The “Nones”

A friend shared with me this article from Christianity Today, Drew Dyck, “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church” (November 19, 2010), which has the tagline More than in previous generations, 20- and 30- somethings are abandoning the faith. Why? The title to this post derives from the large number of young people who grew up Christian, but now check “none” on surveys related to religion.

This article was very familiar to me. Yes, there are some differences between Mormons and more mainstream Christians, but the article seemed to me to be describing equally well a phenomenon that we Mormons are experiencing as well. Our young people go off to college or leave home for work, and they promptly drop out of the Church. This seems to be happening at accelerated rates compared to the past, and the old assumption that many will eventually come back when they start families of their own seems to be holding less than it used to. In short, we’re losing our young people at an alarming rate.

When I taught youth Sunday School a few years ago, I could see the seeds for this phenomenon being planted in our young people. The kids I taught were extremely jaded, they had just had it with church, and they were biding their time until they were out of the familial home and could easily disengage from involvement in the Church. They were all but lost already.

Some questions about this:

– Do you agree that our young people are leaving the Church in droves, at a far greater rate than in the past?

– In what ways is our problem the same as that of more mainstream Christians generally, and in what ways is our experience distinctive to our tradition?

– Can we Mormons and other Christians learn from each other in dealing with this phenomenon? If so, in what ways?

– Why is this happening? What are the forces that are driving our young people from the faith?

– What can we do about it?

In general, I’m interested in your thoughts on the phenomenon of our young people losing their faith and leaving the Church.


  1. What I would like to see is a serious effort to start our own schools. Raising kids in due process bureaucracies organized to serve different principles than those of the Gospel may be part of the problem.

    This would be a simpler endeavor if citizens pushed for voucher funding of schooling in the states where they live.

  2. I have plenty of friends who’ve left the church. Most of them left during/right after high school for various reasons. I don’t know if it’s droves or not, but enough of an issue to talk about. I think we all could use a little more frankness in our discussions and our lessons. Let’s shoot for the stars but welcome the sometime-happy-nebulae that be. One day they’ll be burning bright with us all in the God’s kingdoms.

  3. perhaps our youth leave the church at first opportunity because their classes are dreadfully dull, and they see priesthood/relief society being not that much different, and they really don’t want to experience that dullness the rest of their lives on earth.

  4. the irony in the suggestion in comment #1 that if we but increase the church’s reach in education we would have better retention is, well, laughable. The church has no incentive to train its volunteers (i.e. all members) to properly teach anything.

  5. In my ward there were a few correlations I could see.

    1.- kids that have solid roots in normal Mormon culture do better. By this I mean the kids do most of the following: go to seminary, mutual, camp, Efy, help people move, home teach with dad, go on missions, have family scriptures, fhe, speak in church, hold callings, regularly attend church, have both parents in the home, do baptisms for the dead, hold youth leadership callings, have shelves of Mormon apologetics books, have no mental or physical disabilities that make them socially undesirable by other mormons, go to byu or other church school/institute ,etc.

    These seem to be the kids with the highest odds of success (not perfect odds, but better odds).

    These are the kids who have

  6. Sorry, I probably shouldn’t be doing this on my phone (don’t tell Scott B.!)

  7. I don’t know that kids are leaving the Church in droves, I think it’s a reflection of the culture in which they grow up. I, for one, am under 30 but am just as firmly planted in the Church as ever — and I haunt the bloggernacle, so it’s not like I’m unaware of the controversies surrounding the Church! Other kids my age would probably be scandalized by the “shocking” revelations of Rough Stone Rolling and By the Hand of Mormon (I’ve been called to repentance by a roommate for owning such “apostate” literature) and that needs to change, especially in the Internet world — we can’t hide anymore!

  8. Does anybody have any evidence that the youth today are leaving the Church in droves or are we all just guessing?

    Anyway, one of the biggest factor I can think for why some youth in my home ward left the church was because they got in to drugs, alcohol, sex, friends who were a bad influence, etc. pretty early on. Many youth I know don’t dig into some of the lesser known and more complicated elements of Church history in high school.

  9. I think what we are doing has some positive effects, like seminary, for instance. I think the dropout rate has increased some around here, but not too much. A pattern I have noticed anecdotally is intrafamily. When an older/oldest child departs the faith, it seems that younger siblings are more likely to take the same road. I’ve seen this happen in what I would describe as faithful active “well-adjusted” Mormon families. In other words, I don’t think you can lay this off on the parents (obviously, there are cases where you can I suppose). Is this a result of an environment dominated by a secular message? I don’t think there is a single good explanation. I’m familiar with some Church surveys from a decade back about trends in activity. At the time, one indicator that SLC focused on was private gospel study. 16-year-olds who were involved in regular private gospel/scripture study had significantly better outcomes in terms of maintaining a connection with the Church after leaving home. Whether that kind of thing is prescriptive is a question. Maybe not relevant to your question though, Kevin.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    That’s very relevant, Bill.

    I think that for a lot of young people their concerns are more social than doctrinal. How do we as a church treat women? Gays? Ethnic minorities? Young people these days grow up to be very egalitarian, and when they perceive the Church as not measuring up that seems to be one avenue for disengagement to occur.

  11. Matt S.- If no one else says it, those are two books every Mormon should own, and not even remotely apostate. Maybe two of the most important LDS books of the past 50-100 years.

  12. I see several reasons for young adults leaving the church. 1) We have so much access to everything. The church cannot hide any past statements or history that puts it in a bad light. 2) Many people don’t have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. 3) There is a higher focus of following the brethren in our talks than on the atonement of Christ. 4) Gay marriage. Many do not see it as a threat to families. 5) The faithful church membership has grown towards more apathy. Hometeaching and temple attendance is not seen as a regular part of the gospel diet. 6) The leadership focuses more on petty points than important ones. Does anyone really care if a woman has two earrings in one ear? What the heck does it mean if she does? 7) Lessons in church are recycled. Not many people can quote Governor Laconeous’s proclamation in 3 Nephi chapter 3 but everyone knows how the Family Proclamation to the World is against gay marriage. 8) Time. We have so many things going on today than thirty years ago that people don’t want to make a full commitment to the church.

  13. I think this is a multifaceted issue.

    There’s a cultural component. Youth culture right now defines family more broadly than in the past. It’s a generation that has experienced single-parent families, families led by grandparents and a lot of other situations. It’s seen much more ethnic and cultural diversity than previous generations, at least in the U.S. and Canada. For better or for worse, conservative religious traditions, including Mormonism, haven’t been able to adapt fully to the current diversity of family structure, ethnicity and culture. There’s still a “1950s” ideal in place, and it’s sufficiently far from the everyday experience of today’s adolescents to cause some dissonance.

    The role of women figures into this, as well as the gay issue. The Church’s position is too conservative for most young people. Young people generally see gender roles as driven by temperament and life situation. They absolutely see women as leaders and professionals of every kind. They don’t see men as the head of the household. That notion is quaint to them. They have gay friends or friends who were raised by gay parents and are embarrassed by the Church’s outspokenness on the issue. This is a larger source of dissonance than you might imagine. (My 25-year-old son has several LDS friends from high school who left the Church precisely for this reason.)

    There’s an economic component as well. Simply put, early marriage, childbearing at young ages and single-income families are much harder to pull off than even just one generation ago. I think LDS adolescents feel the tension between the ideal presented in Church and what seems doable.

    Personally, I read quotes from the current YM and YW manuals, and it strikes me that they are out of synch with the realities of the lives of a lot of young people today. The manuals and programs really need to be updated if they are to resonate with their audience. And, it’s a tough audience. :- ) We’re well past the era where Johnny Lingo is anything other than camp. (Sorry, JL fans.)

    I hope the Church can address some of these issues. I don’t think success is going to come by retrenching into even stricter programs and standards or more frequent youth interviews by the bishopric. I think the Church is going to have to do some soul searching and come up with ways for the core principles of the gospel to apply to a new set of circumstances. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that the Church has resigned itself a future that includes a smaller membership that is less integrated into the mainstream culture. At least that’s the way the pendulum seems to be swinging right now.

  14. Kevin: While I don’t think parents should raise their kids to be sexists, racists, or homophobes, I think this is one situation where inoculation goes a long way, especially if the Youth can talk to their parents or peers and the parents or peers have a non-dissonance causing attitude towards these things. (ie-they are not against the church’s stance on the issues, and can articulate the church’s point of view in a way that makes the church sound reasonable. In other words, not sexist, racist, or homophobic.)

