Most people who have served in a children's ministry or student ministry context have heard various statistics about youth leaving the Church after they graduate high school. 70%-%80 is generally the estimate you hear, and my personal experience growing up church backed up those numbers as about 4 out of 5 students I grew up with were not involved after we graduated.
Statistics on Youth Leaving the Church
Lifeway Research conducted a survey in 2017 of young adults to gather statistics on youth leaving the church by asking about their experience. The same study was done by them in 2007 and the results were not that different. They asked the question:
Did you stop attending church regularly (twice a month or more) for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22?
In 2017, 66% of those surveyed said they stopped attending church, compared to 70% in 2007. So, at least there was a small decline.
Why Youth Leave the Church
In the Lifeway Research study of 2017 the top 5 reasons for why youth leave the church were:
- Moving to college
- Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical
- I didn't feel connected to people in my church
- I disagree with the church's stance on political/social issues
- My work responsibilities prevented me from attending.
2011 Study by Barna on Youth Leaving Christianity
In 2011, an extensive research endeavor by the Barna Group revealed some new insights into this huge issue facing the Church. The details are found in a new book called You Lost Me. Here are some highlights from the full post on their site:
- 1 out of 9 (11%) lose faith in Christianity
- 4 out of 10 (40%) leave the Church but still call themselves Christian
- 2 out of 10 (20%) disconnect from Church and express frustration about “church culture” and disconnects with society
- 3 out of 10 (30%) stay involved church
Yes, that's 101%, because the “out of 10” references were probably rounded. Here are the myths they believe exist, that aren't true from their research:
- Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.
- Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults' maturation.
- College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.
- This generation of young Christians is increasingly “biblically illiterate.”
- Young people will come back to church like they always do.
Looks like the 70% number is accurate if we're looking at church involvement.
What do you think? How can we help change that trend?
I’m my opinion, the reasons cited for the problem of young adults leaving the church are surface reasons. I believe the underlying reality is that these young adults have you ever had a significant relationship with God. They have been taught a Christian belief system but lack the personal relationship. If someone truly knows the love of God, that will never change based on The Superficial reasons given in this study such as the conflict between what the church teaches and what science teaches. I believe the reason that young adults leave the church is that the way we parent them misrepresents God to them. We present a God that relates to us based on our Behavior rather than a God who is concerned about our heart motives.
I absolutely agree! We need to teach this generation about a life-changing relationship with Jesus and the true word of God, not just rules and religion.
In reading these comments, I feel your readership is missing the signals from this generational exodus from the church.
If you pull up the actual study from lifeway, you can see plenty of data, but reading into it, it’s weighted to diminish the actual CORE reasons young adults leave. In nearly every category, more than 25% of respondents put “none of these” options as their answer. That’s means a quarter of the data is basically missing, bc these students didn’t have a representative answer to choose from.
It should still have the option, but a quarter of your participants (from a grand total of 1300…) having a “mystery reason” doesn’t exactly scream “excellent study”.
In light of the legitimate concerns from Millennials and GenZ around failures in the “Big C” Church with accountability and stewardship, it makes more sense to me to blame leadership failures than “biblical literacy”. These students are often aware of the biblical history (especially around the validity and formation of key scriptures) in a way their parents never even thought to consider.
This is the most tech savvy generation ever, maybe we don’t just chalk it up to “I moved to college and stopped attending” instead of the Real reasons their leaving and having no reservations.
Very statistically astute observation. The comments on this seem to be weighted towards the shallow end of the “reasons” pool and ignoring what are, at the centre, very painful realities of the existential failure of ancient religion to deliver on the joy promised.
