Guest Post Dustin Nickerson: Why kids and parents leave the church.


Dustin Nickerson has been a good friend of mine for a while now and I am very honored to have him guest post on my blog. I could not agree with what he says more. We as ministers and especially kids ministers need to devote ourselves to theology more than we do. We do what we believe many times to disastrous consequences. As kids ministers we need to ask ourselves deep questions to provide distilled truth for the kids and families we serve. We as the church in the day we live in need to be the church like never before. I hope you enjoy Dustin’s post as much as I did.


I read Sam’s blog yesterday and was eager to respond to it. I was planning on commenting on it, and then I got in for about 500 words, and decided a different format may be more effective.

Sam and I are united in many core truths. Perhaps more so than any other are our convictions on Gospel-centeredness in Kids Ministry, and also our emphasis on the role of the local church. He’s a friend whom I respect and learn often from.

Sam hit the Gospel boldly and clearly in his post, and as I step up to the plate here (on, baseball analogies are must), I want to hammer home some truths on the other thing we’re most united on: the church.

Over the last few years, much has been made of the statistics of young adults dropping from church. The 90% mark that Sam mentions is the highest I’ve seen, but even many of the more conservative statistics estimate around 60%. Either way, the point is clear: the majority of people going to church as kids aren’t sticking around. This is a problem.

Perhaps the most helpful research I’ve read on this is the more recent post from the Barna Group, articulating that though kids may not be “loosing their faith” they are walking away from the church, and often times never coming back.

This research brings up an interesting idea: Young adults are leaving the church, but not the faith. Really? So they love Jesus, but not his Bride? The Head, but not the Body?

That doesn’t work for me. There is no Christianity outside of a Christian church. Christians don’t go to church, they are the church. Biblically, there is no category for a Christian that exists outside of a local body of believers that sit under the leadership of qualified pastors. To be a Christian, is to be the church, so to not be the church, is to not be a Christian. When the arm breaks off, it’s not apart of the body anymore, even if it resembles it.

Now, if according to Barna, only 3 out of the 10 kids that go to church growing up stick around and remain involved, who’s to blame? Well, a starting point is the church. These kids have a misunderstanding of the Gospel and the church. And it’s the church (which is responsible to equip the parents to teach the children, as well as teach the children themselves) that rightfully receives the blame here.

Sam says that part of the problem is that churches aren’t giving kids the Gospel, and I agree. But I think it’s more than that. I have a hard time believing that 70% of churches in America aren’t preaching the Gospel to the kids in their church.

Sam says, “Simply put these kids never left their faith because they never fully had it in the first place.”

Amen! But let me ask this, even beyond just Gospel words we may use, did they churches they attend ever call them to a true Christian faith in the context of the Body of Christ?

I think much of the problem lies in our ecclesiology, our understanding of what church is. Yes, Sam is right, plenty of kids never genuinely believed because they were forced to come to church with their parents on Sundays. But that doesn’t account for all of them, or even necessarily the majority of them.

How many of these kids (and their parents) walked away because they were never called to be a part of the church, but to simply come and enjoy church? Each week they’d be entertained by our productions, great worship bands, nod their heads through our teaching times, and maybe even come up for an altar call. Then repeat this in junior high, then high school, then maybe college ministry…and then what?

I’ve led, and will continue to lead fun, engaging ministries. That’s not my point. My point is that the stuffy old church boring kids with outdated methods is not the only one on the hook for this.

We’re several decades into the flashy, relevant mega church era here, and this stat applies to them as well.  Watering down a message and the call to pick up their cross and follow Jesus, in order to boost attendance and provide the best kids program in town for consumer Christians…well, that’s an equal, if not greater contributor to these stats. They may be getting a gospel message, but the programming around it is preaching something that has nothing to with what the church is supposed to be about.

So why this isn’t about methods, it is about a theology that drives our methods. For example…

  • If we believe that parents are the primary influence in kids lives, we should spend the majority of our time, money, and energy into equipping them, not our programming
  • If we believe that Salvation is of the Lord by grace alone, we won’t need to take our joy and satisfaction in Sunday attendance and how many kids come up at alter calls, and in the process, perhaps call them to something other than the Gospel and the true Church
  • If we believe that Jesus is the hero, and that in him is the most abundant life and joy imaginable, then we can feel content to present him as that to the kids in our church, not something else
  • If we believe that Jesus is at the center of all creation and the church, then we can build ministries that are the same and exist to please him, not just entertain kids and appease parents
  • If we believe in the power of the Word of God, we can preach all it’s truths boldly in our ministries, not just tack on a verse to an otherwise Word-less program
  • If we believe God is advancing the Kingdom through the work of the local church, we can focus on integrating kids into the life of the whole church before they leave our ministries, and not focus on building kingdoms of our own

This is a convicting word for me to write, because I’ve given kids both a watered down message of the Gospel, and a watered down understanding of what the church is.

But in order to reverse this statistic, we cannot do so. We must give them Jesus, his true and full Gospel, and his true and full Church.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Guest Post Dustin Nickerson: Why kids and parents leave the church.

  1. Right on! I'm so tired of people saying they love Jesus but then talk bad about his Bride. I've been contemplating writing a post on this same topic but you nailed it! Thank you for your heart. I truly believe many of us are working towards that level of engagement that kids need to understand their part in the body and I'm excited to see more of them sticking around.
    Like you, one of the things I love about Sam is his belief in the strength of the local church to impact culture. It inspires me.

    • Jared thanks for your comment. I've been thinking about you hope all is well. So appreciate you and your father and the great work you are doing. Your collective love for the church is more than evident.

  2. Very well said!

    We must stay relevant, providing the fun kids need, but the Gospel must remain our bullseye.

    And we must empower parents, because their impact reaching father into their child’s life.

  3. YES! YES! YES! Totally and completely agree!!!!! This is why I spend so much time writing our own curriculum. I want our kids to KNOW GOD and have a life of walking and living and growing in Him, not just trying to teach them to conform their behavior to match what a Christ-follower should look like. If the relationship with God is in place, the behaviors take care of themselves. Teach the Word, not character development.

  4. Brilliant! We have to engage families in being the church not just coming to church. Salvation has to be about an invitation to live sacrificially in the Kingdom now (i.e. our lives are changed) not just about entering it when Jesus comes back….

  5. AMEN!!! Yes, this is what I've recently been thinking about and convicted over. Engaging kids, and families in being the church and living out the gospel. Thank you for posting this.

  6. You just encapsulated perfectly the concept taught in Hebrews 5:12 moving from milk to meat. By our failure to engage children in the Word of God today we are raising a generation of increasingly Biblically ignorant adults in lieu of keeping kids entertained today. Just take a quick look around, how many bloggers and children’s ministry leaders openly quote scripture as backings for their arguments?