  15. I think when people go away to school if they don’t immediately get connected to the new ward it’s very easy for them to drift away and find friends with different standards. I imagine the longer they stay unmarried also drives them away if they are sensitive to the family focus in the church. As a “older” single woman I have watched many people come and go from my single ward and the ones who just come the first week with their parents after moving in often never show their faces again. I don’t think church school would help that much because I imagine where they would be the people are already surrounded by church. If people find lessons boring they should do something to make it more interesting for themselves. I hate that excuse and it reminds me of a talk by Pres Eyring about his father getting more out of sacrament meeting.

    To the actual questions: I don’t think I’ve been around long enough to say whether people are leaving more but I can say young singles are definitely becoming a greater focus at least in my stake.

    I imagine the problem isn’t really different from other Christians but it’s unique that we send records around looking for people. I’ve “enjoyed” a number of cold calls to people who’s records show up but no one knows who they are since they haven’t been to church. I think some other Christians may just not find a congregation they like when they go somewhere new. It must be hard to have to choose your own group instead of knowing where to go as soon as you move.

    I think laziness is part of what drives people away. They have to get themselves up and to church now, make their own effort to get to institute and activities, no one is making them and if no one is checking to see if they are making the effort it’s very easy to just keep not going. Also there are lots of distractions and if people feel like they’ve been sheltered they might want to be more rebelious?

    Part of me wonders whether people really had faith if they aren’t willing to keep going when their situation changes. Maybe they never had to believe for themselves and without some positive peer pressure to see them through changes they find it easier to disengage. I know when I was up to no good it was the fact that I’d not be able to avoid people forever that made me drag myself to church but I’ve never lived in a place like Utah when there are so many wards and such that you might easily be missed in a crowd.

  16. I have had this conversation a thousand times with some of my friends who are still left! It used to be that the male youth went inactive before missions, but now it seems that the missions are the dividing line and then after that they go inactive. In areas where I live, the activity rate is about 30% and so at one time I knew more inactive RM’s then active. I had a female friend recently quit the church. She is late 30’s, divorced, an awesome, awesome beautiful person, but the LDS male population in that age had all but dried up. The answer would be to move to Alberta (I’m Canadian)-but, there a girl over 25 is a dime a dozen, and midsingles conferences are really like women’s conferences. I don’t know what to tell my friend, and my female friends in Alberta who are smokin hot but have never had a boyfriend or a date in a long time, I get sick to think that a girl who is say 29 is “too old” and doesn’t stand much chance with all the competition of younger girls. I don’t have any answers sadly.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Some very thoughtful comments. Keep ’em coming, guys.

  18. First off, I agree with 8 that I’m not 100% sure this is something that is a “real” phenomenon, nor am I sure of how you’d even measure it. One thing I thought of is the number of full-time missionaries relative to church membership. The number of full-time missionaries has hovered around 52,000 according to the last 4 statistical reports, all while church membership has grown close to 1.5 million in the same time frame. Not sure what percentage of youth (which I’m going to define as between 12 and 25) makes up that 1.5 million.

    I think it’s kind of a no-brainer that the more involved that youth are in church activities that create a hunger for it at best and a habit of it at worst, the more likely they are to stay active.

    I wonder how much of it is a somewhat permissive parenting culture? My kiddos are still small but my nieces and nephews over the age of 20 are 2 for 7 on temple marriage/missions right now.

    I’ve looked with concern at this, and the only thing I’ve noticed is that my sibs were kind of afraid to drop the hammer when their kids were in high school about much of anything for fear of “losing the relationship.” I’m not sure it’s so much an issue of wanting to be their friends instead of their parents as it is they were terrified of push their kids away.

  19. My children who left the church in their 20s did so primarily for social reasons–they just didn’t fit–the boys chose not to serve missions, a daughter was divorced.

    I’m noticing more people in my age bracket who no longer attend–mostly because of boring lessons that don’t reflect the reality of their own lives.

  20. Yes, losing our youth is a problem. I imagine the statistical department of the Church (the one that administers surveys, etc.) has good data on this, but don’t expect a public report anytime soon. Here are a couple of ideas.

    One problem is that tolerance is the primary moral value that kids pick up in school, and the LDS Church is now perceived to be on the wrong side of the tolerance issue. For a generation after 1978 it wasn’t so bad to be young and LDS, but it is certainly not cool right now.

    Second is the general demographic shift of later marriage, which affects Mormons just like other groups. It’s not getting any easier to be a young single adult in the Family Church. Despite honest effort of many local leaders, it’s still a desert one passes through between mission and marriage. The desert is longer and hotter than it was before. We lose more than we used to.

  21. #19 and if you are a divorced person under 30 and/or with a child due to a none marriage the desert is even harder to navigate

  22. I think that part of the problem is a generation gap between the leaders and young people. I know the leaders mean well, but I think it is unavoidable with the accessibility of information these days. Kids are more tuned in to it, so church is perceived as a bunch of out of touch old people scolding them and harping on silly social issues that the kids could care less about. As long as we have fire and brimstone over the pulpit over things like texting, haircuts, or tatoos, young people will continue to get turned off. Correlation doesn’t help either. The manuals are truly terrible. When I taught youth SS, I tried 1 time to follow the manual exactly (just to see what would happen). The kids hated it! They told me emphatically how bad it sucked. They felt insulted. Even as teenagers, they are already way above the level of correlated materials. Small- f fundamentalism doesn’t help either. Young people don’t buy that garbage much these days. If they do, they get disenchanted pretty easily when they run up against evidence that goes contrary to what they thought they had a testimony of. I think that you are right about young people being egalitarian; the tighter you hold, the more they want to get away. I think it is a tough spot for the church to be in, but I don’t see much changing.

  23. It is in part because we refuse to speak openly and frankly to out youth and young single adults about sex. We couch, we skirt, we gloss over the realities that whilst they are desperately trying not to want to date at 14, their friends are all hooking up and sleeping with each other. I attended a great joint RS/PH meeting a couple of weeks ago about the youth programs in our ward. In the last 5 mins the Bishop read off a list of anonymous questions from the youth – 75% were related to sexual intimacy and how to navigate their way through. Its not enough to scare them into “NO”. We have to give them language and acknowledgement and safe environments to ask everything they need to ask and receive honest and frank answers.

  24. A published study indicates that the pattern of engagement and disengagement is that activity rates drop in the 20s, rise again to a higher point in the 40s, drop again in the 50s (read empty nest), and rise again in the 60s (grandchildren)? The same study indicates that 75 of those born LDS experience a period of disengagement (inactivity) of at least one year. Of those 75% who disengage, 60% return.

    Thus, having significant numbers or percentages of young adults drop out in their 20s is not unusual from a historical perspective. Both my father and father in law were among those who experienced disengagement in their 20s. Re-engagement is often associated with getting married and having children. To the extent the age of marriage and having children has become later, it may be that the data would show that the period of disengagement of young adults lasts longer. And it is likely that, as in the population at large, a higher percentage of LDS young adults disengage during their 20s–but I haven’t seen any data.

    My point is that I don’t think this is a new problem. Nor do I think those who currently have disengaged are mostly gone forever–history suggests that most who leave do return. Some of the causes may differ, as well as some percentages, but the pattern is not new.

    But, of course, as they say in finance, historical patterns are not necessarily predictive of the future.

  25. The inactivity rate for Young singles is 70%. That’s from the church statistical dept when my husband was bishop right in Salt Lake City, 3 years ago. It is real. The church is very concerned about it but doesn’t seem to know how to reverse the trend.

  26. Excellent post, with very thoughtful comments. It’s not so very different in Australia, though our numbers are much smaller, and the mix of members is perhaps a little different.

    I’m an adult convert, so my own experience is not very strong in the dynamics of growing up and maturing in the faith of one’s parents. But I will say this: when I investigated the Church (a two year process) I was utterly astounded to find ANY examples of young people remaining active in the church of their upbringing. This was something I had simply never encountered before. All the kids I knew at school from a strongly religious background had rejected religion without exception. The only active believers I knew at school were the ones who had chosen it for themselves, usually in the face of parental resistance.

    So, any examples of young adults remaining active still seem a little bit miraculous to me, even after 14 years!

  27. I tend to think part of the problem is the tendency to reduce everything in the church to charisma, fideism, and legalism. The manuals are more than dull because the church is not generally out to persuade anyone of anything. Rather the dominant mode in the church is to make announcements.

    Then members are supposed to obey the announcements for one of three reasons (1) because it is the law of the church (2) because they have faith (3) because they feel the Spirit. The idea that the witness of the Spirit is strengthened in the process of persuasion rather than pronouncement seems unusually foreign to most in the Church.

