As you enter adolescence, it is typical to question the world you know. Why do my parents believe in God? Why do we come to this building every Sunday to worship? Why do bad things keep happening if God is so “good”? For many young people, becoming more aware of the world around them makes them apprehensive about what they believe in. But, growing up in a religious community, religious deconstruction or leaving the church entirely may feel impossible.

When you decide to leave your religious community in your adolescence, there are factors that adults do not need to consider. These factors can range from being stuck in a very religious family that wouldn’t accept your choice, to simply feeling more isolated than you once did. Luckily, there are many ways to find community in new places.

Why do some young people want to leave the Church?

There are plenty of common reasons that people are leaving their religious groups. Political differences and the stance of most religious communities on marginalized groups are common reasons that young people are leaving the church. In a video released by NBC, statistics show that Gen Z is the least Christian generation.

Judgement: a Christian pastime

Personally, I came to “ah ha” moment when the Church I attended started to preach about God hating the LGBTQIA+ community. They believed people who weren’t straight and cis-gendered would go to hell. My young, 14-year-old heart was broken. 

I had so many amazing friends who identified as bisexual, genderfluid, gay, etc. I knew them to be truly good people. Hearing a pastor I had respected for so long speak with such hatred in his heart shattered my understanding of religion. It shattered my relationship with the Church. After this, I started to deconstruct my faith.

I questioned where these beliefs were coming from because I could not find those answers in the Bible itself. My relationship with my faith again became strained after my parents announced their divorce. The amount of guilt and shame I felt about this felt unbearable at my tiny Christian high school. Everyone I knew wanted the details. I could feel their judgment from a mile away. 

All of these moments made me wonder… “What God would want this vile behavior acted out on their behalf?”

The God I remembered from my childhood was good, kind, and loving. That’s a far cry from the God I was learning about in my adolescence.

Why is it so hard to leave the church as a teen?

Religious families expect everyone to play their assigned part. Fathers are providers. Mothers are caretakers. Children are disciples of God’s teachings and aim to build personal relationships with God. 

On the other hand, to challenge or question your faith has a name: religious deconstruction. Religious deconstruction allows you to analyze whether what you believe makes sense to you in your faith. 

When a teenager of a religious family no longer feels comfortable in the space they grew up in, most teens fear that their family and friends will react negatively to this news. Many people on social media have spoken about the mistreatment they have faced from friends and family after leaving the church. Learn more about other people’s experiences with the church and spiritual deconstruction here and here.

Teens don’t have the same resources as adults

The average adult has access to a car, finances, a high school education, and can navigate the world as they so please. On the other hand, teens are still under the responsibility of their parents. Teens still live at home, and often have very little access to money and transportation options. 

Although it can be easy to overlook access to a car and the money to relocate, these luxuries are not afforded to teens trying to enter a period of spiritual deconstruction. You might feel suffocated, being stuck in a religious family without a way to leave.

This lack of resources can often cause teens to stay in the Church much longer than they wanted to. In high-control religions, it may seem the only way you can leave your faith is by physically distancing yourself. This is often achieved by moving cities or states.

How you can internally deconstruct your religion while “saving face” until you become an adult 

When you are in a situation where you cannot share your religious deconstruction journey, it is important to prioritize your physical safety. Find safe people to share with outside of your family and religious friends if you can. Someone like a school counselor, teacher, or coach could all be great people to share with if you are able. Following your standard church attendance pattern can help you avoid drawing unwanted attention to your church-going habits. 

You can also start attending more youth-oriented services to demonstrate a need for a community of people your age. Most churches, at least within the Christian faith, have elementary, middle, and high school-age youth groups. These groups are often less “preachy” than regular service. Sometimes they run at the same time as the adult service. So you don’t have to feel bombarded by the often heavier, more emotional teachings for older members of the church.

Spiritual deconstruction moves at your own pace

Religious deconstruction is all about moving at your own pace. There is no right or wrong way to go about it.

For some people, that could look like never stepping foot near their former place of worship again. Unfortunately, not everyone can be so open about their deconstruction. For others, they deconstruct their faith while attending church with their family. They don’t tell relatives about their deconstruction while choosing not to uphold the church’s beliefs in their private lives. 

When I began my deconstruction journey in my sophomore year of high school, I started by researching topics I learned about in church. These included politics, women’s health, the LGBTQIA+ community, and so much more. I chose non-religion-based resources so I could dismantle my faith from other pillars of life. I still attended services with my family and weekly youth group events for over a year before I felt comfortable telling them that I no longer believed in what the church taught. 

In your adolescence, you might move slower to leave the church than you would if you were an adult. That’s okay! It takes a lot of courage to share such a personal change with the people around you. Remember to share about your journey at your own pace and on your own terms.

Maintaining relationships through open religious deconstruction

It is important to have a support system when you do choose to leave the Church. I was lucky to have had a supportive sister and father, as well as friends outside of my religious community, that I could rely on. 

However, balancing your relationships with people still actively participating in the Church community is easier said than done. So, how do you maintain relationships with members of the Church after you leave?

Boundary Setting 101

Andy Newman, a licensed therapist, shared a video on TikTok about managing relationships with believing friends and family after you decide to leave the Church. Here are some great tips about setting boundaries with loved ones. The most important thing to remember is you do not owe anyone an explanation! Your loved ones should respect your decisions, regardless of how they feel about them.

  1. No proselytizing: Ask your loved ones to respect your decision to leave and not convince you to go back.
  2. Set a strict boundary around religious decisions: Affirm to loved ones that religious conversations are difficult for you. Ask them to keep those conversations to other people in their lives but not you.
  3. Allow them to ask you questions to create a dialogue of curiosity. Remember that you only need to share what you are comfortable sharing.
  4. Inform them of what you need for them to best support your journey.
  5. Find new ways to connect with that person and allow other common interests to be a driving force of your relationship, not your religious beliefs.

That all being said, the unfortunate truth is that there is no promise that your boundaries will be respected. Not all families are accepting people leaving the church. If this is the case for you, keeping your deconstruction journey personal until you can safely leave your family’s home might be a good option for you. Religious deconstruction can often be an isolating journey. Finding support groups online or reading through forums about leaving the church can be a great way to see that there is a world waiting for you.

Finding a new community

Although leaving the Church feels complicated while being unable to move, break up with your own family, or finance new activities as a teen, there is a sunny side to this tale. In your teens, it is much easier to find new communities. Student organizations, sports teams, and internships or part-time jobs all provide new venues to explore to find a community that fits for you. As you enter college, those opportunities for community widen even more. You can find your niche and build your community to be the best support system for you.

Trial and error

When leaving the Church, I chose to join several sports teams at my high school. I wasn’t a star athlete by any means, but it got me moving and I was able to meet people outside of my church for the first time in my teenage life. I also got involved on my campus by joining the Culinary Arts program, Yearbook, and Student Government.

I filled my life with people from different walks of life. This gave me the incredible opportunity to engage with communities I had never gotten to learn about. Although not every group I joined worked out for me, I was able to try new things and meet new friends every time I chose to try a new activity. There is no perfect system; but when you put yourself out there, you might just find your new chosen family.

You are not defined by your past

Your former religion may always linger with you; a memory of your past. But it does not define who you are or what your future entails. You are in charge of your own destiny and you get to decide who you want to be. When you choose to prioritize your personal well-being, you will find that the grass is certainly greener on the other side.