Why students are dropping out of church

Road exitThere’s a lot of blogging going on about the New York Times’ recent article concerning the mass exodus of teenagers from evangelical churches. I’ve heard all this for a while now, so it’s not really a ground-breaking story or anything. I wouldn’t even bother to mention it here except for this quote given in the context of disputing the statistic that “4% of teens will be bible-believing in the next generation.” Quote:

Mr. Luce responded: “If the 4 percent is true, or even the 5 percent, it’s an indictment of youth ministry. So certainly they’re going to want different data.”

Why do youth ministries take so much blame for this statistic? C’mon, [tag]Run Luce[/tag]! Yes, some youth ministries can stand to be re-evaluated and changed, but it can’t be entirely our fault. There is a lot more to this than just ineffective youth groups.

I think it involves the following:

1. If students aren’t returning to [tag]church[/tag], then maybe the church needs to rethink what they’re doing and how they “do church.” What is it about the church that students don’t want to be a part of?

2. Students need to see genuine godliness lived out by parents at home and in the lives of their youth workers. The truth is, many parents in our churches wouldn’t even meet the standard of spiritual maturity that I require for volunteers who are in this role model position.

3. Students need to have a solid understanding of bibliology and why then can trust [tag]scripture[/tag]. The Bible needs to be a reliable source as the foundation of everything they do and how they live their lives, not just a book of stories. Churches are filled with biblically illiterate people and it shows.


Posted on October 11, 2006

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  • Ron Luce has been a part of youth ministry for a long time. TeenMania has been around for a long time. So, it’s not just an indictment on youth ministry, it’s also on his ministry. Your points are valid. I’m not sure the statistics in the article are true.

    At the same time, we can always improve what we are doing. The fact remains that being a Christian isn’t easy. It’s not a nice and neat endeavor that isn’t met with ups and downs, especially during adolescence. The college years are filled with transitions. The neat Sunday School answers aren’t enough anymore. Discipleship is a process. It’s the process of becoming more like Christ. It has ups and downs, good days and bad days. Add that to the lack of genuine community in the church and we have statistics. Anyway, sorry for the rant.

  • I’ve always felt that it’s a combination of many factors, but mostly just a lack of forsight. Rarely do those in youth or adult ministry think about the transition between youth ministry and adult ministry. When does it actually occur?

  • Heath

    You know I was just talking about this with one of the elders in my church. Not to just shift blame but it’s not Youth Ministry’s fault, it’s the parent’s fault. Our model for ministry is flawed. yes we need youth ministries out there spreading the gospel in a way that teens “get” but what are we doing to raise up godly parents? Let’s put some serious effort into parents with toddlers let’s equip them to raise godly children and so change the world.

  • I echo “littlepastor.”

    How about we re-evaluate the present model of segregated ministry? Mom and Dad go to “big church,” Susie and Bobby go to “kids church,” and teenager Richie goes to youth group. We expect students to inherently make the shift from ministries that are geared towards them (often times catering to their particular tastes and desires) to adult church. It is a ludicrous suggestion. Our culture is so fragmented as it is, and instead of leading families away from the negative tendencies of our culture, we reflect the broken system we live in.

    Ron Luce is right to “sound the alarm,” but his solution is short-term. Sure, we can panic and “get kids saved,” but what is the system that they are then thrust into? Are we brave enough to suggest that the present evangelical system of “church” is less about community and more about the individual?

    If we want a generation to change, we need bigger thinking and braver leaders than Ron Luce. He is willing to attack the media, but is he willing to attack our way of “doing church?”

  • eric

    I find it interesting that it is youth ministry’s fault that they do not graduate up into “big” church. I know in our youth group we need to kick the kids out of our youth groups – it starts at the end of the summer after they graduate and they still show up at events until finally they get it that we need them to move on… the problem is that there is not really anywhere for them to go. Our college age group has fallen apart, and they really cannot relate to married people who have different struggles and pressures than they do. We talk about building relationships within our youth groups because we can’t compete with movies and television at entertaining the students but we can offer them relationships. I bet if you polled most churches (at least here in west central florida) there is not a lot of college aged programs. I know we send our students to another churches program. That seems to me to be a problem with the whole church not youth ministry.