    To persuade, you need a theology. And yet the extent of the church’s official theology on a large number of contemporary topics is “trust us, pray about it, practice it, learn by experience”. This is important, but there is not enough substance there – in the general approach to theology as it relates to even the most practical of questions – to consume more than an hour of worship every week, let alone six days a week of this sort of watered down repetition.

    There are areas (eschatological mostly) where the Church has a well developed theology, but those are not the areas that apply most to daily life – how to think, not just how to feel about life’s most difficult challenges and questions.

    If you want some group of members to do more of X, persuade them as to why, and then let the Spirit take over. Announcing that they should do X and then leaving them hanging is not particularly effective. That’s my opinion.

  28. I think I will join in with all of you who are taking the opportunity to announce that your own personal pet peeves and/or policies or doctrines you disagree with are the reason for the alleged loss of young adults. Young people are leaving all right, they are running as fast as they can. And it’s because they see what goes on in Primary and they don’t want to stay in a church where 3 year-olds crawl all over their teacher and wipe snot all over her blouse.

  29. It’s hard to collect hard data on something the church has never tried.

  30. If it is a new phenomenon then it won’t be explained by stuff that has been around forever (boring lessons, drugs, sex, etc.). My guess would be a cultural shift toward secularism and atheism. America is becoming more like Europe, which is significantly less religious. As pointed out in the post, this is not a specifically Mormon issues, so looking for specifically Mormon causes is likely a mistake in understanding it.

  31. 27 E- Hilarious!

    I think they’re leaving because their leaders make them do a candlelit forced testimony meeting. Because of women’s issues. Because singles ward activities are stupid. Because they already have a calling and the RS keeps asking them to teach or something. etc

  32. Anonamolous says:

    I see a few problems. First, I don’t think we’re very good at teaching our youth how to interface with the world. We seem to spend an awful lot of time telling them how horrible “the world” is, and unsafe they are if they venture into it. And eventually they do. And they don’t know how to exist as Mormons in it. They don’t know how to appreciate and enjoy the world as Mormons–they confuse the world with the vague bogeyman “the world”; they assume incompatibility. Second, we spend an awful lot of time telling them how horrible things will be if they sin but we don’t spend enough time teaching them how to find joy. Third, I must agree with many of those who have said our curricula are out of touch. One of our Aaronic priesthood manuals still discourages interracial marriage, for goodness sakes! And when we rely on fear to preach good behavior, it almost always backfires. I fear for my smart, inquisitive pre-teen son; I worry that some of his leaders and teachers won’t have any credibility in his eyes. For example, if they teach him about the Church’s stance on homosexuality in a way that is folkloric, insensitive, or that relies on paranoid caricatures of homosexuals (and believe me, that is a very real possibility in my ward), they’ll be begging him to ignore everything else they say. Because he knows gay people (including married gay people), including work colleagues of mine and relatives of his. And if what his Sunday School teacher says simply fails to match the reality of his lived experience, he’s going to have a hard time with the cognitive dissonance.

    Finally, one problem that I saw missionaries encounter over and over again during my mission was the shock they seemed to experience when they discovered that there were non-Mormons in the world that were not, in fact, miserable. It sounds silly, but it’s true. We teach our youth so forcefully how miserable they will be if they don’t live the gospel, and then they encounter happy people who don’t live the gospel–and we’ve spent all our time teaching them how to not sin and not much time teaching them how to find joy–they’re going to wonder what they’re getting back for all the Church asks of them.

  33. Sorry. I need to by anonymous for this comment although I frequent this and other sites. Granted this makes your belief in my comment less likely, but take it for what it is worth.

    The problem is real. Along the Wasatch Front in Utah, the activity rate for YSA aged 18-30 is between 15-19%. This includes a very liberal definition of “active” that includes people who I wouldn’t necessarily include as active. It is a BIG problem that the leadership is really struggling with.

    I have my own theories for why this is happening, but they don’t really matter.

  34. More and more youth will continue to leave because of a culture of choice that they have been given by both schools, culture, parents, and even the church. When they read the 11th AoF they will sometimes understand that the way they wish to worship (or to worship at all) is not the way they were taught by their parents. To deny choice to these youth, or that there is only one correct choice is to deny what they see around them: that there are those who are not members or active members that do in fact live happy lives. It goes back to Aaron’s post last week. You can’t just say that “Our lemonade is best” and leave it at that. Youth will want to experiment with other faiths and possibly even join them. This should be seen as natural. A great many will return, and for those that do not, we should wish them happiness in whatever they have found.

  35. A few thoughts, prefaced first with a quick biographical note.

    I am 19 years old, a month away from leaving on a mission, a brother of two teenage sisters close to jumping ship and a member of the half-active local singles ward. I cannot tell you why young singles and youth may be leaving across the Church, but I can give you a clear view into my section of the trenches.

    My youngest sister hates Church. She is a nonconformist by nature and cannot stand being similar to any one else around her. She does not fit in easily with the girls in her class and does not relish being in their company. Her tastes in pretty much anything are eccentric, bordering on crazy, and I know that if my parents did not prohibit her from experimenting with tattoos, piercings, and drugs she would run the full gamut out of curiosity. She does not understand scripture and is unwilling to take the time needed to do so – it, as the Church as a whole, represents nothing more to her than arbitrary and limiting restrictions that neither she nor anybody she respects takes seriously.

    The second sister never complained about Church, but also never loved it. Her two best friends, both members, moved away earlier this year, and since then she has not attended seminary and only occasionally appears at mutual activities. Under extreme pressure because of low grades, she decided to call it quits on everything she felt her parents were unjustly forcing her to do – including most everything related to church. Her great ambition in life had once been to get married in the temple and begin a family; now both friendless and failing she sees no hope in her future and has stopped trying to reach this goal.

    One of my best friends has been meeting with the missionaries in my home for most of the last four months. She turned to me the other day and said, “You know, I really feel like I could be Mormon. A good Mormon even. It is just that I feel like if I was Mormon I would have to condemn gay marriage and I do not know if I could do that.” Her uncle is gay. She does not think she could face him if baptized into this Church.

    A common thread ties these examples together, if you can see it. In the end each comes down to socialization. Our social networks matter. My youngest sister sees no one like her inside the Church and concludes that it must not be the place for her. The other was tied to Church by her friends; once she lost the friends she lost the Church. When it came time to lash out against her parents it was all too easy to file ‘Church’ with the rest of her parent’s ‘pointless’ expectations. My friend wishes to believe but her existing social network does not accommodate the believer. Perhaps if it were a matter of replacing one group of friends with another it could be done, but this is family – and they stick with you forever.

    I also see this thread – or perhaps its opposite – with those who stay. Perhaps I myself am the best example of this. Over the last few weeks my testimony has taken a more severe beating than it has my entire life. But were I to lose my belief in God completely I would not leave. I have worked long and hard to go on this mission to walk away now. I am deathly afraid that if either I or my older sister leave then my younger one will too – and that, as suggested above, might lead her straight down into dark roads of addiction and irresponsible sex. And of course, if I leave the church then I forfeit my attendance at BYUH, the friends I have made there, and the scholarships that will (and have) paid for my education. I could not leave if I wanted to.

    But that is the point. Everybody’s testimony will waver sooner or later. Those who keep going through the motions until that testimony comes roaring back are those who have a temporal stake in their membership with the Church. Those who have no stake in the Church have no reason to stay – and they won’t.

    If Church membership and participation among young adults has truly changed in recent years, it is because the young adults of today have less of a stake in the Church than the young adults of days past.

    So here is a question for y’all then: in what way have the social networks of this demographic changed over the last two generations? In that, I think, you will find the answer to decreasing membership.

  36. #32,

    If you’re going to be “Anonymous”, and then declare that you “need” to be anonymous for your comment, and then predict that we may not take your (presumably controversial) comment seriously, then you need to actually SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING OR PROVOCATIVE! You basically said nothing. What a let down! Why did you need to be anonymous?

  37. Kevin, as #27 points out, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to answer your question with anything but a list of one’s own, personal pet peeves. So in the spirit of giving in to temptation, here goes:

    1. Our youth are discovering the Adam-God Theory in massive numbers, and are realizing that Prophets can’t be trusted to expound upon their areas of core doctrinal competency with accuracy. So they jump ship.

