Are Your Student Ministries a 4-Year Holding Tank with Pizza?

Despite all the fear driven presentations you’ve heard, not every young person is walking out of the church the moment they finish high school and never coming back.

Here’s what you need to know. The young adults who do drop out of church often lack a first-hand faith—a faith of their own—and a relationship with Christ that matters deeply in their own personal life apart from their parent’s pressure.

I’ve heard some pretty remarkable statistics about church dropouts – I’m sure you have, too. Such as: 94 percent (some say 86 percent) of evangelical youth drop out of church after high school, never to return. The problem? Those stats are urban legends. They’ve not been validated, and research has never come to that conclusion.

Let’s explore the actual statistics regarding young adult dropouts, and why they drop out.

The Truth: Some Young Adults Do Drop Out

The reality is there are dropout challenges, but it’s not 94 percent or even 86 percent of evangelicals. Real research shows that faith is rather resilient from one generation to the next—but that does not sell the books, I know!

A few years ago, LifeWay Research examined the issue, looking at some of the things that help young adults stick, stay, and have a robust faith. We wanted to know what it takes for a student to continue his or her faith through high school, college, the career years and beyond. (It’s discussed in Essential Faith by Sam and Thom Rainer.)

We looked at the faith of students who attended a Protestant church (mainline or evangelical) twice a month or more for at least one year in high school. Here’s what we found: About 70 percent of young adults ages 18 to 22 stopped attending church regularly for at least one year. Is that a 70 percent dropout rate? With all the nuances and with all the caveats, we’d say so. That’s a dropout rate, a much too high dropout rate. Other research and studies among evangelical youth, however, indicate that number is almost certainly much lower (see the study mentioned earlier). And it should be noted that we found almost two-thirds of those who left in our Protestant study were back in church by the end of the study.

Why do Young Adults Drop Out?

We also asked young adults why they dropped out of church. Of those who dropped out, about 97 percent stated it was because of life changes or situations. That’s a pretty substantial number. Among their more specific reasons:

  • They simply wanted a break from church (27 percent).
  • They had moved to college (25 percent).
  • Their work made it impossible or difficult to attend (23 percent).

About 58 percent of young adults indicated they dropped out because of their church or pastor. When we probed further, they said:

  • Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical (26 percent).
  • They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church (20 percent).
  • Church members were unfriendly and unwelcoming (15 percent).

Fifty-two percent indicated some sort of religious, ethical or political beliefs as the reason they dropped out. In other words, about 52 percent changed their Christian views. Maybe they didn’t believe what the church taught, or they didn’t believe what they perceived others in the church to believe.

More specifically, 18 percent disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues, 17 percent said they were only going to church to please others anyway, and 16 percent said they no longer wanted to identify with church or organized religion.

What Can We Do?

The reason that many church-attending young adults stopped going to church upon graduating from high school? Their faith just wasn’t personally meaningful to them. They did not have a first-hand faith. The church had not become a valued and valuable expression in their life—one that impacts how they live and how they relate and how they grow. Church was perhaps something their parents wanted them do. They may have grown up in church, and perhaps they faced pressure from parents and even peers to be involved in church. But it wasn’t a first-hand faith.

We cannot posture our student ministries to think like and act like a four-year holding tank with pizza. Instead, we need to prepare young adults for the spiritual challenges that will come and the faith questions they will face. Firsthand faith leads to life change and life-long commitment.

>> Read more from Ed.

Download PDF

Tags: , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Process >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

How to Disciple Students at Your Church

Every year my wife and I sit at high school graduations and watch our students walk across the stage as they transition into another phase of life. Every year I wonder, Will this student be swept away by the culture of the world in college, or will he/she change the culture around them as they live out the gospel? That’s the job God has called us to. So how do we present these students mature in Christ? You already know the answer (discipleship), but how? Such faith-spurring relationships don’t just happen. As much as we want to be organic, leaders must have a plan to make sure discipleship happens on a ministry- or church-wide basis.