Religion never satisfies, only knowing Christ personally, who is God come in the flesh so we could know what He is like, then died for our sins, resurrected and became the Life-Giving Spirit, being poured out over the whole earth to become the life supply for our spirit! He loves us with such a sacrificial life and infuses us to live the same life as He, loving with a pure love. Free New Testament at BiblesforAmerica.org with excellent study notes that emphasize Christ as the Life Giving Spirit for our spirit! My mom and dad prayed that their kids would not be 2nd generation Christians in name only, but have a genuine love for the Person of the Lord Jesus Himself. We all do and have married Christian spouses and our kids are believing in Him, too. I am a 5th generation living Christian on one side, starting in Sweden and a 3rd generation on the other side. We have pastors and a missionary in our family. We are descendants of the Mayflower Christians who paid such a big price to come to this land to set up a shining city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, to give light to all around, even the whole earth! I pray you and yours can touch His riches! Just call Lord Jesus! He is near each one, in our mouth and in our heart, like the air. We just have to turn and talk to Him! Every blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus to you and yours!!♥️♥️♥️
Yup they never seem to ask any of us who’ve left. For me 34m who grew up heavily indoctrinated in the Christian cult, it’s not because I didn’t understand the biblical stories, it’s the parts I understood that forced me to leave or abandon all intellectual honesty. The church destroyed my family and barley a word in the Bible is true so what’s left? Why would I care? Christian’s can understand why people leave Scientology, Islam or any of the other cults but they will never look in the mirror. Very happy this awful cult is dying across all denominations
My son is experiencing a good example of this. He is going through confirmation class through our church, and one of the criteria is to remember the exact order of all 39 Old Testament books (and all 27 New Testament) AND the proper spelling. He will “lose” points for misspelling books such as Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk. How does this make him a better Christian? Shouldn’t the focus instead be of the meanings and truths in books such as Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk?
I think it is harvest time. In the seed that’s been planted in the religion that people has put their faith in. Truth has been established in the work of personal relationships.
The Question is: have the transformation taken place in your life. Have you been born again? The cry is bigger than data reveals. Our youth is looking for answers about life. Only to get push to the side with perspective views. The bullet is: what order or you under?
Love is lead in stages. Spirit life come with Power! Religion is a seed that has died to our youth. But spiritually they-are staving to know what truth really is. Throwing a rock and hidden your hand will not work for this generation!
You can’t teach the young people with words, sermons, retreats, slick programming, and so on. The teaching you can do is with how you live your life, and how you practice your faith. Words are merely gusts of wind if you don’t live your life the way you speak.
Exactly my thoughts! Society is getting tougher and tougher and influence is strong, kids and parents aren’t talking about deep Bible theology and answering hard questions that atheists ask and if you don’t even know the answers why would you believe? We need to raise soldiers these days and dove deep into the word and talk about this with our kids or they will fall away
I’m currently a kids director at my church and I will say that we are. It is refreshing to hear people concerned about things that are heavy on my heart. Hard questions and deep biblical theology pivotal!
As someone who left Christianity at 18 the biggest thing that made me leave was my own family trying to force me to become more apart of the church and would sign me up for things without asking me beforehand even though I was an adult. The other reason is my mother up until I was 12 never took me to church nor spoke about God or Jesus at home, when I started going to church I thought it was kind of weird and uncomfortable, I never believed God spoke to me, I didn’t believe he gave me signs, and I don’t believe he loves humans because if he did he wouldn’t let children and babies be abused, murdered, and raped. So I already had an extreme disconnect from the church I was going to, plus all of the Christian people you here from online and in public are such psychopathic hateful people, meaning they are going against their God because they have no right to say who deserves to go to heaven and who doesn’t only their God dies. I am pagan now and follow the Greek and Norse gods and goddesses, my family knows and they still love me, that’s something else I don’t like Christian people for, is how many “loving Christian” families throw out their kids for either not having the same beliefs or throw out their kids for doing something that goes against their beliefs which is bullshit, any good parent who says they love their children would never do that because love is not conditional so only worthless scummy human beings throw out their kids.