    2. Our youth are all reading Bruce McConkie’s _Mormon Doctrine_ on the weekends, and are becoming offended at the racism and the anti-evolution sentiments contained within. They are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    3. Our youth are obsessed with the Problem of Evil, and find themselves unable to construct an adequate theodicy from the paltry doctrinal tools the Church has given them. How could God let Jewish children die in the Holocaust, yet cure their siblings’ headaches each time Dad performs a priesthood blessing? They don’t know, so they run screaming from the building.

    4. Our youth are fed up with the incessant Prophet-worship and ridiculously legalistic doctrinal analyses offered up by well-meaning but ignorant ward members. And so they get the Hell out of Dodge.

    5. Our youth are collectively appalled at the excommunications of the September 6. Sure, they agree that Lavina’s lengthy catalogue of “ecclesiastical abuses” in Dialogue was a bit much, and that some of Mike Quinn’s footnotes are padded, but why couldn’t Elder Packer admit he had ordered a purge? This is frustrating, so they bail.

    This pretty much sums it up. I’ve thoroughly and accurately answered your question. You may close the thread now.

  38. Having taught Teachers quorum for 5 years and now teaching 12 – 14 age Sunday School. The manuals are pretty much bogus. I only use them as a starting point to launch the lesson from. Like kids today can even relate to some story about farming in Idaho during the 1920’s. I can’t even relate to that.

    I try my best and probably fail more than succeed, but do try to relate to the kids based on my own experience, which include about a 6 year spell of inactivity in my 20s. My own testimony is made up of a large dose of skepticism and unanswered questions, accompanied by a few very strong and personal experiences that tell me that there is something to this religion, warts and all.

    I try and relate to them that we can think and question what we believe, and I bring up the simple yet powerful belief in Christ most of all. There have been several occasions during class where during a story or casual testimony, the spirit seems quite strong, at least from my perspective. At those moments I’ve stopped and pointed it out, asking them if they are feeling anything. I’d like to think that some of them are feeling something.

    Both the teachers class and the Sunday School class were and are remarkably well behaved for the age and many of the students actually contribute meaningfully during class. Not sure why that is, but I do joke around a lot and don’t take myself too seriously, and I always ask them what they think about what we are talking about. Lastly, I really enjoy teaching and being friends with them and I’d like to think that it gains their trust a bit and registers a negative on the (bs) meter.

  39. I’d like to blame it all on things like the church’s previous stance on race and Elder Benson’s extreme politics. Not sure I can do that though.

    I think many young people leave the church because they feel they don’t fit in. I think one of the main purposes of these new TV ads is to show them that it’s fine to be a bit different.

    I think many leave the church because it’s demanding. A two-year mission is a huge sacrifice. Add that to demanding callings, frequent batterings about how they’re not doing a good enough job (aimed at the men, at least), etc. and the pressure can be pretty significant. And because the men leave, the women must look elsewhere for dating options. Again, leading to inactivity.

    I think many youth disagree with the church’s stance on homosexuality (which comes out much stronger and with a much more negative tone depending on which ward they’re in). They go to Sunday School where inappropriate comments are made about gays, Obama, healthcare, etc. They see the church as being old-fashioned (mainly because many of its members are old-fashioned). The church tells its members that good is found in many political parties, but most the American members don’t believe it.

    Of course, many leave because they want to live a different lifestyle. They want to spend more time with friends not of our faith, and they want to live their friends’ lifestyle.

    We have three or four active young adults in our ward who choose to stay in our ward instead of go to the singles ward. Two of them have been less active within the past couple of years. They’re all given meaningful (but not terribly demanding) callings (which they might not get in a bigger ward). But other than that, our ward doesn’t do anything for them, and not much is done for them at the stake level. If you’re a young adult single and not a member of the singles branch/ward, in our stake you’re kind of ignored.

  40. I really like the book Fourth Turning…it is a history of cycles kind of book and this particular part of history is identified as an unraveling. It fits..IMO we church going people are supposed to be OFF the cycle in a fourth Nephi kind of way…but instead we tend to be “cycle lite”.

    I think it’s a bunch of things..stress in general is hard on the optimism and idealism that youth generally have. Economic stress also hammers on hope and faith…making charity a challenge. The mass information of the internet is a challenge…you can be exposed to ALL the controversy and find ALL the anti mormon stuff at the drop of a hat.

    How to combat it? I think the more that adults can be a peaceful, hopeful-eye of the storm-sure foundation…that the youth can see where they can go and what they can be no matter what the crazy world is doing.

  41. Mike from Atlanta says:

    My evangelical friends have this exact same concern. They have looked at the numbers (reference needed) and claim that we Mormons actually do somewhat better with retention of our youth. Some want to “cherry pick” our best programs but can’t figure out which ones they are. I know of one pastor who instituted early morning Bible study with great success initially.

    In a twisted way I see this as an opportunity. Young Catholic-Protestant-Jewish-etc. youth disengage from their traditional religions after leaving the home. They eventually marry (maybe) and have children. When that first kid starts talking trash and tearing up the house and refuses to be toilet-trained, the parents realize they need a church or something to help them raise their children. They start looking around.

    If we had the best programs for young families , we would be growing at the expense of the loss of other denominations. I don’t know what programs would be best. We maybe could start with preschools in all those million dollar church buildings that sit empty 6 days of the week. Sports programs are also another way to bring young families into the church. The communities we live in don’t need another crappy pre-school or sports program. But they will beat wide paths to the churches that provide excellence in their community out-reach.

    We need to get our own act together and this lemon will become lemonade.

  42. First, a note about the title: I was at a conference where some folks from Pew were discussing their religious landscape survey, and were throwing around this same terminology: nones. It was confusing when presented orally, because as a born-and-bred Catholic, I heard “nuns.”

    I think that there are as many reasons as young people, but in my family, bullying from other LDS youth has played a MAJOR role. My only daughter who is not in the church (1 out of the 3 adults) was constantly lectured by young men who made fun of her and called her goth, and told her she was needed to repent. Yes, I guess they felt justifed in this bullying call to repentance because of their teacher status. She never dressed immodestly, just creatively; they had a problem with her differentness. Not quite Luna Lovegood, but along those lines. Ironically, the lives of those young men have not gone particularly well–one sent home from a mission, another divorced. She lives a life of quiet integrity as a Quaker. But their parents get to feel good about their children’s church membership, while I experience the searing pain of those grandkids being raised outside the gospel.

    Bullying reared its head again later. Another child is not graduating from seminary because the year of the Obama election, guys in the class would constantly bring up politics and cut down Democrats as unrighteous, and she felt unwelcome.

    “my sibs were kind of afraid to drop the hammer when their kids were in high school…”

    I don’t know how one “drops the hammer” when the church experience is a bad one for them. Of course we tried talking to leaders, etc. but there is only so much one can do.

  43. Oh, maybe we need to set up an “It Gets Better” project for Mormon teens….

  44. another anonymous says:

    42: Oh, maybe we need to set up an “It Gets Better” project for Mormon teens…”

    Except, if you stay in the Church, it doesn’t get better, and they know it and we know it. I’m in my 30s, and Sunday meetings drain the life from me the same way they did when I was 10. My 9 year old hates Church. What am I supposed to say, “It doesn’t get better, so just get used to it?” Is following the Savior supposed to suck this much?

    I agree with the “social network” comment made above. Church seemed to value social activity more when I was younger. If it didn’t like the meetings, at least I looked forward to talking with my friends, and there were more purely social activities (or, at least, no overtly spiritual component).

    For years the Church seems to have adopted a spiritual creep of spiritual didacticness. Every activity needs to have some component that crams a spiritual lesson down your throat. I guess it’s not enough to just feel the Spirit talking with your friends in the cultural hall on a Wednesday night.

    And the conformist, cookie cutter culture doesn’t help either. Nothing brings people closer together like feeling you will be judged for your political opinions or what movie you watched last night.

    For over 15 years, I’ve watched my friends leave the Church. I don’t have many active friends left, and activity just isn’t appealing, and I’m not terribly excited to see my children torturing themselves for three hours every week out of some sick sense of duty.

  45. Reading this on Sunday morning, while wondering if my son will get to church today. I am leaving it up to him. One of my sons no longer considers himself LDS, and one daughter is trying hard to return–and doing pretty well. My oldest daughter is active and wonderful in giving me advice on how to NOT interfere with my children’s faith choices, aware that if they feel coerced, their break from religion will be equal to the force used to keep them in.
    I was shown some appalling stats when I taught Institute years ago. Yes, we are losing them in droves.

