3 Reasons Young People Are Leaving Traditional Churches

One of the biggest stories in sports in Dwight Howard’s recent decision to turn down millions of dollars to leave the storied Los Angeles Lakers and join the Houston Rockets.  Many people are SHOCKED by this.  I mean, players grow up dreaming of playing for Lakers.  Why would someone possibly leave the glitz and glamour of L.A., not to mention the weather and Hollywood atmosphere, to play in the “smaller market” of Houston, TX?

Howard’s decision has resulted in many people questioning him.  Does he have the work ethic?  Is he “hungry” enough?  Shaquille O’Neil even questioned his ability to handle the bright lights and big city.

I was not surprised by Howard’s decision at all.  In fact, I expected it.  What I did find surprising were how many of his reasons for leaving an established franchise like the Lakers paralleled the reasons young people leave established churches.

Romona Shelburne made three specific observations about Howard’s decision in a recent ESPN article.  The following is a segment from that post:

“Howard looked at the Lakers and saw an aging roster, transitioning management and a tenacious force of personality in Bryant that he would rather run from than try to change.

You can read the full article by clicking here.  Let’s recap the three reasons:

  • Aging Roster – Howard chose to play with James Harden, a 24-year-old All-Star who finished 5th in the league in scoring, rather than the 35-year-old Kobe Bryant coming off a severe Achilles injury.  Churches that are effective in reaching and maintaining the next generation focus their services and ministries on young people.
  • Transitioning Management – Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss passing away this past year created an understandable level of instability in the organization.    A major stumbling block for Howard was new management’s decision to hire Mike D’Antoni as head coach rather than 9-time champion Phil Jackson.  Howard never felt comfortable in D’Antoni’s offensive system.  Howard has indicated that if Jackson were hired, he could possibly still be a Laker.  Young people flock to churches with stable, authentic and proven leadership who provide opportunities for missional activity (think offensive system) and community.
  • Forceful Personalities – Kobe Bryant, self-admitted, is difficult to play with.  Young people welcome truth but want it delivered with love and grace.  One of the reasons church plants are exploding and established churches struggle is young pastors understand it is easier to plant a church, establish your own core values, hire your own staff, and deliver ministry in their preferred way rather than transitioning an established church resistant to change with large amounts of bureaucracy.  It just isn’t worth the hassle.

If you are an established church with a great history, please know that I deeply desire for you to have a great future as well.  Focus your ministries on young people.  Ensure stable, authentic and proven leadership provides young people with missional activity and a deep sense of community.  And finally,Embrace change.

Dwight Howard left the Lakers.  If you do the three things mentioned above, you will have a great chance of keeping your young talent.


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About briand@injoystewardship.com

11 Responses to “3 Reasons Young People Are Leaving Traditional Churches”

  1. Mark Asbell on 17/07/2013 #

    Good parallel Brian. So true. I’d like to see a follow up post with your thoughts about how the traditional churches can embrace change and turn their focus away from dying generation bureaucracy and put the focus on future generation ministry.

    • Douglas Scaddan on 17/07/2013 #

      That would be a great post! I agree, there should be a followup. There is a book called “UnChristian” that studies these reasons as well as provides some simple solutions. It uses a fair bit of statistics provided by the Barna Group. Very well researched.

  2. Douglas Scaddan on 17/07/2013 #

    Great post! Love it! And full of truth!

  3. Gary Walton on 17/07/2013 #

    The very last line is chilling to the core. To make a statement that the established church “isn’t worth the hassle” comes very condescending, self-centered and self promoting. Agree with the reasons in the article of why the ‘young’ leave but we do not have to cast out the ‘established’ church w/ the proverbial bath of a church plant. All the church, established, young, old, new – is worth fighting for.

  4. Chad on 17/07/2013 #

    In many ways I am in the middle of this scenario right now. I have been lucky enough to spend the first 10 years of my ministry career in established churches and ministries with great vision and forward momentum.

    For the last couple of years I have been in a completely different situation and I feel this myself as well as plenty of the people I minister alongside of.

    These are great parallels. It is possible for established churches to flourish, but it must happen intentionally. You can’t expect the current and future generation of leadership to sustain the previous generations vision.

  5. Michelle Williams on 20/07/2013 #

    Great article. Agree completely

  6. Jim on 20/07/2013 #

    Bro Brian,

    I agree with Bro Walton in his reply. Just what are the specific items you don’t care about having in a Church. Lets spell it out no general headings. Let me see if I can come up with some items. Traditional hymns are no longer needed (Old Rugged Cross, Sweet Sweet Spirit, ect.)Must have One Senior Pastor utilizing “Pastor Rule” Church Polity) Is their a need for having a written Church Constitution & By Laws for (copy for each member) use?? No need for monthly business meetings. Are the words committees and Roberts Rule of Order feared by some pastors?? Just a few items that that come to mind. Comments anyone. Can you add a few more specific ones. Bro Brian you need to spell it out plain and clear just what you don’t like about the traditional Church.



    • briandodd on 20/07/2013 #


      Thanks for your question. The statement “It just isn’t worth the hassle” has been reiterated numerous times by church planters coming out of seminary. Many of today’s seminary graduates would rather start their own church, develop their own core values, and build their own teams rather than fight a losing battle with tradition and bureaucracy.

      This is just simply a reality in today’s church. We are losing young people. That is undeniable. Hopefully, we care enough about the next generation to make the changes needed to reach them.

      Thanks again. I hope to hear from you again often.


      • Jim on 21/07/2013 #


        You have confirmed what I have said regarding traditional/contemporary churches. Pastors want to be in total control (Pastor Rule Polity). No one else has a say. Its like a college graduate starting his own business, he is in total control and in your post its all about the Senior Pastor. His way or the highway no opposition or hassle. But always remember its not about him (Sr. Pastor) its about JESUS.



  7. Richard H on 20/07/2013 #

    I’d say these reasons apply not just for young people, but also for people of other ages who have a strong vision.

  8. Curt on 23/07/2013 #

    Maybe the reason young people are leaving the church is because they aren’t hearing the Gospel! They don’t talk about faith and repentance anymore and rarely preach through whole books of the bible. They are segregated from birth and grow up with only people in their own age group who expect to be entertained all the time at church. They are never mentored or taught to respect the elders of the church but are taught that everything revolves around the young people in the church. So it’s no wonder when they grow up they either don’t attend church or they find one that will entertain them.

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