Youth and dis·en·gage·ment

The reality of whether young people are leaving the Church in droves, slow drifting away from deep faith or whether they are revitalizing the next generation of on-fire Christians is highly controversial.

David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, outlined six main reasons young people are leaving the church [1]:

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Orange founder Reggie Joiner describes churches losing gravitas as the ones drifting toward irrelevance, which he describes as, “what happens when you simply stop while the rest of the world keeps moving.”[2]

“This is sobering news that the church needs to change the way it does ministry.”_ Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research

Some of the most poignant findings from our research revealed that youth—globally—want to be heard among adults in their homes and their faith community. They want to have a voice in co-creating the future. When they don’t get that, they leave.

Another arena where young people are shouting to be heard is in politics. Remember the Arab Spring in 2012? What provoked the younger generation to move to the streets with such organization, passion, and boldness? It was their way of pitching a fit, telling the world to pay some attention. A very visual, “stop overlooking us, we want to be seen and heard” display.

OneHope sensed the precursory rumblings of this tumultuous vibe in May of 2007. Tensions were percolating as we conducted our qualitative research in Egypt among international youth service agencies, ministry executives, youth workers, teachers, and students. Even then, it was evident that it was only a matter of time before the rumbling turned to thunder.

The issue we seem to be facing—globally—a generation gap. In Egypt, Arab teens struggle to reconcile global and traditional values and (mostly restrictive social) expectations of parents and teachers with the new global norm set for them by the media. In America, parents don’t get why their teens can’t disconnect from their devices for fear of missing out and the stress they feel from the immense pressure to project an aggrandized image on social media. These adolescent juggling acts leave young people feeling conflicted, confused, and most definitely misunderstood.

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Floundering adolescents are not only struggling at home, but a large number of them are also leaving the church. Because church “feels” too legalistic and disempowering, they unplug, tap a screen and plug into outlets like Instagram where they feel important and popular.

Although scary and disheartening, it gives us keen insight into the incredible opportunities available for the Church to leverage global trends and tools to provide the Gospel to young people across the world in exciting, innovative ways.

Snapshots like these vividly reveal how much the world has changed and our mission fields have morphed. If we have any hope of purveying effective ministry—especially in reaching modern day youth—we need to re-map our strategies and calibrate them to operate using relevant and effective 21st century methods.

Young people are crying out for more opportunities for positive social interaction and personal development. The youth have spoken. Will we listen?


[2] Joiner, Reggie. Zombies, Football and the Gospel.  Orange, A division of The re Think Group, 2012.

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Rob Hoskins is the president of OneHope. Since taking leadership of OneHope in 2004, he has continued to advance the vision of God’s Word. Every Child. by partnering with local churches to help reach more than 2 BILLION children and youth worldwide with a contextualized presentation of God’s Word.

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