7 August 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

I’m dismayed by how many young people leave the church after academy or college. Is the church doing anything to address the issue? Why do you think they don’t want to stay?

Signed, Sincerely Heartbroken 

Dear Heartbroken,

Many in the church spout theories about why young people are leaving our church in record numbers. But Aunty sees a disconnect between the church’s theories about why young people are leaving, and the real reasons they’re leaving.

For example, Adventist Today recently reported on a new study that a major contributing factor to children leaving the church is that families aren’t having family worship as much as they used to, and that’s why youth are leaving. 

Others say we have to get young people more involved in church leadership, or have better quality youth programs, or put more emphasis on personal Bible study. In other words, do more of what we’ve always done. 

Nonsense. Doing more of what we’re already doing that isn’t working is a plan for failure. Maybe it’s time we actually listen to our young people? Aunty has, and here’s what she concludes.

The problem isn’t that young people aren’t dedicated to the message of Jesus. Aunty thinks, in fact, that they are more dedicated to the message of Jesus than they are to the Adventist Church. They are like conscientious objectors: they believe in the message of Jesus but they can’t conscientiously participate in a church that excludes and judges people. 

The message of Jesus is one of radical inclusiveness, radical love, and radical reversal of the power structures on earth. The beatitudes in Matthew 5 say that it isn’t the successful who will be gifted the kingdom of heaven, but the poor in spirit. It’s not the self-satisfied who will receive divine comfort, but those who mourn. Those who will be rewarded are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. 

We grow up singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world” and “Make me a servant, humble and meek, Lord let me lift up those who are weak”—and then we see our church deny equality to women, exclude or persecute LGBTQ+ people, and turn a blind eye as church leaders in some parts of the world embezzle funds or coerce and exploit the poor and the desperate. 

So much of what the church says we need to keep subsequent generations puts the blame on families and individuals. It’s your fault your children are leaving, because you need to do more of this or more of that. 

Have you ever heard church leaders put the blame on themselves? Perhaps they should notice how, in their corporatism and desire for success, they have strayed from the example of Jesus: Jesus, who lifted up the vulnerable, and had harsh words for those who used their power, money, and influence to exalt themselves and blame others. 

If we want to retain young people, we need to change the focus of our church completely. Turn it inside out. Become a different kind of church, where church leaders become self-sacrificing and dedicated, rather than blaming members for not measuring up.

That doesn’t seem likely under the current church leadership. Aunty has no idea how to change that. But she wishes young people didn’t have to go in search for the real Jesus somewhere else. 

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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