American church leaders fear that the next generation of church members and leaders may be a no-show. A variety of polls suggest that 60 percent to 70 percent of high school students active in their Protestant churches drop out after graduation.
Churches and denominational leaders are scrambling to discover ways to stop this downward trend. Some students believe that the church has too much hype and is not real. Some look at church leaders as examples, only to be left discouraged because so many profess being one way but in real life, display characteristics close to non-Christians.
According to a poll by LifeWay research, the publishing arm for the Southern Baptist Convention, that about two-thirds of people active in Protestant churches during high school will drop out for at least one year before their 22nd birthday. The Barna Group, a major religious pollster, report that 61 percent are spiritually disengaged after high school and only 20 percent remain spiritually active now.
What is it about our faith commitment that does not find root in the lives of
our children? Do Sunday School and other curriculum need revising? How do we begin changing our style of worship? Listed below is a chart that shows why teens drop out.
Percentage among 18-30 year-olds who stopped attending regularly between ages 18-22
Simply wanted a break from
Church members seemed judgmental or
Work responsibilities 23%
Moved too far from church 22%
Became too busy, though still wanted to attend 22%
Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church 20%
Disagreed with church stance on political/social issues 18%
Chose to spend more time with friends outside of church 17%
Was only going to church to please others 17%
Source: LifeWay Research, Southern Baptist Convention
Some churches are reaching out to the 20-something generation, a group described as being more deeply spiritual than earlier generations but less formal. Those churches tend to develop a non-churchy style—meeting on neutral sites, dressing down, addressing real needs, contemporary music—while retaining the heart of the Christian message and beliefs.
The future of the church is unknown but one thing is very certain. If the church plans to “maintain in size”, they will have to develop ways of effectively reaching this age group or the church will basically “dry up and die”, not because of the message but because of a lack of regeneration (older people not having the energy to evangelize, work, provide the finances, dying off).
The dilemma is real. Today’s church must change and reach out now to these young people, otherwise other groups, such as Muslims and religious cults will attract them. It is up to us, what will the church do?
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