Why Do 70% of Youth Drop Out of Church after Age 18?

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A recent article in USA Today by Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY revealed that 7  in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.

Relevant Magazine examined the problem and suggests some solutions that some churches are trying.  

In my opinion, young people leave the church after high school because they have become too accustomed to everything around them (including church and God) fitting into their comforts and values rather than yielding and submitting to higher standards that might not be comfortable.  In addition, young Christians are not challenged to think, but rather to have fun and enjoy superficial relationships.  They are allowed to get away with a self-centered consumerism without being challenged.  Sadly, they don’t see many good examples of deep faith in the older generation.  Perhaps that’s why discipleship and training are lacking.  Young people are highly capable ofchurch-attendance.jpg sacrifice, dedication, deep thought and selfless devotion to ideals.  I think the local churches ought to be tapping those qualities and anchoring them in the timeless truths of scripture to unleash the zeal and dedication that is possible with young people.  Bottom line, however, is that godly zeal is a manifestation of the internal work of the Holy Spirit, so it’s not a matter of our striving but more what we allow the Spirit to do in and through us.  Ultimately, we all (old and young) need to work toward a yielded connectedness to the person of a living God.  


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10 Responses to Why Do 70% of Youth Drop Out of Church after Age 18?

  1. bjmmckee says:

    I agree Dr. J. In my recent contact of the twentysomethings, it seems they don’t see the value of real involvement in the church. Futhermore, so many of them grew up in homes that were not strong in faith (even if they did all the usual church things) and they appear to be totally in the dark when it comes to understanding building a relationship with Christ. Sadly, there is far too much pressure to succeed and it is easy to see results of education, hard work, etc., but since they don’t have a strong faith, they can’t see the pay-off of a faith journey and a real, growing relationship with Christ. I believe if was important to them, individually and collectively, it would be a done deal. Seems that a lot of young adults return to church they have children. God help us if our nation has to experience another 9/11 or worse before His children come to Him! Doesn’t history repeat itself? Remember the ancient folks wandering for years and times of pegan worship and then back to God when the going got rough? Then, the cycle started all over again and after all these years, it continues to this day. As we know, everything, even this, is in God’s hands. And, in the end, it is only those things done for God that will last.
    God Bless!
    Bonnie

  2. Stephen says:

    The findings seem to be supported with data from multiple sources. Notice however that the speculation as to causes is just that. There are other possible reasons, many of which are less comfortable for the older generation and evangelical leadership. One possibility that Dr. Clark of Fuller has suggested is that systematically ministries intended to minister to adolescents are coopted to serve the ego needs of the adults involved in them. His conclusion is that American culture today is systematically abandoning adolescents and the adolescents do what they must to survive.

    From my time on the board of a Christian school I have seen this in action. Systematically decisions were made not based on what best served the students but rather what protected the self-image of righteous attainment of the headmaster, pastor and elders. It was very depressing to observe and extremely difficult to address. Finally when the kids were caught smoking pot on church property they fired the headmaster. However, nothing was done to change the school culture.

    Notice that this is a testable hypothesis. Certainly youth ministries must exist that retain 70% instead of loosing 70%. Those could be studied for causal differences. It may well be that personality assessments of the leaders would revel that when students are ministered to by those with the balance and maturity to focus on their development they thrive. Whatever is learned, once the causal factors for differences are identified they can be promolgated for the good of the students, their families and the church.

    It is also interesting that this issue is not viewed as a paramount crisis by pastors, seminary professors and other evangelical leaders. This might suggest that in fact youth ministries are successful in their true purpose, which is not to minister to adolescents. That may sound harsh but if we truly are loosing 70% of our young people why is this not a major crisis with task forces, research efforts and lots of innovative programs seeking to reverse the trend?

  3. bob says:

    the youth today are more educated in all fields and are seeing religion for the ignorant organisation that it is, simple as that

    • Hi Bob,
      I am not criticizing your generalization of the youth today are more educated in all fields…but I am going to say this, if you can read the book of 2 Timothy 3:1-12″Many people will stop loving God” read for your self carefully). And bro read Colossians 2:8 in other for you not to confuse your imagination.
      Thanks.

  4. I can tell that this is not the first time at all that you write about the topic. Why have you chosen it again?

  5. leejagers says:

    To Bob, I reply that there is a difference between “religion” as an “organization” and personal faith in God that a local church can greatly strengthen. I think it’s rather simplistic of you to right off all churches as “ignorant organizations” while deeper thought would look to see what these churches are attempting to accomplish.

    Which leads me to respond to Heartburn to say that I think many of our churches underestimate the capacity of our young people to think deeply and to wrestle with the deeply personal aspects of developing a relational devotion to God. Often, churches stand in the way of the very thing they should be promoting . . . like authenticity, Bible-based clarification of the Gospel, and a challenge for followers of Jesus to manifest more of His characteristics in their lives. So I think it warrants more than one article.

  6. pastor cole says:

    FOR ONE PARENTS THINK PUBLIC SCHOOL SPORTS AND OTHER TYPES OF ELECTIVES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THEIR YOUTH GROUP OR CHURCH EVENT. AS THE CHILD REACHES ADULTHOOD THEY ARE GONNA BE INTERESTED IN EVERYTHING OTHER THAN CHURCH AND GOD. THE WAY TO TURN THESE STATISTICS AROUND BEGINS WHEN THE CHILD IS OLD ENOUGH TO WALK. MAKE CHURCH THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF FAMILY LIFE AND THOSE STATISTICS WILL BEGIN TO CHANGE. THANKS

  7. One more issue is that video games usually are serious as the
    name indicated with the most important focus on knowing
    things rather than entertainment. Although, there is an entertainment part to keep your
    children engaged, each one game is usually designed to
    develop a specific group of skills or area, such as numbers or
    research. Thanks for your write-up.

  8. Thank you every contributor.
    I am Felix Zara from the Republic of South Sudan.

    You people may or may not be aware of what had happened to us here in South Sudan from our fellow brethren Southerners. Today as South Sudan got her independency every Youth member is busy doing he/her things as the first priority and God is considered optional.

  9. Dear readers,
    With the ideas contributed so far as to why young people are dropping out from the church/Christianity? What we are to do is simple the time is coming(John 4:23, it reads” But the time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. In fact, that time is now here. And these are kind of people the Father wants to be his worshippers.”

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