Why not give young people permission to leave the church? (For a year)

Far be it from me to try and make a theological or practice point about young people, their faith and discipleship from the current media scrutiny about the footballing performances of Wayne Rooney, a player who has for 14 years played nearly 60 professional matches per season and though his age might not reveal it (he is 30), he has probably, if reports are accurate, put his body through enough for the equivalent of most 34-35 yr old players. He needs a break, or to be treated as if he is older. Maybe he needs a sabbatical or year off…

Much of the conversations over the last 30 years of youth ministry has been around that statistic, that 300 young people are leaving the church every week – or they did between 1960-1980. And so, in the main, a variety of methods have been employed in churches, and youthworkers have been literally employed, to do their best to retain young people in the church community, ie to stop them leaving. Then there is fear, a fear of them leaving and never coming back, or worse still, going to a different church. all of which might be more likely if they feel encouraged/forced to stay.

But what if the church (if it had young people at this age) said that every young person at the age of 14 was allowed to leave the church for a year. 

I must give credit to Rebecca Sibanda (https://beingmrssibanda.wordpress.com) for not the idea, but for telling me that this is one aspect of the Amish faith community that already practice this – the details are here in a transition process called; Rumspringa. Though this article mentions some of the more extreme situations of when Rumspringa has caught the attention of the media, it might be a principle worth exploring further.

In the Amish Community a young person is given the option at a certain age of either being baptised into the faith, or then given the opportunity to leave the faith community, to then be able to return after a period of time allowed away to come back into the community. As a rite of passage I feel it has some merits, in the current contemporary situation of the church.

Lets just say that for simplicity’s sake, ie forget baptism, confirmation and the differences depending on the denominations, but that at the age of 14 every young person, who has been attending the church in its groups for at least 6 years (hence the Wayne Rooney illustration)  is given a year off. Yes a year off coming to church, the youth club, helping in sunday school, the choir, whatever it is. Yes they can turn up if they want to, but from 14-15 its a year off church, and yes that includes the summer festival, or weekends away, they are away.

Then there is a ceremony to welcome them back sometime after their 15th Birthday.

For one thing, if its widely adopted then the following could happen in a church:

  1. The leaving moment would be celebrated as a moment of transition, and could be heralded by a ceremony of choice, ie a ‘leaving do’ a marker of successfully completing ‘child’ church.
  2. The church would ensure its discipleship before hand would have the purpose of giving the young person tools to continue with faith ‘in the outside world’
  3. The church would do all it could to create the kind of environment that a young person who have fond memories of it and want to come back at 15, or even during the year should they want to dip in and out of services.
  4. The church community might miss the young person.
  5. The young person at 15 could return with a similar ceremony – and then be treated as and discipled as an adult,  so housegroups, responsibility, leadership….. (though it might be said these should be encouraged earlier- but in some cases this never happens)
  6. Hopefully it could help a church to view the difference between the 14 year old leaver, and the 15 year old returner.
  7. The year becomes acknowledged and part of the discipleship process of the young person, and everyone, leaders, parents and the faith community know it. So does the young person who knows they can leave before hand, but that they do have a scheduled year off coming up…

Obviously, if the young person used the time well, they might succeed in local football tournaments, or take up a new sport, or focus on studies and social life. But that is ok.

If the young person chooses to go to a different church during that year – then that should be ok shouldnt it? They have left one as a child and found a new identity as an emerging adult in another..

At the moment the church seems to be paranoid about trying to be as relevent as possible to keep young people within its walls, maybe giving young people who have been involved in the church often since birth (and most of the youth groups are full of christian parents kids) then an enforced sabbatical, an enforced leave as part of a transition, identity, ceremonial process for them, might not be too bad a thing.  Maybe in reality, young people could choose when they wanted to activate their ‘year’ but give the church a few weeks notice to prepare for such a ceremony – but then its getting a little complicated.

oh and if 6 14 year olds leave a youth group of 7 all at the same time, then maybe the youth work volunteers also get a year off too…. or start again with the 8 year olds all over again….

Giving young people permission to leave – might mean that 25% leave and don’t come back. That’s still 75% that do, and break might do them good, as still might the 25%…

Thoughts?  Letting young people leave… radical, stupid, or irrelevant seeing as churches don’t have many 14 year olds anyway…

This doesnt include young people who are hopefully just arriving into the church from the age of 12… they have only just started their discipleship…



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