Here are five ways of how to implement a culture of discipleship in your student ministry.

#1: Don’t run solo.

Jesus didn’t just say it, he showed it. If not for Jesus pouring his time into just 12 men on the other side of the world, you and I wouldn’t follow him today. You probably can’t disciple every student under your care. You need to gather and pour into the right kind of leaders who can go and do likewise. Imagine a whole group of leaders who share the same passion and vision as you scatter around town discipling students. Do not open the door of your ministry to every volunteer in the church. Instead, gather the ones that are teachable, humble, and love the gospel. These are the ones who will follow and disciple.

#2: Don’t assume people know what discipleship actually means.

I will never forget the time I sat down with a student pastor from my hometown over lunch and watched him shed tears because for six years he failed to disciple his small group of guys. He was just glad they showed up and laughed at his jokes. He didn’t even know how to disciple. The church doesn’t need a surge of people without a plan. Many parents and youth leaders have the desire to disciple but don’t know where to begin. That’s okay, but make sure as you lead them forward that they know what to do and how to do it. Be specific. Give them a list of examples of how they can take simple steps in discipling their students.

At my church, we ask our leaders to view their Sunday school class or small group as their own little flock. The tech guy has his flock of techies, and the worship leader has his musician flock. Together we are daily praying for our flock of students. If I show up at the hospital because a student is sick, I can count on their small group leader being there, too. Most of the time our small group leaders first inform me about problems with a student. These leaders pray for their students daily, Facebook their students weekly, and—yes—even go to their activities.

#3: Meet regularly with your leaders.

If you are not meeting at least once a month with your leaders and talking over the vision in detail, more than likely your leaders are not making disciples. Or even worse, they are creating a different goal for themselves and implementing it. Communicate regularly and clearly. In my first meeting with the leaders at my current church, I told them that they would be able to walk out of the room that night knowing what we were doing and how we were doing it. All subsequent meetings would be spent talking about the same thing with some loving accountability. Some folks chuckled, but they were encouraged to know not only the vision but also the plan, which was clear, concise, and compelling.

#4: Be smart, and ask for help.

The best disciple-making churches don’t necessarily spend their time writing new curriculum. Discipleship is nothing new, but understanding your specific flock and discerning how best to minister to them can be tricky. Read your Bible, read some books, make some phone calls to other student pastors, and put together a small guide for your staff and leaders. Make sure they see on paper the goal, plan, and small practical steps they can take to disciple their students. In the last 12 years, most leaders I talk to overlook the simple details. Most of my leaders hear me ask one question on a weekly basis: “Are you praying for your students daily?”

 #5: Build relationships with parents.

If you want to thrive in discipleship and not just survive, then you must talk to parents. Spending time with students comes naturally to student pastors, but parents require a different approach. Take dads out for breakfast or lunch and chat about home life. Ask how you can pray and how you can serve. Never forget parents are the primary disciple makers of their children. Learn to serve the parents if you really want to get to the heart of a child.

There is a massive difference between a youth group and a student ministry. Too many youth groups search for new ways of making kids vomit and wear matching hoodies with cool logos at Six Flags. As a student pastor, if you feel like an after-school care worker, you are not alone. However, it is your job to obey Scripture and make disciples. Yes, you should attract students to your ministry, but is there gospel depth in your students?
Download PDF

Tags: , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Process >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Pond

John Pond

John was born in Cincinnati, Ohio but lived most of his life in Birmingham, Alabama. John went to Southestern Bible College and is finishing up his maters studies at Southern Seminary. John has been serving in ministry for the last 13 years as a Student Pastor and Church Planter. John's heart is to preach and communicate the Gospel to the world by serving the church and making disciples. John is the Student Pastor at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, TN next door to Union Univeristy. John is married to Devin and is a huge Auburn fan! John also speaks around the country to both students and adults and is available for speaking engagements. Please email speaking requests to john.pond@wjbc.org.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.