  46. It is not for everybody. This is hard to deal with when we view the church as the one and only true path to salvation and happiness. But the reality is that some people are going to be happier else where. I wish them all the best. I do worry that for many, there experiences with Mormonism may sour them to religion in general…though I can relate.

    I know of at least one person who claimed that he left the church because of liberals like Kevin and me. The list of reasons could be endless. I look at my FB friends that I knew from Church and Seminary during high school. Only half are still active. Is it worse now or are we just more aware of it.

  47. Should be a question mark at the end of 45.

    I think Kevin’s “why I stay post” of not too long ago is a type of “it gets better” video for me.

  48. To the social and doctrinal and pedagogical reasons that have been discussed I would like to add aesthetic reasons.

    I left the church because I am gay, but I have stayed away because the atmosphere is, for me, not conducive to the Spirit. The Mormon attitude seems to be that as long as correct doctrine is expounded, people will have spiritual feelings. In my experience, however, I feel close to God when I am surrounded by beautiful music, beautiful architecture, and beautiful liturgy.

    When I visit my parents and go to church with them out of politeness, the bland architecture, fluorescent lighting, screaming babies, and funereal music detract from whatever spiritual feelings I might otherwise experience. (Who knew Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel could be played soooooooo sloooooooooowly?)

    I understand that the price of beauty in certain non-Mormon churches is that members are more likely to play a passive role in their congregation while professional musicians and paid clergy do most of the work. But it seems like there could be some way to for Mormons to maintain the ward-as-interactive-social-unit model without the corporate drabness.

    I acknowledge the reality that people have very different feelings about which environments are conducive to the Spirit. While I prefer a more traditional atmosphere, others may like the emotion of a Pentecostal church, or the relevance of a guitar service.

    I have no magic formula for which atmosphere would work best for the most church members. But I think that the church would lose less young people if it added appealing aesthetics to doctrinal correctness. It’s not an either/or proposition.

    (On a side note, in addition to heterosexual youth who leave the church because its attitude toward gays and gay marriage seems anachronistic, a certain (surely significant) percentage of young people leave the church because they themselves are gay and feel uncomfortable. I state the obvious only because I did not see it mentioned in the previous comments.)

  49. There is also something else, which some commenters have hinted at but no one has addressed directly (unless I missed it in my quick scan of the comments).

    I grew up in the “perfect family.” At least that’s what I heard, over and over again from both Mormons and ‘Gentiles.’ (I can’t begin to count the number of times Norman Rockwell was invoked!)

    Well, this created a rather stressful double bind for my siblings and I: on the one hand, we felt pressure to live up to some expectations which were, frankly, unrealistic and based on what was even back then an unrealistic, fictional model (Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, etc.).

    On the other hand, we knew all too well that our family, good as it was, was not perfect — not even close — which made for some painful dissonance. My youngest sister, the most eccentric and nonconformist of us, left the church as a teen. I left after my mission (though in my case there was also the issue of my sexual orientation). My middle sister remains active to this day, but her faith too has been seriously damaged (her eldest son is gay).

    Our parents also became semi-active, though (to their credit) they were always loving and supportive of their children, choosing family over church — which was a painful choice for them.

    I don’t know how much any of this applies to other families, but I share it here because I think it might. Perhaps the church could do a better job of separating the wheat of high moral standards from the tares of unrealistic social expectations.

  50. I was recently debating with a friend on facebook who left the church after high school about whether mormons believe prophets are infallible or not. He was floored that I believed they weren’t perfect and was angry he’d been taught they were. The thing is, his version of history is what I’m still taught at church, so in a sense, he’s more correct than me. In my opinion, if we want people to stay, we have to be more transparent with our history and imperfections. Also, I think we need to quit the “faith” and “doubt” can’t exist together BS. It’s my questioning personality that’s has led me to my most beautiful spiritual discoveries.

  51. a random John says:

    Have we considered that Church itself is amateur hour? Not just our dreadful meetings but interactions with the local leadership as well. In a culture of texting and tweeting we are expecting kid to fall in love with three hours of not only boring bit often pointless meetings? Of interactions with bishops who are seen as simply the failed father of their wild child friends?

    Three hours of rambling interspersed with blatant homophobia and occasional residual racism make for a mildly offensive waste of time that provides little value and presents a world view that is fundamentally incompatible with what youth have experienced as real life.

    Seminary along the wasatch front is perhaps even worse than the three hour block as it purports to be staffed by professionals, but they are not subject matter experts and this is painfully clear. But they are great at entertainment and attempts at indoctination ratherthan informing.

    Unless youth obtain a solid testimony that can withstand both the pressures of the outside world and the internal bs they will take their time, money, and talents elsewhere. With generally being simply a bit of free time on Sunday and less stress during the week.

  52. Matt W #8, that describes my peers and me perfectly. Most of us left because the church did not meet our ethical standards.

    If you look at the biographies of the people who got into trouble with Mormon authorities, you will find that they are among the people that cared about the church the most.

  53. #1, mlu, due process is a characteristic of civil society and the rule of law. It’s role in bureaucracy is secondary. Besides, as Hugh Nibley pointed out so scathingly, there is way too much bureaucracy in our own church.

    I hope that Mormons support civil society and the rule of law. Without it, most Mormons would not be able to exercise our religion freely.

    Your disdain for due process undermines the interests of pretty much every Mormon outside of the United States and, for that matter, in the Bible belt.

  54. “In my opinion, if we want people to stay, we have to be more transparent with our history and imperfections”
    This weekend my dad was telling me about being the substitute teacher for the High Priest group in his ward. He was helping them set up their logins with family search, and as an exercise had them look up Joseph Smith. He said *most* of them were shocked to see the 30+ wives. When it was brought up he taught them it was because they were all sealed to him after his death, and no one in class contradicted this explanation.

  55. @T Greer #34

    But were I to lose my belief in God completely I would not leave. I have worked long and hard to go on this mission to walk away now.

    That’s so sad. What you’re saying is that you would not have the courage to live a life of spiritual honesty and integrity. You would justify a past mistake by continuing to enact it every single day in the future. You see your investment in a mistake-laden past as so large that you cannot invest in a truthful future. You are not willing to sacrifice a life built on error for a life built on the truth.

    Who, before even reaching twenty, wants to condemn themselves to a life they strongly suspect is a spiritual dead-end? And who wants to hang out with people who do that?

    One reason young people leave the LDS church is that its members are often very difficult to respect.

    I am deathly afraid that if either I or my older sister leave then my younger one will too – and that, as suggested above, might lead her straight down into dark roads of addiction and irresponsible sex.

    Well, as Anonamolous says in #31:

    one problem that I saw missionaries encounter over and over again during my mission was the shock they seemed to experience when they discovered that there were non-Mormons in the world that were not, in fact, miserable.

    Having many friends with a fondness for easy sex and a taste for controlled substances, I can say with confidence that they can be pretty happy people. Just because your sister takes drugs and has casual sex doesn’t mean she’ll be miserable. In fact, given what you’ve said about how miserable she is in the church, she might actually be happier with that lifestyle than with the one you want for her. She gets to choose.

    And I can also assure you that if she wants to leave, your decision will have no impact on hers. NONE. She’ll leave when she’s ready and old enough to leave, no matter what you do.

  56. SLK #48, thank you for sharing your experience. That was really moving.

    If it is alright with your family members, I would love to see your story published.

  57. Is it really true that heterosexual Mormon youth are leaving in droves because of the Church’s position on homosexuality? I’ve never run into this, ever, but I confess I’ve been living in wards without significant youth for the last 10 years, so perhaps I’m just completely out of the loop.

  58. It is very sad that so many youth are leaving the Church. But we need to look at the bright side. At least the Church is admirably eschewing worldly dress standards by prohibiting multiple piercings and facial hair. So there’s that.

  59. Eric Russell says:

    Aaron (56), someone knows someone who’s son mentioned never liking the church’s position on homosexuality, three years after he left the church. So yes, it’s true.

    p.s. When did you drop the sign off? How is one to know if you’re the real Aaron B?

  60. @54:

    I think you have missed the point of my earlier comment. In the past my testimony has faltered; it has also recovered and reached greater heights. At the moment my testimony is at a low ebb, but given time and perhaps prayer it will not remain there. It will probably recover, just as it has before.

    The difference between myself and a great many of my peers who stuck with the Church and those left is not that some had low points in their testimony while others have not. Almost all of us had – indeed, how many of you have not? The difference is that some of us continue to have a reason to go on despite momentary doubts and wavering faiths. Having that something – or in most cases, someone – matters.

    I thank you for the kind words regarding my sister. However, I do not speak as I do because of Church indoctrination. I am wary of thee things because I have seen what they can do with my own eyes. Both friends and family have fallen down that path before. I have been attending addiction recovery sessions with one friend for most of the last month and have seen the worst cases first hand. Having seen the bad sides of booth casual, irresponsible sex and drug consumption, I can quite firmly say that I wish it on no one, least of all my sister. Perhaps some who follow that path are truly happy; the odds of this occurring , however, strike me as decidedly lower than those who never open the gate.


    That also seemed a bit mysterious to me. As a whole Mormon youth seem to be cultural conservatives, just like their parents. The exceptions are few and far between and none of them seemed to care enough to leave the Church over it. This is perhaps one of those moments where the readers are putting their own insecurities and doubts into the minds of their subjects.

    That or I am out of the loop as well. ^_~

  61. Speaking for myself as a semi-active young adult, I don’t fully participate because I find church to be somewhat stultifying. (I sincerely hope that doesn’t read as arrogant.) The content of my Church experience as a 25 year old is essentially interchangeable with my experience as a 13 year old, from lesson content to extracurricular activities. I find it more productive and fulfilling to seek spiritual growth outside of the institution. Of course we are take responsibility for our spiritual growth in any case, but I am hungry for more than what I find on Sunday. I’m not looking for the Church to provide my spiritual progress, but some level of facilitation would be nice. It feels static.

    I think the same principle of staticity applies in my discouragement with the Church’s stances towards women, gays, etc. I don’t expect the Church to have a perfect understanding of these, or for the Church and broader society to match up all the time. I do expect the Church to be self-aware and contemplative. To me it often seems as if there is little or no serious consideration of these issues – as if we can just say “Well, that’s not the way it is” and call it a day.

  62. I hope (I have no way of knowing), that most “Youths” are not being lost, but finding themselves. I know the Church does not see it this way, But I think it can be done.

  63. T. Greer, you have got to be one of the most voluble and well-spoken (or written) nineteen year olds I have ever run across.

  64. an apostate says:

    I left the church because of the unnecessary bureaucracy that was the church which I knew no god would create. Bureaucracy that only uninspired humans would create. Because of the incessant infighting amongst the members, the backbiting and the gossip, I thought that nobody really believed in the church because, if they did they wouldn’t treat each other like that.

    I left the church because I grew out of it and no longer believed. I don’t know if I ever believed, really.

    I don’t believe in any religion, I left the church and became a hardcore atheist.

    With sincere love,
    An apostate

  65. Helmutt (#56) – Thanks for your kind words. I have written a bit about my middle sister’s experiences (she’s been a speaker and active participant in the well-known Oakland Stake firesides, and more recently at the Affirmation conference).

  66. Some people are suggesting that the cause is permissive parents or kids who don’t attend church activities regularly. I just wanted to say that in my case, it was the exact opposite. My parents were incredibly strict when it came to the church, and I was required to attend every meeting and activity. I was president of every quorum and served an honorable mission. Now I’m just putting the finishing touches on my letter of resignation.

  67. I left the church because I found out all the history that they never taught. I went on a mission and have now realized that most non-members knew more about the church than I did. I cannot be spiritually dishonest…nor can I worship men.

  68. I am 29, left the church 1 year ago after being very active/believing. My family and most of my friends are very dedicated to the LDS faith.

    I have noticed that while leaving the church has helped me to be a happier, more fulfilled woman, it has caused my family great sadness. This breaks my heart. Therefore, my wish for the future would be that church members be taught:

    1) whatever the reason, following the teachings/principles of the LDS Church does not make ALL people happy (in my case, it exacerbated a predisposition to depression)

    2) leaving the church is NOT the same as choosing a self-destructive path (sometimes it coincides, but very often it does not)

    3) those who leave the church often do not want to be pitied and mourned over; rather they yearn for support

    4) those who’ve left usually *don’t* need to be reminded of whether members approve their lifestyle choices (It’s so strange to me when my family/friends think they need to remind me that their love does not extend to approving my choices)

  69. this is an easy one. church is painfully dull. i hadn’t felt stimulated at church in over a decade, and it seemed to get more stifling as i got older. the last straw for me was prop 8. i could put up with the boredom, but i draw the line at letting my church become an arm of the republican party.

    i left a year ago and couldn’t be happier. i gave myself a calling at a community crisis hotline, spend more quality time with my family on sundays, and got a 10% pay raise.

  70. I’m working on an exit; it won’t be easy. But I can honestly say that for a good 15 years, from YW til now, I had a strong testimony, so it bothers me when people dismiss the disaffected by saying “they never had a *real* testimony” or they’re “lazy”. If anything, we’re the people that gave and gave and fiercely loved the church.

    I held fast to the church during some very difficult times, and when the rest of my family went inactive, I continued to hold on. I knew the dodgy history and all, but it didn’t matter – I believed regardless. I defended against all the accusations and mockery thrown at me, held my head high and served in several callings. But I think I’m done.

    We’re leaving for various reasons, but I think the abolishing of single’s wards would make a big difference in retention.

  71. From what I have seen/know, the decline in activity mentioned by many above regarding young adults is real. My 2 cents, for what little they’re worth:

    1) The younger generation is more skeptical. With the internet, etc., an idea can’t be “forced” just because someone in authority says something. The idea has to have some merit in and of itself. This contrasts with the “Follow the prophet…” mentality all the way from Primary on up. If the prophets and apostles had a track record of always being right, this would be easier to accept, but as McConkie himself stated, “I was wrong”.

    2) Information is more available. In the past, it was hard to find out “non-correlated” aspects of our history. The Church could control the message much more. Now, it shows up on the first page of a Google search. Regardless of the nuances of apologetics, to an investigator or a young adult, finding out that JS married young girls or other people’s wives is just weird. And so on.

    3) We’ve lost the core of the gospel in day-to-day life. Many other Churches focus on the inner man. We have a whole host of “obedience” rules that don’t really mean anything other than the fact they are “obedience” rules. This includes current things about numbers of earrings, beards, color of shirt, length of hair, current interpretations of WofW re: wine, etc. We may say they don’t matter, but try telling that to someone at BYU. Youth, in general, don’t buy off on these superficial things.

    4) Church is boring. 3 hours is too long. There is no practical difference between priesthood and Sunday School. It is mind-numbing.

    5) There is an “all-or-nothing” mentality. You either “follow the prophet” and accept EVERYTHING, or else the only other real choice is nothing. People who might agree with 90% of the teaching, but disagree with 10% as potentially the opinions of some Church leader as seen as close to apostate.

  72. Also, having many friends who are non-LDS: leaving the Church does NOT necessarily imply that someone is going to sleep with everyone the encounter, become a drunkard, and be miserable.

    My non-LDS friends are very content in their lives, very happy and well-adjusted, teach their children morality and the correct social use of alcohol, and have turned out some amazing kids. They give to their communities and are great people. It’s sad to say, but I think they would be much more miserable if they were LDS.

  73. chriswithac says:

    I left because I was not emotionally connected with the “fellowship” of the Church. The Church was practically useless to me. Almost immediately after I was married (in the temple btw), I felt a sudden sense of freedom (mostly intellectual freedom). I was no longer preparing to go on a mission; I was no longer on a mission; I was no longer dating/preparing for “celestial” marriage, etc. I was done with the “major” stuff. Also, over the years I learned better ways to deal with personal problems than through prayer. Prayer/fasting never really worked (or worked fast enough). But finding real solutions based in reasoning, science and facts helped me a lot faster than with anything the Church offered (for things like procrastination, confidence, source of emotions, etc). I also soon discovered that superstitions like God will bless you (at least temporally) for keeping the commandments are totally and utterly bogus. It didn’t matter how much or how little I paid tithing, my financial well-being was solely dependent on my financial smarts and conservatism (for example).

    So then I found myself only connected to the Church theologically or philosophically. This connection was quite easy to break because facts and good reasoning are much easier to believe than myths and superstitions. I left and so did my wife.

  74. The book “Almost Christian” had an interesting chapter on “Mormon Envy,” where a very large and in-depth examination of Christian churches and youth found that in comparison to other churches, Mormonism does an admirable job in retaining youth. This is, of course, in relation to other churches, and does not necessarily man that “the church does a good job of retention.” I have no opinion either way. I left the church for about 8 years, and am now active again.

    Kevin B., I would recommend having a look at this book. Jana over at Flunking Sainthood highlighted it on her blog not too long ago.

  75. The young people I know who are still active were active in their communities and schools as well as active in church prior to leaving for college or a mission. They have learned how to live the gospel without giving up the valuable parts of temporal existence.

  76. “I stopped going to church because people suck.” Is that what I’m hearing a lot of?

    The church is not the gospel. You can live worthy lives without going to church. If not, billions of people would be in serious trouble.

    The church provides saving ordinances, and it’s a tool that should help you live the gospel more fully. When I struggled with inactivity as a new member, it was realizing this that helped me to go to church. It’s just a tool. I could probably do ok without it. But for me, I knew I’d do better with it.

    I’m not your typical Mormon. I don’t fit in with most church members. Most of my friends are non-Mormon or inactive Mormons. I don’t even really like to call myself “Mormon” because it has so many cultural/social connotations that just aren’t me. My favorite part of church is serving others. In my mind, that’s what going to church should be about. Not what you get out of it–what you can put into it.

  77. “Except, if you stay in the Church, it doesn’t get better, and they know it and we know it.”

    That hasn’t been our experience. It really did get better for us.

    It got better because the immature young men do finally get over themselves and turn into human beings. And it gets better because now WE are in charge of aspects of our local ward and get to set the tone and make decisions in a more humane way than other leaders might. That has been worth hanging around for.

  78. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve read a lot of the comments, and find something worthwhile in all of them I’ve read.

    To me, the question isn’t whether young people, or old people, choose to leave the church. I left the church, came back, and it was all to the good. I’m not the least concerned that my two older children are not currently active in the church, because when the decide to _come to Christ_ all these experiences they are having will be of benefit to them. And I trust Jesus to take care of his own.

    But, in the church, even the words “come to Christ” are mere slogan, words as window dressing. I follow Mark D very closely. We have thought that the Spirit follows “standards”, when actually standards follow the Spirit, and the Spirit accompanies teaching the open hearted the true nature of God. The church is not the thing itself, until we stop thinking that the church is the thing itself, we will continue to live well below our privileges. ~

  79. I’ve been out of the church for over a decade now so I’m not in the loop as to what goes on in many wards. I do see many of those young people find their way to the discussion boards like and Exmormonforums. The most common thing they claim is the core behind their disaffection was how suffocated and oppressed they felt while in the LDS church. Many children are born with a fairly inquisitive nature and they desire solid believable sources for that information. When they find that many of the things taught to them as more gullible young children is less than fully true as they reach their teen years and understand the nuances of relative truth, they lose their faith in their parents, teachers, and adults in general.

    This is a pretty common experience of many youth who start to process what they’re taught from what they see in real life.

    The LDS culture is rife with so many blatant inconsistancies and hypocracy that it’s not a wonder that many kids become very cynical and jaded toward the claims of their leaders.

    Our children have access to information in a nanosecond now and do not have to limit their sources to only those that a very circular would offer. If they don’t find the answer they seek in five minutes on such a klunky incomplete site they can go to Google and find thousands, even millions of sources in less time than it takes to even think the question. They don’t even have to spell the words correctly to find sources that will help them discover a huge range of ideas or information.

    That’s not to say that the internet isn’t full of really silly erronious stuff but it offers far more options than any LDS source can give them.

    Perhaps I can illustrate this by describing the LDS church as a cheap box of six crayons, melted together to create an uncomfortable glop that doesn’t fit well in most hands and breaks off easily when a little pressure is applied.

    Then there’s the rest of the world, or information on the net, a massive library of options and opportunities that comes in a big colorful enticing box of 64 colors that can make whatever picture you want to create come alive with vibrancy and color.

    The less creative or curious kids are fine with the cheap box of six crayons but there’s always going to be a portion of society that wants to see what’s over the fence, to learn more than what they’re told is the limit of their intellectual discovery. They want the big box. They won’t get that in the LDS church. We welcome them into the big wide world of Exmormons and are here to catch them as they fall and scrape their knees. They’ll recover, we all do. It’s quite bright and wonderful out here. Some of you should come give it a try.

  80. Thomas Parkin says:

    And we absolutely have to have a generation that knows how to not judge based on appearances. I’m going to quit because I get too angry.

  81. Thomas Parkin says:


    You draw an either/or where none exists. The big box of crayons exists where people love beauty and the truth, and it isn’t necessary to leave the church to access that. However, one detects a problem with the church in what you’ve said: they taught you there was an either/or, and you have gone on believing it.

    Best to you! ~

  82. In all of these discussions, no one has suggested a theological reason. Could it be that we were the most valiant spirits saved to the end days, like we were told? Could it be that the de-emphasizing of this teaching by current leaders with respect to those currently 18-30 is because that rising generation was a bunch of slackers in the pre-existence? That the well of valiant spirits is now mostly dry? :) Can’t we recognize the slouchy, reluctant-to-wear-white-shirts, namby-pamby, quick-to-overpierce young uns for who they are? :)

  83. I don’t think that any of the theological/cultural reasons make any sense since I believe that this is a trend that is affecting the church world over. Local culture being more or less in sync with some notion of Mormonism doesn’t appear to affect it (so far as I know, which isn’t far). I actually think that it is all because we have less of a sense of community as a church (at least, locally). There are no more road shows and pot-lucks. We don’t hang out as a ward all that much anymore, so there isn’t much of a compelling reason to hang on when the testimony runs low. Of course, your mileage may vary (perhaps you are in a tight-knit ward), but that’s the trend I see.

  84. Aaron #57, that’s a good point. I have seen one bishop and his wife leave the church. They had a long list of reasons but the inhumanity with which gays are being treated in Mormon society and that used to be officially sanctioned was probably chief among them.

    In my experience, for most dissenters the causality is the other way around. After they do not follow the brethren any longer, they embrace gay rights.

    Mind you, I have only my experience and no systematic data.

  85. More seriously, I think that the church should create a “member experience committee” to try to better understand the experiences that people have in the church and to foster good experiences. The correlation committee serves to make sure that a kind of reductionist indoctrination takes place at every meeting (Now that the activities committee no longer exists, the last refuge for fun no longer exists.) The correlation committee doesn’t care whether or not people like the manuals, or whether people are disillusioned by their mission president’s behavior. Do the way the facilities people do their jobs produce learned helplessness in the members? (Yes–they reprogrammed our building heating cycle so youth activiities need to be done in an unheated building!). Do youth end up feeling like their bishop thinks his primary job description is to be the masturbation police? Do youth feel loved and accepted for who they are, or are they always being urged to do the next program steps in order to become acceptable? Etc. Etc. Etc.

  86. @T. Grier #60, Mormon youth only trend conservative if they get raised in an environment that is dominated by legacy Mormons.

    The chances to convert a lefty or an immigrant are multiple times higher than a “conservative.”

    Joining a marginal religion from Utah is among the last things that a conservative might do, especially, outside the United States. One of the reasons why the missionary program has become unable to recruit converts who will remain active during may be because the correlated church is no longer able to become a home for the people who are most likely to convert.

  87. I agree with John C. @83. Most people who leave wouldn’t care less what Joseph Smith might have said here or there or whatever might be available on the Internet if they enjoyed vibrant wards and stakes.

  88. Natalie B. says:

    About a third of the members I grew up with have left. These are the reasons I recall them sharing with me:

    1. YM feeling uncomfortable serving a mission, but feeling that they can’t stay if they don’t.
    2. Gender issues
    3. Failure to take questions seriously
    4. Boredom with the routine
    5. Frustrated with church bureaucracy
    6. Feel out of place
    7. Association of the church with Republican stances
    8. Mix of all of the above

    I don’t recall many doubting God’s existence in general–it seems to have been more frustration with church culture. Many who have stayed seem to feel the same concerns, but stay because of:

    1. Genuine faith
    2. Family
    3. Positive social experience

  89. Ditto for John C. @83. People need to feel loved, accepted, and part of something enjoyable. My personal opinion is that the things that make a community vibrant are singing, group dancing, and good conversation. Mormonism used to be good at making communities, but now it is only good at making quarterly reports.

  90. I don’t mean to dismiss the central question in any way, since retention of single youth (16-30) is a serious issues in the Church (70% inactivity prior to missions is a pretty good estimate), but just a couple of things:

    1) This has been a serious issue since the beginning of time – and has relatively little to do with the apparent “righteousness” of the parents. IF we take the scriptures literally, Heavenly Father lost 33% of his youngsters – and Lehi lost 50% of his kids who weren’t born in isolation – and Israel never good keep those darned rising generations in line – and Alma’s and Mosiah’s sons were radical sinners for a time – and pretty much every generation who lived a near-Zion state lost it to a new generation – and the activity rate overall in the Church was far worse a hundered years ago than it is now – and the same issue is worse in most Christian churches now than in the LDS Church.

