I have spent much of the last 25 years studying and thinking about adolescent and young adult spiritual formation. Over the last few years, the academic work of sociologists such as Christian Smith (Soul Searching and Souls in Transition) and more popular writers such as David Kinnaman (You Lost Me and unChristian) have documented the unique characteristics of this generation of young adults who are leaving the church. Some return, some live on the margins of the institutionalized church, and some actively reject the faith.
One of the frustrations I have with Kinnaman is his equating leaving the church with leaving the faith. He sees the exodus of young adults from the church as a failure of disciple-making.
As I spend time talking with young adults, especially articulate, well-educated young people, a theme I hear is that they are not rejecting Christ - they are rejecting the institutional church. Some have gone so far as to say that the only way they can continue to follow Christ with any integrity is to leave the church.
What has been your experience with this conversation? What should be the response of churches, pastors, youth leaders, parents, and others to what seems to be an authentic desire to follow Jesus while rejecting the institutions of the faith.
(Please understand - I desire to approach this from a pastoral perspective. I know I can't control the conversation, but if your only experience with the spiritual formation of contemporary adolescents and young adults is that they wait on you at Starbucks, perhaps you should refrain from responding. Like those who pontificate about abortion yet do not know a woman who has struggled with the decision, or who speak with eloquence about gay marriage but don't personally know any same-sex couples, or who have strong opinions about the immigration debate but have never had a conversation with an undocumented person, you may have wonderful opinions - but I would like to first read the responses of those who are on the front lines of loving and sharing Christ with folks under the age of 30.)