Many people realize that the church is losing people. What is not realized is that the vast majority of people drop out as students and young adults. In fact, research reveals that seven out of 10 people who drop out of the church will do so between the ages of 18 and 22.
This age group gives a variety of reasons for the departure: They wanted a break from church. They didn’t connect with the people in the church. They perceived existing church members as out of touch with current reality. The results boiled down to one simple reason: Church was not essential to them.
Instead of finding meaning in the church, students and young adults are finding it in the culture around them. Some blame resides with the students who don’t like the answers the church gives, but churches have done a poor job of demonstrating for students how believers are salt and light of culture, the flavor and guide of society.
Ultimately, church and culture don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The church should be the place where students learn how to interact with the culture without being swept into it. What are some practical ways churches and parents can help stem the tide of a young adult exodus?
Talk about your faith.The young generation not only wants to see faith in action, they desire for their parents to have a conversation with them about why their faith is important.
Give encouragement during life changes.Many dropouts we interviewed stated that a life change prompted their departure. One consistent way to help students through these life changes is to be a source of encouragement and support.
Empower students to serve.The more students serve in the church, the higher the likelihood that they’ll stay in the church. Don’t wait until students reach the age of 18 to ask them to serve. Find creative ways to get all ages involved in serving.
Surround students with mature adult believers. The greater the number of adults directly involved in a student’s life, the higher the probability that he or she will remain in the church. Conversely, our research also found that if students have few adults involved in their lives, the likelihood they drop out of church is greater. The heart of the church dropout problem exists within a short four-year window. If the dropout problem is solved with students in this age group, then the church dropout problem in general is remedied. I’m confident that parents, family members, friends, and other church members can rally behind students, connect with them, and model Jesus’ way of relating to the world.
Additional Suggestions for Parents of High School Graduates
--Before your student leaves for college, help him research area churches with effective college ministries.
--Encourage your student to visit several churches with collegiate ministries. Ask her about his visit and how the church compares to her home church.
--Discuss the possibilities of your student moving his church membership while away from home for four years. If might help him stay connected instead of constantly feeling like a visitor in someone else’s church.
--Help your student try to find campus ministries to join in an effort to find other believers who will hopefully be connected to and active in a local church while away at college.
--If your church is not currently ministering to collegiates, volunteer to begin a college ministry to not only help your student stay connected to your church during the collegiate years, but to help them find connections in their college town where they go to school.
--A care package ministry from your church can help your student know that your church continues to care even when he is away. If your church doesn’t have this ministry, volunteer to get the names of all the college students and find church members to adopt a collegiate for the year. Those connections with church members will build trust and give your students people to turn to back home regarding prayer requests and needs.