    What got me from the article was its tone, it was almost gleeful to point out that there might be a problem and it is almost like a foot note in the article that evangelical churches are doing better than most other groups at retaining students in church after they graduate youth group. Why do you think the author and the New York Times is so anti youth group – is it just because a majority of evangelicals are republican? How could you be against youth groups who are trying to instill God’s values and morals into young people’s lives.

  • Amen to all. I personally think it is college and young adult ministry’s fault ;)

  • Just a thought, not really meant to answer the question…but just food for thought.

    I think that the Church as a whole entity, in the local congregation sense, has a duty to always be a forward thinking entity. But what if the Church is not up-to-date in terms of its understanding of the “language” of the culture? This puts the Church in the position of playing continually catch-upm which is another way of saying it stays behind. BUT the Church pushes and pushes for the youth ministry to be up to date and current. Does anyone see the grand chasm between the two?

  • I was almost one of those statistics of church drop-outs when I got to college. Or maybe actually was one of them for a little bit.
    I was sheltered all my life, and when I got to college I didn’t have anyone at home to answer to. I had never been to a party, never seen anyone have a drink. I had heard what can happen to people, but never saw it happen. So I was very curious. With that I stopped going to church on a regular basis. I went off and on, and when I did go regularly I didn’t plug myself into a group.

    Every time I hear these statistics I hear the same conversation with myself thinking that there’s really nothing the youth group or church could have done to change me going to church.
    I went into college really strong. I just came back from my biggest mission trip which absolutely changed me. I got plugged into the college ministry team on my campus and was doing great. But slowly I was introduced to other things in school, and started pulling away from my friends who were believers because I wanted to experience things I hadn’t before.

    So what pulled me back?
    God never left me. He always had a strong hold on my heart and life, and he used my mistakes to really show me the life I was living and he told me that he has so much more for my life if I let him use me.

    I don’t believe I left the church for any thing they did or didn’t do, and I didn’t come back to the church because of something they did. God was working in my life constantly calling my name, not giving up on me.

    With knowing what I went through, I am glad that my sister and I have spent the last 2 4th of July’s together. We would go to different youth’s houses who were having parties, and at one house the adults would get tipsy, this last year one in particular got really tipsy and started getting dangerous with the fire works. We stayed there long enough for my sister to see the effects of alcohol on someone, but got out of there soon after. I don’t want her to go through what I did because of my ignorance.

  • That’s the catch… you can either try to hit the baseball of youth group programs harder or recognize you’re trying to play on a football field and need to get out to a baseball field of authentic ministry.

  • That’s it Dana, these statistics mean very little when you consider what God is up to in the bigger picture.

    The problem I have with Ron here is that he would be the first one to tell you that his ministry has taken hundreds of thousands of teens on mission trips around the world, ministered to them at ATF events, discipled them at summer camps, and grew them during internships. Then he turns around and says this 4-5% is an indictment on youth ministry.

    At this point, even though I think his statistc makes little sense compared to the data I have read, I could still be with him, as if he is including his ministry as part of the problem and we all need to come together and be part of a solution. Then, in the next sentence he says “certainly they’re going to want different data.”

    Thanks Ron, it’s nice to know you don’t consider yourself on the same team as people who have devoted their lives to students.

    He really saddens me.

  • Yeah, funny thing is, I grew up going to ATF and my mission trip before college as my last thing to do before getting into college was with Teen Mania. God really taught me a lot and I grew from my experience. But I believe there isn’t any certain thing or a number of things to prepare me for what I went through.

    My aunt is kinda going through this with her daughter. She was raised by her mom with a strong faith, but now that she is in college and gets to make her own decisions she is seeing what all is out there. I told my aunt that, she has done all she can, that now it’s time to put all her faith in God for her daughter. Trust that her daughter will remember all that she has learned and grew up with. And trust that God will protect her an continue to call after her. My parents did that with me, and God kept calling me back. And now I believe I am in one of the toughest ministry positions being a pastor’s wife.

  • Thanks for the headsup on your site. Would love to talk with you on several key issues that could help thousands in their current calling in student ministry.

