Home > Brian's Blogs, Parenting > Parenting Teenagers 11: Church Dropouts

Parenting Teenagers 11: Church Dropouts

Today I want to make a shift in my series on parenting teenagers. Specifically, I want to start looking at some important research on the spiritual lives of teenagers. I believe that this is extremely important because one of the things we need to do to create a nurturing relationship with our children is to understand them better. Today’s topic: beginning to understand teens who drop out of church after high school.

The reality of church dropouts has been an important topic in churches for years. Everyone knows experientially that college-age students often drop out of church, but many don’t know exactly why. Ed Stetzer and his group at Life Way Research have begun to understand this phenomenon. Here are some of the statistics (this research is based upon surveying adults who are currently within the ages 23-30, reflecting upon their lives as 18-22 year-olds):

  • 70% of 18-22 year-olds drop out of church for at least one year during this phase of their life.  (it is important to note that not all of these students drop out for the full four-years, rather, the survey was only interested in one extended absence).

I believe that this matches many parent’s and church’s experience. However, the most important question is why?

  • 97% of church dropouts reported that a “life-change” was a reason for leaving the church. The life-changes listed include: 1) wanting a break from church, 2) moving away from home/to college, 3) job responsibilities, 4) became too busy, or 5) just wanted to spend time with friends outside the church.
  • 58% of church dropouts reported that a church issue or pastoral issue was a reason for leaving the church. The most common was “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical” and second was “I don’t feel connected to the people in my church.”
  • 52% of church dropouts reported a change in “religious, ethical, or political beliefs” was a reason for leaving the church.

But not everyone leaves, so why did some 18-22 year-olds remain in church?

  • The church is relevant in helping them make decisions in life (58%).
  • The church is helping them become a better person (50%).
  • They are committed to the purpose and work of the church (42%).

Perhaps the best news in Life Way’s study is this: “many of those who drop out do eventually return. Among church dropouts who are now ages 23-30, 35% currently attend church twice a month or more. Another 30 percent attend church more sporadically. Thus, about two-thirds of those who leave do return at some level.” And the main reason they return? Encouragement from others, including family and friends.

That is enough statistics for one post. Next I’ll review some of the parenting and pastoral implications that Life Way has developed.

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  1. April 14, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Interesting stats. I have to wonder if young adults are also have more going on then those of us that ‘have grown up’. Going to school away from home, not having a car… sure they can ask the church to get them a ride, but that is asking them to get to know strangers when they are already dealing with so many life changes… it’s a thought.

  1. April 15, 2008 at 9:01 am

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