular experience… well… I suspect this may be one of the most basic causes of the disconnect between young people and “the church.”

I left the Adventist Church about 25 years ago and later year came back. I didn’the rejoin the Adventist Church, I joined my Local Adventist Church. They are community focused. Everything we do is aimed at interacting with the local community, not preaching at them but practical evangelism - meeting their needs, being part of the community. Working and fellowshipping within this church I am far removed from the politics of the organisation.
What I really like about my local church is the demographic structure of the church. I am one of only three Baby Boomers in the congregation. There is a smattering of Gen X but by far the largest groups are the Millenials and Gen Z. We are focused on keeping them and that means what we do revolves around them, and more importantly involves them in organising and running the activities.
For anybody wanting to work with, or reach out to Millenials or Gen Z, I would recommend the book “The Rise of the Nones” by James Emery White.


I think you are describing the same process where the only difference is age. We tell our children to sit and be quiet and give them nothing meaningful to do so we’re programming them to leave. We tell adults they’re not appreciated and have no purpose if they’re not picked by the Nominating Committee and not allowed to find the ministry God wants them doing. So we’re programming them to leave, too.

I’m asking these questions as a former SDA, not as some kind of gotcha questions.

How do you teach Scripture? Is it book by book, straight through the book without leaving anything out?

Do you teach the Sabbath/Sunday issue in the same way as the SDA church?

Do you teach anything about EGW?

As I said, genuinely curious, not trying to present any trick questions. :slightly_smiling_face: