6 Reasons Young People Leave the Church

Check out this recent study being put out by Barna. They spent 5 years asking the question “why do teens tend to give up on or leave the church after they turn 15?”

The findings (which can be more explored in David Kinnaman’s newest, “You Lost Me“) reveal that most of the reasons why young people are leaving the church can be summed up in to 6 main concepts:

1) Churches seem overprotective
2) Their experience of Christianity is shallow
3) Churches come across as antagonistic to science
4) Church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental
5) They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
6) The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt

Now, clearly I’m not one of the statistics of “those who left the church.” However, I AM one of those who have found the tension in all six of these areas, particularly numbers 3-6.

There are many of us who are exploring new ways to approach these issues. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, we are uncovering ways that are old (hearken back to Jesus and the Biblical Writers) but that have been lost and so now are seeming new, or fresh. And many communities and churches are starting to address these issues in ways that resonate with people (most of all, the disenfranchised youth referred to in this study).

I think it’s high time we start listening to the voices of the next generation, for in them I sense a call to return to lost values and misplaced beliefs.

I, for one, am hopeful.
Hopeful that Christian women and men are rising up to the challenges of addressing these (and other) issues that are slowly emptying our churches.

New Eyes to See the Old

I grew up in Oregon. Where it’s green, lush, and there’s always something beautiful to see. Whether it’s the towering green of the ever present pine, or the amber and orange of the autumn altering maples, or any number of creeks, rivers, mountains or hills. In almost any direction you drive there is an ever expanding potential for beauty. But, as with many things in life, familiarity breeds contempt. Or, maybe not so much contempt, but it sure does breed indifference.

Driving back to Oregon last week I literally put my family life’s in danger because my eyes kept wandering off the road. I could not help but be drawn, around every corner, towards sights that I had not laid eyes on in over 5 years. You see, if you know me, you know I’ve been in Arizona for the past 5 years. And while Arizona has it’s own genre of beauty, it simply cannot compare to what you find in Oregon. It’s like in film. There are different genres of films (comedy, drama, horror, action, etc), and for the most part you can appreciate the strengths (and weaknesses) of each genre. But, also for the most part, you don’t normally say, for instance, that the best horror movie is a BETTER film than the best drama movie. When perusing the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time you notice that 8 of the top 10 movies are dramas (the other two? A musical: Singing in the Rain. And The Wizard of Oz… you can classify that on your own). So you might say, for instance, that while Arizona has it’s moments (like Sedona or the Grand Canyon) it is just categorically different than what you find in Oregon. Arizona might contend in the best “Foreign Comedy” category, but when you ask the bigger question about the best state/film, it’s not even close.

But it took me 5 years of surviving the desert to realize this.

Seeing Oregon in the fall right now has seriously made me consider such questions as:

“Is this an unusually colorful fall for Oregon? This can’t be normal, right?”

“Did I ever even look up… or around… when I lived here ages 0-24?”

“Do all these other people walking and driving around SEE what I see?”

The colors are so vibrant. When all you’ve seen for 5 years is different shades of brown, with a spattering of green (I use that word loosely. “Green” in Oregon is a MUCH different color than “green” in Arizona), it’s like your eyes begin to adjust and your visual palette gets dumbed down. Driving around Oregon now is like the few years that I gave up all beverages but water for Lent. After six days of water only, when I would drink coffee on Sunday mornings during Lent, and then have a beer after church, my taste buds would explode with excitement. As though I’d never really tasted coffee or beer before.

And similar to that, seeing Oregon again for the first time is causing my eyes to dance around like an ADHD kid playing laser tag at a cotton candy festival.

That’s all I have for the moment. But soon I want to contemplate how perhaps all this is metaphorical for my own life on a deeper level. I’m sure there is something going on here that parallels the story of my life right now. How, after getting fired from my job of 5 years in Arizona, I’m returning to ‘home’ and seeing things again for the first time. I’m sure there’s a connection between my time in the “desert” with some biblical reference to desert, and waiting, and preparation. But now is not the time for such existential ponderings. For now, it must suffice to just say that Oregon is incredibly beautiful. And as me and my little family begin our healing process, it can only be a good thing to be surrounded by this part of the Master Artist’s masterpiece.

(Here’s just a few pics of our drive, as Kate and I HAD to pull over and capture what we saw)

Goodbye Grove


The sun has not yet come up on this, my second to last morning here in Arizona. Before the land of the sun reminds me why it’s so great to live here this time of year, I sit here at my kitchen table, amidst yet-to-be-packed clutter, and hope my brain works well enough to listen to my heart. For as the last of the medium sized, double-walled, moving boxes from Lowe’s holding our precious few belongings are sealed up and ready for the moving truck, my soul too hopes it can find a way for some closure. Find a way to put some definition to the past five years, and perhaps package it in a way that leaves something beautiful behind while simultaneously opens the possibility for further blessing and hope ahead.

Five years ago I moved my then family of 4 away from everything we’d ever known in Oregon to explore the adventure awaiting us at The Grove in the unnecessarily hot desert of Arizona. I knew it was time, back in the summer of 2006, to put us on a new path that would explore fresh possibilities for ministry. At the age of 24 I was entrusted with the task of leading a Worship ministry and creating an Arts ministry for a church of about 200 people. I still reflect on the fact that for my first 4 months on the job, while we met in a school gymnasium and did the portable-church thing, our worship band was without a drummer! What started with a handful of dedicated singers and musicians would eventually blossom in to enough amazingly talented volunteers to create more than four full bands. What started with a small group of people open to the idea of trusting and following a young, naïve but passionate 24 year old, grew in to a movement of hundreds STILL open to trusting and following a naïve but passionate 29 year old.

And so I want to write this blog post and say ‘thank you’ to the community of people that allowed me to serve them and lead them for the past five years. I want to bless you as you continue on in this unnecessarily hot desert, pursuing a life in the Way of Jesus. And I want to challenge you to grow and become a community of people so bent on following Jesus that you’ll stop at nothing as you pour out your love for God and learn to love others in a whole new way.


To The Church – To the church that opened your hearts and entrusted me to lead you each week in worship, I want to say “thank you.” You allowed me to push you and challenge you to new ways of worshiping the King. You were open to the idea that perhaps worship looked different than you always thought. You let me try out some crazy stuff:

-leading worship from behind everyone at the back of the room

-making art during the service, or allowing other artists to create their art during the service

-trying out different postures with our bodies, and finding out how our bodies are interconnected with our souls

-exercising the right to stillness and silence one moment, while being WAY TOO LOUD for such a small concrete box in the next

-tack salt packets to a wall

-make a giant ceramic mosaic together

-incorporate texting into our expression of worship

-take off our shoes and walk through buckets of paint

-release hundreds of balloons in to the air

Thank you for stepping outside your box and discovering the beauty that mysteriously exists there.

Thank you for giving me the space and freedom to be open and honest with you as your worship leader. There were Sundays that quite frankly I had no desire to be at church with you all. Whether it was personal tragedy or life circumstances. But you gave me the space to be honest with you and say things like, “this morning is really hard for me… Honestly I’d rather not be here with you… I don’t really FEEL like worshiping today…” and then together we’d practice the art of worshiping the King anyways. Learning to move past our own finite moments and engage with the infinite Transcendent One. You gave me the chance to practice what I preach, and in turn it made our worshiping community so beautiful. So thank you for letting me bring my own story to our times of worship together. It was rich, meaningful, and powerful.

Thank you for trusting me. For the most part, I have been younger than the majority of you, but you trusted me to lead you… to teach you… to shepherd and guide you. Thank you for that. Thank you for believing that perhaps God had raised me up to lead you in worship and show you how to stand humbly before the Creator, or how to dance wildly before the King, or how to bask in the love of Jesus. Leaders cannot effectively lead their people unless the people trust them, and I always felt like you trusted me. I didn’t always understand it, but I never took it for granted or held it lightly. It was (and is) a weighty thing to be a shepherd of God’s people and each week I took that stage with humility, knowing that I did not deserve such a platform. But you graciously gave it to me, and trusted me.

Thank you for your years of love, encouragement and support. For all the times you’d come up to me after a service and bless me with your words. For your faithful giving to the church that sustained a paycheck for my family and me. For the notes, emails, and messages that encouraged me and inspired me. Thank you for being our friends and our family, for giving my wife and kids a place that would feel like ‘home.’ The Grove has been our home away from home, and it’s because you opened your hearts to us, welcomed us, and gave us a place to love and be loved.

To the Worship/Arts Team – To the most amazing group of servants I’ve ever worked with, I want to say ‘thank you.’ You have been the reason why I’ve loved my job more than anything for these past five years. Thank you for dedicating yourself to your craft and always working to grow in new ways. Thank you for the hours and hours of your lives that you’ve given up to serve the church. Thank you, to the families that were left at home while we practiced and rehearsed, for allowing us to work so hard for so long.

Thank you for making my job so wonderful. I have loved every minute of serving with each and every one of you. We had some incredible times together. Laughing. Crying. Worshiping our faces off. Laughing some more. Me getting frustrated at you all and you all secretly getting frustrated with me! We spent so much time together that my heart has been forever shaped by you all, and I’ll truly never be the same.

Thank you for believing that I have something to offer this world. For believing that I have a gift and a calling. You followed me well over the years, and at times I didn’t understand it. You were gracious in your following and kind in your serving. I knew that I could tackle almost anything because I was surrounded by the most amazing people who were doing it with me.

I love you guys ‘n gals. I will miss you dearly.

To the Staff – Thank you for letting me be me. I always felt comfortable when I went to work each day, and that’s because I knew I didn’t have to put on a mask. You were the best bunch of people a co-worker could ever imagine.

Thank you for trusting me when I said I have a new place to eat that we all had to try.

Thank you for trusting me with your lives and your stories, and allowing me to listen as you wept, or counsel when you asked. Thank you for letting me pastor you at times.

And thank you for pastoring me. You all have been the shepherds of my soul. Listening when I wept and counseling when I needed it. Thank you for taking such good care of me and my family. I always felt loved by you, and that’s an amazing feeling.

Thank you for understanding me when I’d go crazy and demand the Boot Camp ladies never exercise at the church again!

Thank you for making me feel like I was important. Like I was wanted, even needed.

Thank you for knowing that I was always a bit different, and for accepting me anyways. Thank you for letting me cuss in your offices and for not freaking out… most of the times. Thank you for being okay if I played my music too loud, or if I left my door open and you heard the SAME FRIGGIN’ AUDIO CLIP played twenty times in a row as I was editing a video. Thank you for church golf. For birthday lunches that I’d drag you all to. For letting me come up with random reasons for us all to celebrate together. Thank you for making me laugh and for laughing at me.

Thank you for getting mad at me at times, and pushing back when I made stupid decisions. Thank you for giving me the space to be mad at you when I didn’t like your decision. Thank you for putting up with my artistic-moodiness at times.

Thank you for letting me wear so many damn hats: the IT guy, the communications director, the marketing guy, the guy who always worded everything, the bulletin guy, the internet and website guy, and even at times, the worship and arts guy. You all knew I was making most of this stuff up as I went, but you were okay with it.

I felt, over the past 5 years, that I mattered to the team, to the staff at The Grove. And that’s a big deal. Everyone wants to feel wanted, to feel important and valued. And each day that I went to work I FELT that. So thank you.

To Palmer, Paul, and Matt – We started this crazy journey together 5 years ago, and it has been the best 5 years of my life easily. Thank you guys for letting me be a part of the team, and letting me bring all of who I am to the table.

Matt, you have been a constant source of encouragement to me. Always smiling, always loving. You have shown me how to love the least of these. You have shown me what a shepherd’s heart looks like. Thank you for your never-ending supply of grace and kindness.

Paul, you have simultaneously kept me sane over the years while also driving me insane. Like a brother, you have pushed me and challenged me to always do better and try something new. You seemed to believe in me in a way not many people have, and I thank you for that. Thank you for being the ying to my yang. I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to someone who is so entirely different from me in every way, and that means the world to me. You know so much about me, what makes me so strange and different, and yet you’ve always accepted and loved me. And that has taught me something about life that has forever changed me.

Palmer, thank you for being the most amazing boss anyone could ever ask for. You trusted me at times when not even I trusted me. You saw something in me 5 years ago and gave me a chance to come down here and join you on this crazy mission, and I thank you for that. Thank you for giving me the freedom to be who I am. Thank you for trusting me when I had a crazy idea, and for entrusting me with YOUR crazy ideas. Thank you for graciously allowing me to say ‘no’ every time you requested a Jeremy Camp song. Thank you for supporting me and having my back at times when not many people did. Building a church with you has been amazing, and I mourn that we won’t get to see all our dreams come to fruition. Thank you for trusting me to lead our people in worship every week, even though at times my ideas were a bit strange. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you on Kingdom and Gospel. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me to preach. Thank you for loving my family and always making sure we were taken care of. I love you and I will miss you.


I want to try and give you, The Grove, a blessing. To you, the community of Grovers, who have blessed me so much through the years, I want to now give a few words of blessing as you move forward in your journey as a new and different church without me as your Worship Pastor.

First I want to say “bless you” as you continue your mission to Love God, Grow Together and Serve the World. The Grove is a unique place, unlike anything else in the valley (or Arizona, for that matter). Your commitment to be a church that gives and serves is unparalleled. Bless you as you continue to refuse to be a church that is centered on itself. Don’t ever listen to the voices that encourage you to stop looking outward and start looking inward. The Grove has been healthy and vibrant over the years because it knows that the church is designed to GO. The church is a sent-people, entrusted by God to uncover the Kingdom in the darkest places. Bless you as you follow your leaders to Africa, to Haiti, to Mexico and downtown Chandler. Bless you as you give your money towards something greater than yourselves, and you learn to live on less because you desire to give so much more.

Bless you as you open your arms to whoever is your next Worship Leader. In some ways, this will be very difficult for you to do. I am unique, I know that. Hear me say this: you will not find another Colby Martin. I don’t say that with any arrogance, so don’t misread me. What I mean is that you will do a great disservice to whomever the church hires next if you constantly compare them to me. They will fail, and that’s not fair to them. Rather, be open to the exciting possibility that someone new will come along and take you all in to new directions that I never even dreamed of. Someone who will lead you in ways I was never capable of. I bless you as you give your trust to someone new, and open your hearts to him or her like you have for me. Give them the space to be who they are, and don’t try to shape them in to something they are not. Bless you as you mourn the loss of one worship pastor but dare to follow another. You can do it. It is good. It will be beautiful.

Bless you as you continue to grow. Like I said, The Grove is unique, and you will continue to attract new people. The church will continue to grow, and it will make a lot of you very uncomfortable. The church is a perfect size right now: it has all the advantages of being a bigger church, but all the feel of being a small church. But as the church grows, you will be stretched in new ways. And I pray a blessing on you as you learn what it means to be a part of an even bigger community of Jesus-followers. Keep giving. Keep serving. Keep going.

And lastly, bless you as you Worship the King each Sunday. Remember the things we’ve learned together over the years. Just to help you, here are a few things I really hope have stuck/will stick with you about worship:

–       Worship gives us space to realign our stories with God’s Story. As you tell the Story of God through song, scripture, prayer and liturgy, your OWN story slowly begins to shift and change. Each Sunday seek to find where your story got off track and use the worship to realign.

–       Bring all of your self to your worship. If you’re full of joy and happiness, then you better be rejoicing! If you’re full of sorrow and pain, then bring that too. Whatever season of life you’re in, USE that as you enter in to worship. Bring your emotions and life situations IN to your worship. Do not fake it.

–       Worship is both more simple and more grand than you can imagine. Be open to new expressions of worship, new ways to engage with the King. Never think that worship is only about music, it is way more grand than that. And don’t over-think it, either. The smallest moment of thanks is worship. The tiniest act of love is worship. Standing silent and being still before God is worship. Believe that God is worthy of ascribing worth to, and then give it.

–       It is all about Jesus. That is what makes our worship unique, it is centered on Jesus. If you’re ever in doubt about anything in your faith (which is totally fine and normal, don’t freak out) just remember it all comes back to Jesus. He knows you. He loves you. He is closer than you can imagine. When everything falls apart, fall on Jesus. He is the reason we sing. He is the hope for our lives. In him we live and move and have our being.


Finally, I want to be so bold as to challenge you, the people of The Grove. You trusted me for five years, and perhaps you’ll trust me for just a moment longer and allow me to give you a few words of exhortation.

Above all else, choose love. God IS love, and I believe that love is God’s primary posture towards creation. As such, I believe it should be our primary posture as well. You can never go wrong when you love, but it is very easy to go wrong when you don’t. Judging people is hard. We are not very good at it, and probably shouldn’t be doing it. But loving people? Okay, well that’s actually even HARDER, but it is infinitely more important. Leave the judging up to God, it’s God’s job anyways. But you and me? Our job is to love. Unconditionally. Love without hesitation. Love when it seems ridiculous to love. Love when it seems like the last thing you want to do. Love in a way that you want to be loved.

Love the ‘other.’ Find the person who is most different from you, and love them. Not in a way that seeks to change them, for that isn’t love. Not in a way that seeks to fix them, for that isn’t love. Not in a way that seeks to shame them or show them they are wrong, for that isn’t love. You and I don’t change people. We can’t. That is the role of the Spirit of God. Instead, we are meant to love.

May The Grove be a place where all people are welcome. It is already one of the most racially diverse churches in the East Valley. And that is a beautiful thing. It is also very diverse in thought; politically, religiously, and ethically. And that is a good thing, a beautiful thing. Democrats and Republicans sit side-by-side and worship together. Calvinists and Armenians stand in line together for communion at the same table. Sinners and saints both raise their hands in surrender. And this is the way it HAS to be. The church HAS to be a place for everyone, or it becomes a place for no one.

And when you discover the ‘other,’ when you discover that there are people NOT like you in some way, choose love. It is the only way if The Grove is to continue to be a place where the Kingdom of God advances. There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. There is only room for love.

When all is said and done, and God has put the world to rights, love will be all that remains. Make your life about love, for that is what is lasting. Any judgments on other people will be as wood tossed in the flame. Any words of hate and cruelty will be destroyed. Whatever does not come from love will not last. So I implore that you build what will last. With Jesus as your foundation, choose love.


And so, if you’ve finished these 3600 words then I hope it will do for you what writing them has done for me. It has allowed me to begin the process of finding closure. The sun has now officially risen in the sky, the family is awake, and the last of the moving boxes will be packed today. Tomorrow we will drive out of the desert for the last time, and say goodbye to all that has been our lives these past 5 years. We have built relationships that will last forever, and hopefully we’ve impacted lives in a way that is lasting.

Feel free to continue following me on whatever journey is next, by checking in here at my blog. I’d love to hear from you and continue to interact with you.

I know I haven’t said all I wanted to say. I haven’t thanked all the people that deserve thanking. But for now, this will have to do.

I say to you “goodbye.”

I say to you “I love you.”

I say to you “you will be missed. You have forever changed my life, and I am better because of my time at The Grove.”

Thank you.

With love, and in love,


p.s. I’d love to share this with as many Grove people as possible. So if you wouldn’t mind, please pass this on to your friends and family, or share it on Facebook, or whatever. Help me spread the love. Thanks!