I suspect the cause is urbanization and social media. Young adults are leaving religion, leaving their families, not starting new families or having children, and leaving their friends and not making new friends. This is not just happening among Christians in the US, but also among Muslims across the Middle East, and among the most populated countries in the world, such as India, China, and Brazil.
Moving from the countryside to the big city means more opportunity, a more successful future, and more money. People are selling their souls without realizing it.
Oh for heavens sake (literally), pretty much everyone has it completely wrong. Young people are turning away from your church because evangelicals are now synonymous with the Republican Party/Trump/anti-vax/insurrection. Christians have become just one more special interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Their crass, obsessive political ambitions and far right ideology have utterly destroyed their credibility as a valid spiritual community, and until they can rescue their faith from their worst leaders, the corruption of their religious tradition by politics shames all those who participate in it.
Roger, that is a very culturally narrow perspective that would only explain the reason young people are leaving churches in the United States. When we put politics aside, (which in my opinion may be the best thing to do permanently with the state of politics today). There are lots of reasons young adults leave the church. Those stated in the other comments and in the article identify several reasons.
I think your comment paints with an awfully big brush foregoing the nuance of the many different Christian denominations and church families in this country and around the world. Unfortunately, that perspective paints the Christian church in a very negative light.
I wonder what the reaction would be if a Christian were to use the same reasoning for Buddhism, Islam, or any number of Eastern Religions in the world. I anticipate, and know from seeing comments by Christians who have done so, the reaction is “bigot” “Islamophobe” etc… Ironic how we apply different rules to people of different faiths without trying to first really learn about those faith groups and the details of their different worship and social practices.
Unfortunately, you are 100% correct that there are far too many Christians who do these things, but I hardly find it reasonable to step on the other side of the line and do exactly the same thing to Christians as a whole.
Came back on to support this perspective, these other people don’t get much farther than their echo-chamber
RogerM: your commentary reveals much about your position ideologically, politically, and spiritually. You seem to have a preconceived notion about the Christian faith without having experienced the truth of that comes from a relationship with your creator. The majority of evangelical Christians identify with the Republican party not because they are Trump loving anti-vaxers (Trump is pro vax) but because they understand that collectivism does not work either spiritually or socially. We are each responsible for our own outcomes, both in this life and the next. The Christian faith commands that we care for those in need, but that is also a decision that must be made on an individual level, not dictated by some bureaucrat. And what benefits are those Christians scrambling for that are not clearly laid out in the constitution of the United States. You might want to give that a read.
Could not have said it better you’re on the money
I agree with Roger here. When young people see the church and the Republican party as synonymous, it’s a huge problem. The church should not identify with anyone political party. Especially now that former Republican President Trump is being charged under the Espionage Act and is being legally investigated in six other ways on top of that. Richard Rohr said it best, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.” Then there’s the challenge of QAnon. Around 27 percent of evangelicals believe in QAnon conspiracy theories just as much as they believe in Jesus. Prominent SBC leaders such as Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have discussed the QAnon problem. Yes, many megachurches are doing well because they cannibalize and bleed off members from smaller evangelical churches, which are closing by the sack-full. This process is similar to what Wal-Mart has done to drive mom and pop stores out of business. Megachurches grow because they have resources and are well equipped to meet the needs of consumers in the Christian market. Abundant free child care and cut-rate cappuccinos are attractive amenities. Overall, though, church membership is a product in search of a demand.
My, My, Ann L…As a senior pastor of an evangelical church for 25 years, I have never heard of QAnon. Neither has anyone that I know in my community, nor in my entire tri-state area of churches, and we are within a short drive from the nation’s Capitol. It is interesting to me that the only ones who seem to know anything about QAnon at all are those on the Left. Please illuminate the rest of us. The fact is, the efforts of Leftists are undermining the Church, not the Right.
I agree wholeheartedly.