    2) Those who leave home tend to stretch and test the boundaries anyway – and those who go to college where there is not a church within easy walking distance or an active, engaging Institute program slip into inactivity almost naturally.

    3) It’s hard to gain a truly personal testimony while remaining in the presence of one’s parents and childhood leaders – and our pre-mortal life narrative acknowledges that fully. Thus, it’s rare that a young person really has a rock solid, personal testimony. That kind of faith needs to be grown and gained on one’s own – at the very time when the challenges are the greatest.

    4) Most of the “issues” everyone mentions simply are the vehicles our current youth drive on their way out the door. Other times had other vehicles.

    I don’t have any easy answers – but my main suggestion would be to give our youth the responsibilities and power they are supposed to have within the YM & YW programs. See them and treat them as young MEN and WOMEN from the age of 12 – which really doesn’t happen very much, ime. Our society has infanticized the teenage years to a shocking degree – and we buy into it too much, despite (not because of) the Church.

  91. A few things, not a couple – *sigh*

  92. The emphasis has been, over the last couple of decades, to lessen involvement at Church in favor of more time spent with family. Is this a bad idea? Have we really lost a cohesiveness we once had?

    My home teaching comp. moved his family here from California a couple of years ago. After we got to know each other, he admitted that he did this because of what he regarded as scary trends among kids in his ward but more in the region (he was just released as bishop). I asked him if he now thinks the move was a good idea. He said, absolutely. Community is important, apparently social expectations are too.

  93. MikeInWeHo says:

    This is a fascinating post. Thanks, Kevin. It made me think about all the Jewish people that I live and work with. Their religious community doesn’t seem to have this problem at all. You can grow up and attend synagogue weekly, or not. You can keep strict kosher, or not. You don’t have to believe Moses and Abraham were historical figures and you can even doubt the existence of God. But at the end of the day, the community still embraces you as Jewish. Cultural norms restrict aspersions by the more faithful toward the less. There might be something for Mormons to learn here.

  94. ByTheRules says:

    Talk about cognitive dissonance!

    The actions of the stated non-belivers in not only following, but actively posting on an (LDS) board far exceeds any dissonance in the Church. It has been awhile since I have found this quantity of humor, albeit different quality.

    Like a moth to the flame…..

  95. To me the problems of the church are 2 fold

    1. Desire for Homogeneity/nostalgia: This most likely comes from the church being largely built out of pioneer stock and the power of the church has firmly stayed in that tradition. Like my mother said when the time came to appoint new apostles “I don’t know who is going to be called but I’ll bet you they’ll be some rich white guy who’s great great grandparent once tied Joseph Smith’s shoe or something like that.” I mean the church boasts of its latino membership but just how long until there’s a latino apostle?

    Still because this desire for having a homogenous culture anyone that doesn’t fit into the mold is automatically on the outside looking in. Bullying has mentioned but it’s very true. I remember getting several calls to repentence because my hair was long, or because I listened to the radio on Sundays, even because I didn’t care for the Manti Pageant, or as I call it, “Mighty Mormon Power Rangers.”

    The church is stuck in the 50s ideal. Stay at home mom, father knows best, the worst thing your friends say is ‘By golly!” and it’s largely lead by octogenarians, which means change is glacial. No wonder that the church is losing the young in droves, “Leave it to Beaver” isn’t their life, nor do they want it to be. The church sells an idea that is completely foreign to them and at best comical at worst offensive.

    Further the Ezra Taft Benson effect on the American church is just toxic. Lessons are laced with jingoist ideas, not to mention fraught with racist and homophobic tendencies, and out right vitrolic to anything not republican. Don’t believe me try to advocate universal health care and not get call to repentance for doing so.

    The church has a mold it wants to you fit in, and if you can’t it is easier to leave than find a place, so it’s not surprising that once people get out of the awkwardness of high school and really find themselves and think, “Hey I don’t have to fit in. I’m good as I am.” that these should then leave isn’t surprising, in fact it should be expected.
    It’s been said that the church is an upper middle-class white republican church. And it is that through and through from the leadership on down.

    The church is lead by octogenarians, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re hopelessly out of touch with today’s youth. Pulpit speeches remember a golden time (which never really existed) where women obeyed their husbands and children respected their elders. They decry the evils of divorce, multi-culturalism and homosexuality and the evil world. Well, shock and awe, most kids grow up in divorced homes, or at least have friends that do, have friends of multiple cultures and have friends that are gay. There is a grand disconnect between the leadership and the realities that these kids are growing up with. They say divorce is evil, equal rights is evil, multi-culturalism is evil, secularism is evil, homosexuality is evil. Yet these kids know people in each of these categories and, those people are just fine, they live good lives and are good people. Which will tell them that the church is just dead wrong. It’s not their reality, to these people the church might as well be called the church of “Leave it to Beaver” or Lala Land.

    I’ve said that the church has largely become an echo chamber/positive feedback loop. Therefore if you look at the people that stick around they tend to be the ones that add to the echoes and the positive feedback. Anyone that doesn’t quickly finds other places to be.
    2. The church can no longer hide its history and further it has made enemies that will be all too happy to point out its history: In the days before the internet it took me years to find out the history that the church didn’t want you to know. Now it’s a few short minutes for anyone willing to actually look. The fact that the church doesn’t teach the stuff themselves only adds to people’s suspicions that they’re being bilked. Further their insistence on following the prophet and their continued hero-worship of the leadership cannot withstand a hit like the church’s history. To many, not just young people, they do what the prophet’s told them, but when they find things like the Adam God theory, the bank fraud, Joseph’s 30 wives, prophesying that men would never get to the moon in 1961 and such they suddenly realize that if those prophets were wrong about that then why can’t they be wrong now. And if they can be wrong, what’s the point of a prophet?

  96. ray please note in your #1 it is Lehi’s sons..his daughters are mentioned but we don’t know how many or where they stand

  97. These threads always have to devolve.

  98. Good point, britt.

  99. One of my big issues is that our Stake Pres. (a man I personally like BTW) has decided that ALL sacrament talks (including those by returning missionaries) MUST be re-hashes of conference talks. Same with the 4th-Sunday priesthood/RS lessons (for which a rigid outline is supplied, with cautions to NOT, under any circumstances, deviate from the outline). There is absolutely no thinking outside of the conference box anymore. No personal revelation or perspective. Just endless re-hashing of what’s already been said. Most Sundays I come home terribly unfulfilled spiritually.

  100. Here’s one more simple example, that has been beat to death in the bloggernacle. We talk a bit about accepting people despite outward appearances and such, but at the same time there is enormous pressure to conform. White shirt and tie, conservative haircuts, no pants for women, etc.

    Youth tend to appreciate what we preach about not judging rather than the culture of conformity. They realize though that the messages of tolerance are superficial even hypocritical.

    Not only is this a huge turn-off, but people feel judged for choices that don’t and shouldn’t matter. In the final analysis who cares if you wear US formal business attire to church or not? Yet there is enormous pressure to do so.

    We shoot ourselves in the foot every time we emphasize culture over principle. We inadvertently create structures that lead us to do what Jesus would not.

  101. I recognize that the nature of this post largely invites people to share their reasons for leaving the church, so I can’t exactly say that this sort of thing isn’t really BCC’s schtick.

    That said, comments of the form “The only people who remain are [insert language about uncritical thinking, echo-chamber lovers, anti-science, or anything else implying that you ‘woke up’ and the rest of us just don’t get it yet]” are absolutely not welcome here.

  102. Rich (99),
    The OP raises a specific issue–youth leaving the Church. This isn’t a free-for-all bitch/gripe about whatever big issues everyone has. If there isn’t at least a minimal effort to link the issues to the OP, I’m going to delete them.

  103. I also think it’s instructive how many people equate their own local experience(s) with “The Church”. Those whose local units are wonderful, warm, spiritual places often have a hard time understanding those who leave, while those who live in areas with major problems of various kinds (or one overwhelming problem) often struggle to understand those who stay – since both often project their experiences as representative of “The Church”.

    We really do have two distinct churches within the LDS Church – the global one and the local one. I dare say more youth leave because of the local one than the global one – and I dare say many of the things that many members see as global issues really are examples of the global water not getting to the end of the local row. Of course, there are global leadership issues that cause some to leave – but a local ward, branch and/or stake that functions like it’s supposed to function often is one of the prime reasons why many youth and young adults stay.

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