encouraging youth to
By Karen Stiller
Young adults say “experiencing God” is key to whether or not they
keep attending church. What does it meant to experience God?
What can the Church do about it?
you can’t bottle up an experience with God. If you could, church leaders across Canada would be the first in line to put a cork in it.
They would offer it by the cartful to youth who, according to the recent study Hemorrhaging Faith: Why
and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying
and Returning to Church, leave the Church because they
have not experienced God.
“Experienced God” is one of four reasons why youth
say they remain in the Church, according to the report
( www.hemorrhagingfaith.com), along with three others,
namely spiritually engaged parents, vibrant community
and empowering teaching and beliefs. Most youth who
remain enjoy all four. Youth who drop out usually lack
“We found almost all young adults who have left the
Church are saying the same thing about God,” says James
Penner, researcher and co-author of the report. “They
don’t feel they are experiencing God personally or that
God answers their prayers.”
David Guretzki is professor of theology, church and
public life at Briercrest College and Seminary in Caron-
port, Sask. He consulted on the Hemorrhaging Faith pro-
ject and recently hosted a think-tank about the report at
“Students who remain engaged with the Church will
have experienced God. That’s not a surprise from a theological perspective,” says Guretzki. But if someone has
experiences of God without a church community around
to help make sense of them, those experiences alone are not necessarily going to lead them to church.
“I suspect that the more overlapping
circles of drivers, the higher the correlation of extended involvement in the
Church,” says Guretzki.
What he’s driving at is that all four
drivers work together for good for those
who experience them. If a youth we will
call Sarah feels God has shown Himself
active, present and tangible in some way
in her life – that can be a significant driver for her to keep the faith.
But if Sarah has that experience of God along with spiritually engaged parents, a vibrant
community and empowering
teachings and beliefs, then that
experience of God becomes
Its driveability quotient just
got kicked into a higher gear.
“It’s good to analyze the
drivers and separate them out,”
says Guretzki, “but you can’t say,
‘All I have to do is help students
create experiences of God. You
can’t manufacture that.’ ”
If only we could.
“Of all the information in
the report, this [“experiencing
God”] one grabs me as almost
dangerous,” says Iona Snair, the
Abbotsford, B.C.-based associate
director of Lifeteams for Youth
Unlimited, and a member of the EFC’s Youth and Young
Adult Ministry Roundtable.
Snair says it would be a mistake to focus on a question
like: What programs do we have to put in place to help
young people experience God?
“Rather than this being an item on a to-do list that
directs us to a new program, it can be a wake-up call
to the Church to say that we have an
opportunity to actually invite children
into our corporate experiencing of
God, that as we are experiencing Him,
they are exposed to that and grow up
That approach, says Snair, is not a
“time-limited programmatic answer.
It’s how we experience God together.”
And that is exactly as easy as “grasp-
ing at fog,” says Ryan Matchett, pastor
of community groups and a school of
discipleship at River of Life in Leth-
bridge, Alta. “How do we do it? We’re