Haemorrhaging Faith, Exiting the Church or Believers in Exile?

Dropping Out

I was raised at a good evangelistically oriented church that had a favourite saying, “In the same way as walking into Maccas doesn’t make you a Big Mac, attending church doesn’t make you a Christian.”  As I’ve been investigating the phenomenon of unprecedented numbers of youth and young adults leaving our churches I’ve been wondering if the opposite is also true – does walking out of the church give no (necessary) indication as to their state of faith?  That is to say, while we are witnessing a large scale exodus, I’m not so sure we are necessarily seeing haemorrhaging of faith.  Let me explain…

This year I’ve been involved with the Baptist Union of Victoria as they seek to understand the faith expression and leadership development of the Next Generation.  A big part of this research effort has been to consider the Australian experience in the light of the insights and learning of an equivalent project in Canada called Haemorrhaging Faith.  Initially this took the form of a keynote address at the recent Haemorrhaging Faith National Conference and subsequent discussion on this Blog and related FB posts that a number of you shared around the place.

The discussion that transpired over social media was really helpful and assisted in clarifying the next stage in our analysis and thinking concerning this overarching question – is the Australian Church Haemorrhaging Faith or is something else going on?

On the one hand, “Haemorrhaging Faith” is a catchy title.  But lets make no mistake, such a title intends to communicate that we are not just seeing young people exiting the church but that this exodus is at the same time a massive loss of faith. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and looking further into the data and I’m not so sure it is the case  – or at least not necessarily the case.

I don’t think it is necessarily the case because I’ve met and know too many people who I would describe as being active in their faith who feel unable to continue their faith journey within the four walls of local church.  I’m not excited about this circumstance.  I wish it were not the case.  But for some it became a choice between staying and continuing to experience their faith decline, or leave in the hope that they might be able to restore their faith.

Recently I was asked to write up some further thoughts regarding Haemorrhaging Faith for EQUIP magazine – a publication of Ethos Australia.  The article is attached below.  The article provides a more systematic view of the Australian situation including statistics of youth disengagement that date back some 40 years.  It also offers some further thought regarding how our interpretation of these figures influences the way we do ministry and reflects some of our core believes concerning church, faith and salvation.

I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the article, because I’d prefer you to read it … suffice to say, while I’m convinced we are seeing unprecedented numbers of youth and young adults leaving our churches, I’m not so sure they are haemorrhaging faith.  Instead, I think they are more likely experiencing a faith in exile. But I’ll let you be the judge.

Equip Magazine

Lewis – Ethos Equip Mag May 15 – State of Faith in Aus Youth



New Class this Semester : Youth Spirituality – Theology and Practice

For those of you interested in diving further into the dynamics of faith development in youth and young adults, there is a class running this semester at Whitley College called ‘Youth Spirituality – Theology and Practice’.  You can read more about the class here, or watch an intro to the unit below.  The class is available to all students studying at Diploma or Bachelor level.  If you are not a student, you are welcome to audit the class which gives you access to all the resources of the class without the necessity of doing assessments.







  1. Col says:

    Being involved in Youth Work across the spectrum full time for 25 years plus(mostly in public schools), I sadly see the current Gen Y…Z..partially I..as very self focused – thus leaving the Church. Yes..the Church is to an extent to blame..very exclusive despite having a sign saying ‘All Welcome’. BUT – they talk it up as a generation…but then move on to their next ‘coffee spot’.
    But i notice a shift…for the better in those 17 and under…whom seem to be much more ‘other person focused’…I think these are the ones we have been waiting for…Thanks God…

    • Hi Col.
      I hear what you are saying, and there has been some commentary around that Gen Y and Z and so on can all be lumped together and simply called ‘Generation Me’. I’m not quite so sure. I think there is a tricky balancing act through Adolescence and into Emerging Adulthood of needing to sort stuff out for yourself – egocentric is not quite the same as egotistical. I am still left wondering about the developmental notion of needing to have something first before you can give it away. To put it in semi-theological terms, can you develop an identity kinotically – that is, by constantly being other-focused, self-renunciating and self-emptying (Phil 2:7). Certainly it is the way of Christ, but he was first of all God who THEN chose not to empty himself of all the rights and privilege that comes with divinity.
      It is really a genuine wondering that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t like the idea of a ‘necessary selfishness’ before selflessness, but I have to contemplate the possibility that the journey toward the ultimate goal of surrendering one’s life must pass through non-surrendered stages first of all.
      Interested in your response.

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