A new study reported by USAToday finds that a high percentage of young adults who attended church while in high school stop attending by age 23. The poll was conducted by LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. 70% of young adults drop out of Protestant churches, and 34% do not attend even sporadically after age 30. That means at least one in four young people who leave the church never return.
"This is sobering news that the church needs to change the way it does ministry," says Ed Stetzer who directed the study. "It seems the teen years are like a free trial on a product. By 18, when it's their choice whether to buy in to church life, many don't feel engaged and welcome," says the associate director Scott McConnell.
Part of the problem, says Stetzer, is the way many churches organize their student ministries. "Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place," he says. "People are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world." It seems spiritual formation, not just spiritual entertainment, may be what young people are seeking from a church.
Interestingly, the survey also found that those who stayed or returned to the church tended to grow up in a home where both parents are committed to the church. This may indicate that parents play a more crucial role in the spiritual development of their children than any church program.
Among the 7 in 10 who dropped out of the church a diversity of reasons were discovered:
• Wanted a break from church: 27%
• Found church members judgmental or hypocritical: 26%
• Moved to college: 25%
• Tied up with work: 23%
• Moved too far away from home church: 22%
• Too busy: ...