Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts

book-cover6Just finished Thom & Sam Rainer’s book Essential Church? Fascinating study.

It is based on a lot of research that their firm has done about 18 – 22 year old’s concerning the topics of faith and church.

It covers how our churches are doing when it comes to attendance among this age group. As most other research has pointed out, the church is not doing well with this age group. 70% of churchgoing young adults drop out of church between the ages of 18 – 22, which is actually lower than what I expected, but by no means good.

Most dropouts leave the church between the ages of seventeen and nineteen.

One of the most crucial times of anybody’s life. Think about the decisions that are made in this time frame. Decisions that will shape the rest of their life.

Now that is the weight of this book.

The title of the book comes from many of the interviews where they just said, “Church was not essential to my life.” This is different than relevant. Essentially saying, “I no longer needed church to survive.”

One of the things that struck me in the book was the emphasis that those who left and those who stayed put on the lead pastor and their connection to him/her. Whether personally or through their sermons. The authors point out, “The leadership of the church, particularly the lead pastor, is the linchpin for the catalyst of cross-generational discipleship.”

One of the things that was interesting was in the area of expectations:  The expectations of civic organizations are typically higher than those of the church. In many churches, membership means filling out a card, walking an aisle, or, in some tough cases, attending a membership class. Then you can go incognito. You can fall through the cracks and not be noticed. Right now at Revolution, we’re working through what this looks like for us. We are going to call them partners, to bring out the idea of partnering with each other and us as individuals partnering with the church as a whole. Partners need each other, partners have expectations of each other.

What is important in any church is to have a clear goal in mind that you are working towards, what do you want people to do, to become? Unfortunately most churches in America look like a web of somewhat related activities that have no clear goal in mind.

Here are some other thoughts from the book:

  • “It’s all about me!” is the anthem of the dying church.
  • Members of essential churches do not have an easy way out. The church becomes such a vital part of their lives that neglecting the fellowship of believers is not a painless option.
  • The youngest generation doesn’t necessarily leave their faith; rather they leave their church.
  • For those in the thirteen to twenty-four age range, a high correlation exists between spirituality and happiness.
  • Essential churches show the younger generation why participating in a local church body is critical to the spiritual walk of an individual.
  • People stick with churches where they have healthy interpersonal relationships, and those relationships often form in the context of small groups.
  • Essential churches strive to connect newer members with others in the church. Nonessential churches assume “it will just happen.”
  • Many of our churches are producing a lot of soft and self-centered Christians. And the young people in our churches are getting the message. Through the actions of many of our church leaders, they are hearing that the church is all about them, that the church is there to serve them, and that the church is the place for all their needs and desires to be met.

One of the things I found fascinating and encouraging was the amount of church dropouts who said they left because of the preaching. This isn’t fascinating that they left, but why. In a world where preaching is being downplayed and sermons are getting shorter and more fluff, a majority of the church dropouts said that preaching matters. They want to know what the Bible says and why it says that. They want to hit hard topics, they don’t want to breeze through and skip over tough discussions. They want the Bible to be an active part of their church and their lives.

This by no means is a book just for student and college pastors, this is a book that needs to be digested by all church leaders. Because this will affect how we lead.