Evangelical Drop-Outs
A New survey finds 70 percent of young adults stop attending church by age 23.

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: 22%

• Felt disconnected to people at church: 20%

• Disagreed with church's stance on political/social issues: 18%

• Spent more time with friends outside church: 17%

• Only went before to please others: 17%

The full article may be read at the USAToday website.

August 09, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments


August 22, 2007  1:25pm

I think we might be missing it. We create children ministries why? So that the Children can learn about God in thier own way so they dont disrupt every one else. We create youth minisries why? So that the youth can learn about God in thier own way so they dont disrupt everyone else. So what happens after high school or after college? We expect them to "join" us and not disrupt us. It just doesnt work! There are a couple of options #1 – change things up. Worship is not about what is pleasing to you. Those who are mature in Christ should be able to worship God in a variety of ways. Especially if they see others meeting God by different methods. #2 – as someone previously said, "create a community within a community." If it means having something seperate, then good. The more we can reach for Christ the better

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August 15, 2007  5:02pm

I didn't read all of the comments, so if this is a repeat, please forgive me. But I think the problem is that there are so many churches out there that are not spirit filled. They are not born again believers. These kids are not getting fed the word. They are hearing scripture expounded on, but they aren't getting it in context and they aren't being told the necessity of salvation. Unless the "churches" start to repent and get fired up with the true word of God, the results are not going to change. You go to any on fire, bible believing born again church and you won't find those same results ~ I'm sure of it!!

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August 15, 2007  4:49pm

The problem seems to be not the lack good programs but the lack of family bonds. Why do young people have no one to help them through the transition to adulthood? Shouldn't their family be there for them? And as to why young adults would leave church: have they seen "christianity" working for their parents or have they just seen religion? It seems that if parents fail to live their beliefs their kids pick that up, why are we suprised when applies to religion? It seems the answer to keeping more young people in the church is get their parents to really live their faith.

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August 15, 2007  10:58am

"This may indicate that parents play a more crucial role in the spiritual development of their children than any church program." and "2. We need to start at the family level. The church isn't there to babysit and take over for the parents. (Obviously, youth with parents who don't come are an exception; therefore see point #1)." This is spot on. It is parents – not programs – that shape a child's spiritual life with any lasting results. Churches need to equip, help and encourage parents and families, instead of simply ram-rodding the programs where parents go one direction and their kids/teens go another.

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Chuck Beem

August 15, 2007  12:28am

Several issues which need to be addressed in Youth Ministry: 1. We always stick young guys to do youth. At 23, I look at these students and on the one hand, I love to work with and teach them, while on the other hand I have less wisdom to offer them than older Christians. My advice: start pairing young ones up with older ones. Read Proverbs a few times and I think it'll make sense. 2. We need to start at the family level. The church isn't there to babysit and take over for the parents. (Obviously, youth with parents who don't come are an exception; therefore see point #1). 3. We need to stop evaluating success entirely by the numbers. What's more depressing than all those people leaving is the relative lack of growth in the knowledge and grace of God that persists in the 'keepers.' BTW, how come most conservatives (like me) can't get the same kind of positive repsonses that Ed Stetzer seems to get? Is it because he works with Acts 29 and is automatically 'in'? (Tongue planted firmly in cheek)

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Mel Walker

August 14, 2007  8:46pm

It seems as if the church for the most part has adopted western culture's practice of totally separating youth from other generations. In many churches, in fact, the teenagers are the farthest away possible from where adults meet. We entertain them and over-program them. Their relationships are different; their music is different; and their only role models are the adult youth workers (who also tend to be separated from othe adults) - then when the kids graduate from high school we kick them out of youth group and make them go to "big church". It's no wonder our kids are leaving the church. I am a huge youth ministry fan - for tons of very positive reasons. But, it's time for the church to do something proactive about this. We must build growing intergenerational relationships through intentional mentoring and we must help our youth develop a loyalty and ownership in THEIR churches by significant ministry and involvement alongside other generations.

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August 14, 2007  8:39am

How much of this problem is a result of the lack of true biblical conversion in the first place? Mainstream evangelicalism long ago lost its theological moorings and we have people without number who have a view of salvation and Christianity that is little more than Jesus-as-life-enhancement. Christ's call to "repent and believe the Gospel" has been replaced with "find your best life now!" Who needs church for that? There are legion self-improvement gurus, books, DVD's, cable shows that will do the same thing. When church ignores the true call of the Gospel, to die to ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ, we get false converts who are really just along for the ride, to sooth their consciences or maybe improve some aspect of their social lives. This is the core of the problem, I believe. The siren song of the world and all its pleasures has kept many enthralled instead of on the path to the Celestial City. The Evangelical church has become just a side show at Vanity Fair. Its little wonder young people are moving on.

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August 13, 2007  1:25pm

I thought it was interesting that only 18% said that they disagreed with their church on social/political issues. Many articles here at Ur would suggest these issues as the primary reason. I do suspect that part of the reason young people leave is that they have had their intelligence insulted for so long by youth pastors who behave in a silly manner that they become disgusted. I certainly didn't care for most youth group games and antics from grown men when I was young. Of course, I didn't articulate that at the time because I wanted to fit in. The Bible doesn't need to be 'dumbed down' for kids. Give them some credit. To see what I mean, download this video on prayer from a mega church youth website: http://www.elev8world.com/

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August 13, 2007  12:17pm

I agree with Nate and Doodle. I think the problem is community. Most churches do this pretty well for high schoolers, but little or nothing is offered for twenty somethings. Observing this in our church, they feel pretty disconnected until they establish families of their own.

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August 12, 2007  8:19pm

The article stated that many young adults found churches (or church members) judgemental or hypocritical. I know that as a young adult I have wrestled with my faith many times over the past year. My brother abandoned his about a year ago. My church family has been awesome. I am grateful that they have supported me through question, after question, after question. I can see how some churches might not put up with so much...People have gone out of their way to let me know that I belong and am accepted. I wonder if a deeper problem, though, is a lack of connectedness, a lack of community. We can't help the confused young adults in our congregations if we don't know who they are. I wonder if, to many young people, those hypocritical Christians are their own families–they show up at church every Sunday, polished and smiling, but Dad beats Mom, and Mom's an alcoholic...It's okay to complain about your family in the cafeteria at school, but church is the place to be nice...um...I mean, forgiving.

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