A recent Salt Lake Trib article quotes from a new book by David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith. After five years of research, Kinnaman concludes the six main reasons why 59% of young Christians stop attending church are: 1) Their churches demonize “everything outside the church,” 2) “Church is boring,” 3) Churches “are out of step with the scientific world,” 4) Churches judge sexual mistakes too harshly, 5) Churches are “afraid of the beliefs of other faiths,” and 6) Churches are unfriendly to doubters.
Many churches are replacing traditional music with Christian rock, scheduling services for Sunday evenings, and serving coffee before, during, and after in an effort to lure the 20s and 30s group back. While I’m definitely not a member of the “lost generation,” my attitude toward church attendance is pretty youthful. And I’m afraid it will take more than replacing the organ and dragging hymns with a bass guitar and drums or turning the lace -covered table in the Relief Society room into a coffee bar to lure me back to my ward. I prefer spending Sundays where I don’t encounter the six issues Kinnaman’s research identified as main reasons young people stop attending church.
The admission of leaders that the Mormon Church is losing significant numbers of single members in the 18 to 30-year-old age bracket caught me by surprise. Official Church statements rarely include negative information about Church growth or retention problems. The replacement of student wards with Young Single Adult wards and stakes is an interesting response to the problem.
Reading about the YSA meeting held at the Conference Center in April to announce the change, I was shocked to read Elder Russell M. Ballard’s comment to the young members he and other leaders want to retain: “We hope you’ve got the message. You have no option to bounce around. We know where you are. We’ve got our radar focused on you.”
Maybe someone should tell Elder Ballard that young adults may resent being lectured to as if they were naughty Primary children hiding in the rest rooms or escaping to the parking lot to avoid Sharing Time. Church is a voluntary organization. Young singles have multiple options for meeting their social and spiritual needs with groups that don’t send them an authoritarian message informing them that Big Brother is watching.
Reorganizing ward and stake structures strikes me as similar to the oft-quoted analogy of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I doubt many young singles leave the church because of student wards. Do church leaders have any idea why young people are leaving the church of their birth? Elderly General Authorities who see 18 to 30-year-olds as children needing firm parental guidance may be part of the problem. Maybe GA’s need a crash course on accessing the Bloggernacle to find out what young members say outside of meetings. I recommend the following post and comments on Feminist Mormon Housewives as a starter. Also, Mormon Blogosphere lists scores of Mormon blogs for anyone interested in what young Mormons are really thinking.