Over the summer, my wife and I attended a parent mixer for our twins’ Cross Country team. Because I’m the team photo/video guy, I was asked to bring Cross Country videos that could be shown on a big screen TV, creating some background ambience for the event.
As I scoured my hard drives to look for videos I could show, I found a couple of videos that were shown at the last two season-ending Cross Country banquets. The videos were simply different photos of all the runners who ran during the course of the season with the pictures zooming in and out to popular music.
What caught my interest was the video from 2 years ago, when my twins were freshmen on the team. I was surprised at how many kids in the video I didn’t recognize at all. I wondered who these kids were.
There must have been 50 freshman boys who were on the Cross Country team that year and now, only two years later, most of them are no longer around.
This year’s team has a total of 6 seniors and only about 15 juniors. That means that in two years, 75% of the kids who were on the team as freshmen are no longer on the team.
Attrition. It’s a phenomenon we’re all familiar with, but what are the reasons for it?
When I think about my twins’ Cross Country team, I wondered why some kids decided to stick with the sport while others quit.
One reason I think many kids quit is simply a lack of interest. A lot of kids get into the sport because they need to fulfill a two-year PE requirement for graduation. They could just take PE for one period but it turns out that for many kids, it’s not cool to be in PE. It’s much cooler to be in a sport, even if the physical demands are much greater.
After the two-year PE requirement is met, many kids bow out of the sport because they were never that interested in the sport itself. They simply were attempting to meet a requirement. With the requirement now met, the reason for being on the team is no longer there.
Another reason some kids quit is because of community. It’s easier to stay engaged when you have friends on the team; it’s part of your social network. But what if your friends all leave? It’s harder to stick around if you’re not connected socially to others.
A final reason why I think some kids opt out is because they don’t see themselves as being contributors to the team’s goals and successes.
I’ve noticed that nearly all of the runners who are around more than 2 years are contributing in some way to the team’s success. Maybe they’re not winning races but they’re scoring points and helping the team place in races.
What does any of this have to do with Millennials?
Well, you may have heard the statistic that Millennials make up the largest segment of our culture and yet they are the least churched. What is fascinating to me is to see the number of Millennials who were once really active in church and yet are now not involved.
I wondered if there were any parallels to Cross Country that might help explain why Millennials are no longer engaging with the church when they grow up.
It’s interesting to note how similar the Christian life is to distance running. Paul likens the Christian life to a race. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
The author of Hebrews also compares the Christian life to a race, but he (or she) qualifies it as a race of endurance, rather than a sprint. The author encourages us to, “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”
It seems to me that the reasons Young Professionals give up on church may be similar to the reasons kids give up on sports like Cross Country.
Some give up because they don’t have a lot of interest in it. Maybe they only went to church as a kid because their parents made them and they never fully adopted the beliefs. Some may adopt a different worldview in college and their interest in the church wanes.
I think others may stop their involvement in church because they don’t have friends there or they can’t find people who share their interests. Just like the team sport, it’s much harder to stay involved in something if you don’t have friends there. It takes much more work to stay engaged and often feels less rewarding.
Some leave the church because of discouragement. Whether it’s life issues such as divorce or an unexpected death, financial hardships or other unforeseen circumstances, some may have a hard time reconciling their faith with the situation they’re experiencing. A loss of hope and a diminishing belief system will cause many to change their direction.
Lastly, I believe some leave the church because they don’t see their value to the kingdom. After the initial commitment of salvation, it’s easy for the Christian life to be reduced to attending a weekly service and maybe joining a small group. From my observation, those who stay involved for the long haul often find their unique contribution to God’s kingdom purposes based on their skills, talents, passions and experiences. Rather than feeling like a spectator on the sidelines, they see themselves as intimately involved in what’s happening. They feel more value, which can be a tremendous motivator to stay involved.
Of course, just like sports teams, there are likely more reasons to disengage than I’ve outlined and everyone’s situation is unique, so their reasons for not being involved might not fit neatly into one of the aforementioned categories.
My desire is to hear people’s unique story and to help them see how they can experience the most fulfilling life possible by being connected to Jesus and His people.
If we can create an environment where people feel connected to others and see how they’ve been uniquely created to make an impact for Christ in their community, enduring this race known as the Christian life might just be a little bit easier.