As a former youth pastor and as 26 years as a senior pastor, a large majority of teen girls get hurt and even disillusioned by the actions of “Christian” teen girls who have a problem with jealousy and gossip. You heard me right!! Looks, personality, public appearance and personal opinions from others have run more young people, girls in general, than anything else. More and more we have gotten away from Sunday School and true teaching of what the Word of God says, instead more of what the world puts out in our children and young people. We have lost 2 generations due to this!!
As a young adult myself, I have had many opportunities to talk with, and by God’s grace, to try to encourage a large number of young people in their walk with the Lord. As God has given me these opportunities, I have found, as I had deep discussions with them, that some of their biggest struggles in Christianity come from a feeling of hopelessness. By that I mean they are discouraged because they lack a close connection with Jesus. As Sean Nebblett put it, “Until the gospel has become the reason you are alive, you have not yet begun to live.” They are literally dying inside because what they think is Christianity, and what they think is knowing the Lord is all fake and empty because it lacks a true connection with our loving Heavenly Father. Why is it that they struggle so much to connect with the Savior? Because the Devil is alive and well. He has thrown His best energies in to destroying them through the environment in which they have been raised. The attractions of the world have been blared in there faces through school and media and music for their entire lives. The attraction is real! They know it is not right, but when they think of the Christianity that they know, they see it as lifeless and are not at all attracted. I believe that the only sure way to change this is, firstly, to encourage and show them who our Heavenly Father truly is – His unending love for them, and His beautiful plans for their lives. “The last message of mercy to be given to the world is a revelation of His character of love.” I can personally say that I have found that the study of God’s character and love is infinite. Secondly, parents, don’t exposed your children to the world. Young peoples biggest struggles in life come from living exposed to secularism. As a church we must not lower our standards to attract them to Christ but to hold high the promise of life that God wants to give them. Emotion and excitement in our churches through rousing music and emotional speakers may bring the youth into our church but it won’t connect them to Jesus, because it will not truly portray to them what true Christianity is. We must connect with their mind not their emotion because that is how the Holy Spirit works. “It is by beholding that we become changed”
Sad to see a lot of people leaving the church. Specially the youth. Our church here in TX, https://lhhouston.church/ surprisingly has reversed the trend and new members turn up almost each service! it’s amazing! I think they should try to learn from the great pastor that runs and steers the ministry.
This has been so insightful. My gratitude to our youth for expressing, their disconnect and frustrations with the organized church, from their hearts. So here’s my observation, after reading each comment, they bring me to conclude that many of our struggles are symptomatic of a much deeper cause. I believe these frustrations are fundamentally a cause or outcome of ultimate authority. Authority of God’s infallible word or man’s fallible word.
Two studies, Barna Group and US Today “found that nearly 75 percent of Christian young people fall away from the faith and leave the church after high school.” Their survey implied ‘intellectual skepticism’ as the reason. Our youth today spend an average of 30 hours per week in school where they are taught man’s theories as unquestionable truth e.g., the story of evolution and its foundation of millions and billions of years. Then at home another 30 hours playing video games, social media and TV. Now contrast that with 50 minutes in class at church. So, ones mind is being indoctrinated in worldly views while briefly God’s reality. In my opinion this is the main justification today for rejecting God’s word, specifically doubting creation as recorded in Genesis. Our youth are not being taught apologetics that can give them intelligent answers that defends against secular attacks. Our churches are failing to provide sciencific answers in support of God’s word that expose the myths of evolution and its foundation of millions and billions of years. What’s confusing is many of our pastors, churches, even Christian colleges have compromised God’s infallible word by replacing it with man’s presuppositions.
Our Christian youth need answers not just moral and spiritual but science that confirms scripture so they can stand strong and give an intelligent reason for their belief. Church wake up.
They need to know what they believe and why they believe what they do. And how to defend their faith so they can stand boldly with a joy of confidence unashamed uncompromising.
The battle for truth is foundational, either an eye witness infallible God and his word, the very agent of Creation or fallible man who wasn’t there.