Why Youths Are Leaving Their Home Churches
The threat of a complete exodus of the youth from traditional churches is now being correctly addressed as not merely a denominational concern, but a contemporary issue that has tangible effects on youth, family and church life. In this new series I will realistically explore the strongest links to this attraction/migration and how we can maintain a successful youth ministry in our churches without necessarily losing the youth.
Recently, as part of my initiated research endeavor for TMAfrica on Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in the country, I spent a few weeks visiting Pentecostal and Traditional churches around my region, paying attention to their church routine policies, especially with a particular focus on the youth.
Next to conducting a number of interviews, I tried to visit as many Pentecostal and Traditional churches as possible. From the observations and interviews I made, I developed my questionnaire, which records as follows:
A sample of 78 youths was drawn from three Pentecostal churches selected from Lagos Metropolis. Youths who had left traditional churches to join these Pentecostal churches and who were within the age range of 15-30 years were the targets of this study. An oral interview was conducted by me with a few youth pastors and individual youths in these churches. The instrument used for data collection was a 17 item questionnaire developed by me and face-validated with a reliability coefficient of 0.89. It listed 6 possible reasons why they left their (Traditional) home churches and also listed 7 reasons why they are in their present (Pentecostal) churches. Below, the guide indicated 1 for the reason having the ‘greatest influence’ and 7 for the one with the ‘least influence’. The data were analyzed using frequency count and percentages and diagrammed in a pie chart. The result of my research is presented in Tables 1 and 2 below.
The results above ranked Peer Group
influence as the strongest (1st
) reason why youths leave their traditional (home) churches while lack of flexibility and innovation in traditional churches were ranked second and third (2nd and 3rd) respectively. Pastors’ relational attitude with the youths and parents’ influence were the weakest reasons, ranked 6th and 7th respectfully. Ministers preaching style was ranked fifth, followed by liturgy which was fourth. Although this is a small scale study, it nonetheless gives some insight into the linkage between youth and Pentecostalism worth exploring. The table above seems to confirm that the youths are less bothered about our doctrines or liturgies but are frequent fans of innovation and operate in a Homogenous Unit Principle
. “And churches that take the Great Commission seriously should make youth a major priority in evangelism because of their receptivity and application of the Homogeneous Unit Principle…”
In other words, if their peers are attracted to something, maybe to a church, an event or school, they are inevitably going to be attracted to that same thing sooner or later – be it for good, bad or whatever reason. Let’s continue as we look at Table 2
and see for ourselves factors accounting for the attraction of youths to Pentecostalism and discuss therefrom.
The following interpretations can be made from the responses in Table 2. The results also ranked peer group influence as the strongest link (lst) in youths’ attraction to Pentecostalism while the displays of youth projects and ideas streaming the roles of youths as pioneered by Pentecostal churches was ranked second (2nd). Obviously, the self-confidence that is part of being young is sensibly flexible. They ranked flexibility as the third (3rd) reason why they are attracted to Pentecostalism. The influence of other reasons (crusades and location in which the church is sited) was second to the weakest reason and thus ranked six (6th). Innovation and pastors’ relational attitude were ranked four (4th) and five (5th) respectively. Doctrine was ranked seventh (7th). However, although this is a relatively small scale study, what is interesting and possibly worth exploring is why doctrine was ranked as the weakest reason (not a strong link) and Preaching ranked 6 as having a stronger link than the former. This reveals that the youth are not after doctrine but are concerned with the spontaneity and creativity of the church and their leaders. The youth here is presented as a pragmatic fellow whose present needs seem to be all that matters (as we will discuss following). Peer Group influence reveals the operation of the Homogenous Unit Principle as discussed in Table 1. The same follows the displays of youths’ projects which ranked second (2nd). This shows that youths from traditional churches are very passionate about the cause they believe in and yet feel excluded and ignored in most cases. But seemingly, Pentecostalism is giving them that voice and platform to excel, as we will also discuss from here.
The results of this study indicated that there is lot of disconnection in understanding the adaptive capacity of the youth and knowing what the youth truly need – especially when it comes to administering Youth Ministry. I believes that for us to have a better understanding of the factors accounting for the attracting of youths to Pentecostalism and the relationship that exists thereof we need to first understand the following:
- 1. There Should Be a Conceptual Clarification
- 2. There Is a Needed Collaboration
- 3. There Should Be a Postmodern-Youth Realization
- 4. There Is an Undeniable Attraction
- 5. There Is a Question on Discipleship
We will continue with these topics next on this series.
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 “People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers”, says Donald McGavran in his book Understanding Church Growth. According to James Hughes, the Homogenous Unit Principle is not intended to be a formula for effective Christian interaction, but merely an observation. We see missionaries apply this supposedly ground-breaking principle through seeking to eliminate cultural barriers to the gospel. They commonly refer to these units as people groups. Moreover, using the Lausanne definition of a people group in 2005 at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism and International Conference in Bangalore, India, people group then could refer to youth because of the common affinity for one another mainly because of a shared situation, which create a distinct culture within the larger group of adults. On a smaller scale, youths also share the same residence (school), occupation (student), class (under adults, not children), communication preference (secondary orality), and jargon. However, youth as a people group lack a specific geographic area and they are always in context of a larger adult culture. From our study on Pentecostalism and the youth and from the results drawn above, we can see that the youth reach fellow youths effectively because of the preeminent global youth culture. They identify themselves wherever they go, even at first-sight contact. It is a distinctive part of their culture – which draws them to one another.
 TMAfrica is fully known as the Third Millennium Africa Initiative. It is an Africa-led initiative addressing the present and future challenges facing leadership and community roles in the new millennium Africa with focus on leaders and the youth. I presently serve as TMAfrica Director General and you can visit our website at www.tmafrica.net