Lost in Transition

“We are going to lose them…”

Those words often get tossed around when church leaders discuss high school students making the transition into college. To a certain extent this is a legitimate worry – there are many factors in play as to why students get lost in transition. This is especially a concern for churches that have both a high school ministry and a college ministry. Naturally there are cultural patterns that influence high school students to disconnect from church as soon as they graduate – but its not only their fault. The church should accept its responsibility and admit that it is partly to blame for why students get lost in transition.

High School Graduation

As summer approaches my church faces the challenge (that many other churches face) of how we are going to help our high school seniors make a successful transition into our college ministry.  But there are several things that we do  to help them make this arduous transition; for instance we make sure that our college ministry and its leaders interact often with the High School ministry – that way the Seniors have some familiar faces when they come into the college ministry. We also encourage some of our college leaders to attend camps/events and hang out with the seniors during the few months before they graduate. These are just a few of many things that we do to help them make this transition, however there are some issues that the American church as a whole needs to address if this generation is going to make the jump from being believers as children and teenagers to being believers as adults. If the church doesn’t address these issues we will have a generation that gets lost in transition…

David Kinnaman, in his latest book You Lost Me, outlines six reasons why so many people in this generation get lost in transition:

  1. Many see the church as overprotective and sheltered.
  2. Many see the church as shallow, including its teaching.
  3. Many see the church as anti-science.
  4. Many see the church as repressive and judgmental.
  5. Many see the church as exclusive.
  6. Many see the church as an unsafe place to express doubt.

It would seem as though this is actually a perception issue, as though the Church has made some bad PR moves and all that needs to happen is that the Church needs to do a better job in how it portrays itself. However the issue is much deeper than that….

Some of these issues spring from the church acting in an un-Christlike manner, prioritizing religion over authentic faith, however some of these issues spring from a clash between the gospel and cultural norms. We know that the church cannot compromise the gospel for the sake of coming in line with cultural norms. However, as the church ensures that we don’t let this generation slip out of our hands we will need to reexamine ourselves and make sure that we aren’t pushing people away because we refuse to let go of religious norms and traditions.

In other words, we need to look at this list and determine which of these factors if any are the logical consequence of the gospel and which of these factors are birthed out of our own tradition and preference.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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