Why young people are shunning church: one young man’s perspective

Frankie Gist

Why young people are shunning church: one young man’s perspective
August 25
14:14 2021

A few years ago, I wrote an article about why I felt young people were walking away from the church in record numbers. I touched on several issues that I have witnessed and why things are totally different now versus during our parents’ or grandparents’ generation when nearly everyone went to church.

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook where some young people were talking about the same topic. With all of the reservations young people had about the church, I felt the pandemic would have been a great way to reinforce the connection the church has with the community. From what I saw on the Facebook post, for many young people, that did not happen.

One of the young men on the post made some valid points, so I reached out to him for an interview to expand upon his thoughts. Frankie Gist recently sat down with The Chronicle and these are his thoughts on why young people have been leaving the church.

Question: Is this a trend that you have noticed recently, or something that has been happening for years?

Answer: This is something that has been happening for several years now. You’re talking to someone who grew up in ministry. I did everything the church wanted me to do and I was that promising child that people said was going to be a preacher one day. All I was taught is that you have to live right and if you don’t, God is not going to bless you and you won’t make it to heaven. I didn’t realize how bad church folk were, and it’s not necessarily the church, because I want to make it clear that we are the church, it’s the people inside these buildings acting like they don’t have skeletons inside of their closets.  

I went from church to the street, because I got hurt in the church and the streets showed me more love than the church ever did. I watched how some of my peers and some around me, or even from afar, how church folk threw them away and they never looked back at the church ever again. It’s not that they don’t love God, they just don’t like going to that building that they call church.

Q: Do you think your story is similar to other people that have also gravitated away from the church?

A: It’s crazy how the church is supposed to be the hospital, where if I’m broken, I can be healed, if I’m confused, you can make my mind straight. So, the church is a hospital, but it’s like you’re going to the hospital to die, because they kill every dream you had, every faith that you had, and every hope that you had. The thing is, so many people experienced something like I experienced in the church. When you thought you could go to a church and find different, but instead you found hurt, it’s very hard for someone to trust a church again. So, I do believe a lot of young people walked away from the church for the same reasons I walked away, which was church hurt and people judging me and not knowing me.

Q: Since you have walked away from the church, do you still consider yourself a religious person?

A: I am not a religious person; I am a spiritual person. I always say that it’s relationship over religion, because so many people are religious, but don’t have a relationship. So many people speak religion, but don’t talk about the power of having relationship. You have to get to know God for yourself and so I wouldn’t consider myself as religious, I would consider myself as spiritual, but I am big on relationship with God over religion.

Q: What do you think needs to change inside the church to change this current trend with the younger generation?

A: First, the church has to wake up; the church is sleeping. And let’s talk about the problems in the church, which is why the church can’t reach nobody, because the bishop is sleeping with folks, the pastor is sleeping with folks, they are doing fraud, they are doing all types of different things, and the problem is the only way the church is going to be able to reach young people is to meet them where they are. You can’t go into Piedmont Circle talking Jesus if I never knew Jesus. 

It’s OK to wear jeans and a regular t-shirt and go out there to talk about football instead of talking about Jesus, because Mary said it best, it’s the God in me. When you are truly anointed and when you are in God’s favor, you don’t have to say Jesus’ name, because the anointing on your life should make their soul so convicted that they ask you who Jesus is, instead you asking them, do they know Him. That’s when you know who’s really spending time with God and who’s not spending time with God, it’s because the people who are spending time with God, you never hear them say ‘do you know Jesus.’ But the people who spend time with God, you’ll sit around them long enough, you’ll end up speaking in tongues and maybe asking them what church they go to and all of that.  

In order for the church to be able to reach these young people, they have to meet them where they are. Don’t throw them away because their pants are baggy, don’t throw them away because they got pregnant out of wedlock, don’t throw them away because he smokes a little marijuana here and there.

Q: Do you think the pandemic opened the eyes of some of these older churches to realize they need to change things up from what they were previously doing?

A: I would say yes and no. If you realize all those big-time bishops and pastors that were around this city, where do you see them now? Nowhere. When you are truly anointed and when you are spending time with God and doing right by God’s people, God will make sure he makes your name great. So many pastors are talking about their title, but people don’t even know their names. The problem is that the pandemic showed us who has the anointing and who don’t. If you can’t reach souls through a camera, I know damn well you can’t reach souls out of the damn pulpit.

The pandemic has changed the outlook for church folk, because now they see that outreach is bigger than ever right now. I have seen more churches do outreach more than I have ever seen. I grew up in the Pentecostal church and I ain’t never seen outreach in the Pentecostal church. I didn’t even know what outreach was until I got the hell up out of there. The pandemic showed a lot of Pentecostal churches that it takes more than just a foot stomp, speaking in tongues and a little shouting to reach a soul; it takes more than that. If you really want to reach these young people, you have to go out into the community and reach them and the pandemic has opened up the mindset of the church to learn that outreach is beyond them four walls.

Q: When I think about young pastors who embody outreach and do it differently than other churches, pastor Curtis Friday of the Love Church comes to mind. He seems to have a great formula for attracting young people. Do you agree with his methods?

A: I definitely agree. Let me tell you something about Pastor Curtis Friday. I love that man and let me tell you why I love that man, and I love all God’s children. But the reason I love that man is every time we came in there, it was such a profound anointing from beginning to end. He wasn’t showboating with a preacher’s robe or collar, or a bunch of stand-up for this and that stuff. It was just a ‘come in here and get what you need’ type of atmosphere.  

It was just freedom in the atmosphere and the young people were drawn to that. They didn’t see any of the church mothers making a stank face at them. They didn’t get called out by the bishop or anything; it was just a free atmosphere to be who you are and let God do the rest for you. Him giving out cars to single mothers; do you know how many churches take tithing and offerings from so many people in the congregation, but they never take the time out to say ‘hey, let’s give back to single mothers’ who are always at the building helping out and at every auxiliary, helping out and always giving, giving giving, but there is nobody ever to give to them?

That means a lot when a young person sees a pastor take the time out to encourage their mothers, or take the time out to mentor them and pull up to the courthouse with them and go speak on their behalf to the probation officer.  Just to go over and beyond for the family members that have died from gun violence. That is the type of pastor that God intended for people to be. No pastor is perfect, so he’s not perfect, but he has a heart of God. I think his message that he has with the Love Church is phenomenal, because these young people are drawn there, that’s where they go. I know so many people in that ministry that have been blessed by that ministry. He has a heart for the people and God.

Q: Do you think the larger churches in the city are doing enough to help the community?

A:  They could do more. They are so focused on packing their congregations and conventions that God never intended the church for. The thing is, these larger churches could provide so much more. With all this money they got, they could have started real summer camps that help our young Black men and women, they could have started help with job placement. You could hire people at the big church to work with janitorial work and show them how to work with computers for administrative assistant work. It’s so much they can do.

They may be doing something, but their food pantries aren’t saving lives; I just wanted to put that out there. So many other churches have food pantries, but what about the tools that these young people can use to become a man, to become a woman? Some of them never been to the hood, so they are scared to go. How does the mayor pull up to the hood before they do? It doesn’t make sense to me. You know how many times I have reached out to pastors to work with me, but it was always a hidden agenda with them?  They have to do more.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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