    Things can and must change… Let’s pray, work and live for Christ!

    Staying Stupid…

    James Tippins

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  • Why do youth leave the church?

    From what I have seen….
    1. parents not living as mature Christians AND not willing to actually talk about their faith with their children
    2. poor preaching from the pulpit
    3. not called of God
    4. the congregations themselves doing stupid stuff …. church splits over silly things, toleration of unbiblical behaviour, and so forth

    In this day and age when poor preaching and lack of Biblical living, it’s no wonder that the youth are leaving the church.

  • Tim

    Hey James! Thanks for the comment. Feel free to contact me and let’s discuss your ideas.

  • I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence by adding the obvious, but some choose to walk away from God regardless of the quality of ministry they received, the parental examples they saw or any other significant factor. The prophet Samuel had a powerful ministry accredited by God (“he let none of his words fall to the ground”), but his sons didn’t follow in his footsteps (see 1 Samuel 8:1-3).

    In fact, it was their failure, in part, that led to a change in ministry that shouldn’t have happened, choosing a king when they had a King already. We ought to be wary of jumping to conclusions when we evaluate our efforts, youth ministry included. Success is an alluring goal; faithfulness is better.

  • Following this discussion, I think everyone needs to realize that MINISTRY has nothing to do with anything ‘we do’. Ministry comes first by meeting the needs of people.

    Young people need acceptance, encouragement and most importantly the love of Christ. The problem with the CHURCH of America isn’t the student ministries it’s the Children of the King who are NOT living or loving Jesus, much less others.

    Church has become a club of culture instead of a refuge for bringing worship. The body of Christ has transformed into a large hoax of faith that offers YOU something. Sadly, the scriptures exhort us to GIVE not receive for the Kingdom.

    Even the disciples got caught up in this ‘game’ of success. The sons of thunder were both wanting to sit in places of Honor with Christ and He quickly let them know that they would have to follow His example and they did. He also taught them that HE and those who follow him are on earth to LIVE for others, not themselves.

    The church has taken a serious hell-bound approach to spirituality. We’ve discovered ‘ways’ to draw people and ‘hook’ them into the social aspect of religion.

    Unfortunately, religion is worthless without relationship – in turn we create people who are comfortable with their so-called faith and then die, face God and are told to ‘depart’ because He never knew them.

    WIDE is the path that most will take… sadly again it’s mostly because of the false prophets and false teaching that is being bred inside our churches in the name of ministry.

    James 3:1 should be the tattoo on every pastor’s heart – we should be extremely careful to teach the Scripture with our mouths, motives and mission! (There’s a sermon for somebody!)

    In conclusion, are discussion is superb, but it is a waste of eternal investment time if we just talk. Pray, encourage and exhort each other to make personal changes for the cause of Christ. Stand up against the norm and the popular and teach teens that Jesus ROCKS because He is!

    Staying Stupid…

  • And stupid I still am… ‘are’ discussion should say ‘our’ in my last comment.

    Also the bottom line: Why do youth leave the church? Because they aren’t part of it to begin with.

    Luke 6:46-49

    46 “So why do you call me `Lord,’ when you won’t obey me? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then obeys me. 48 It is like a person who builds a house on a strong foundation laid upon the underlying rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who listens and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will crumble into a heap of ruins.”

    Truth is truth.

    Staying Stupid…

  • I think the 4% statistic is wildly off, and I justify my reasoning here, if you’re interested.dnai

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  • Ed

    Valid article. Unsure of statistics.

    Let me address #2. They actually need to see people up close and personal who lead Godly lives but who sometimes fail. They need to see those people respond and make corrections and grow. “Spiritual superstars” can be intimidating to emulate.

    Oh, and it’s spelled “Role” model.

  • @ Ed: Thanks for pointing out the spelling mistake! lol

    Also, I agree with your clarification on point #2. That’s part of what I mean with the “genuine” part.

  • Frankly speaking, I found your site really “hygienic”. With the term “hygienic”, I struggle to emphasis that we share one common taste. The goodness of your posts has refueled my dormant conscience. I could not help but bookmark your website. Hope your forth-coming blogposts will likely be interesting too.

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