A 2007 LifeWay Research study found that 70 percent of young adults who attended church in high school subsequently stopped attending church for at least a year during their college years.
Perhaps just as alarming, only 20 percent of those who left the church had planned on doing so while in high school. For most, the decision was not considered far in advance.
LifeWay’s data is not unique. Surveys by Barna and Gallup have found similar dropout rates, leaving youth and teens experts wondering: What can be done?
A new longitudinal study of 500 youth group graduates may provide some answers. Conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary, the study followed the graduates through their years in college or vocational school. The results are compiled in a book, “Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids” (Zondervan).
Some of the suggestions aren’t surprising (for instance, the level of church involvement by parents plays a key role in a teen maintaining their faith walk). Other suggestions, though, may surprise Christian leaders.
Baptist Press asked Sticky Faith co-author Kara E. Powell — executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute — about the research. Following is a transcript:
BAPTIST PRESS: What do you mean by “sticky faith”?
KARA POWELL: Sticky faith, in our context, is faith that lasts beyond high school — a vibrant relationship with God as well as with the faith community.
BP: Your book includes multiple reasons why teens leave the church when they move out or go off to college. What would you say are the top two or three?
POWELL: Our research didn’t rank reasons, so it’s challenging for me to choose the top two or three from a research perspective. Having said that, as we’ve shared our research with students and gotten their feedback, the top two or three are, No. 1, their view of the Gospel is a very truncated view of the Gospel. It’s very similar to what Dallas Willard calls the Gospel of sin management, where the Gospel has been distilled to a list of do’s and don’ts. Part of what we need to do is reframe the Gospel as God’s transforming us from the inside out. No. 2, as youth ministries become more professionalized — which is a step I applaud on many levels — it has become separated from the rest of the church. And so the typical youth group graduate leaves high school and they know their youth leader but they don’t know the overall church, they don’t know adults in that church. We’ve done ourselves a disservice by having youth ministries so silo-ized from the rest of the congregation. We need to create more inter-generational worship and relationships. And No. 3, their families are not vibrant hubs of faith. A lot of parents these days are what we call dry cleaner parents — parents who think they can bring their kids all dirty to church Sunday morning, and then pick them up 75 minutes later all clean. A lot of parents are thinking they can outsource the spiritual formation of their kids to the church. And the reality is, the best combination is a family and church working in partnership for the long-term benefit of the faith of the child.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press