This Is Important

This Is Important

by David Wells

If you are a parent, grandparent, student, pastor, youth/young adult leader, or church member, you have to read this—it is important.

A 2007 study from LifeWay Research revealed “…that more than two thirds of young adults who attend a Protestant church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.”

“In most cases, the decision to leave was not planned far in advance. Only 20 per cent of these ‘church dropouts’ agree that while they were attending church regularly in high school they ‘planned on taking a break from church once [they] finished high school.’”[1]

Do some math with me. The evangelical community in Canada—which includes our Pentecostal family—connects with approximately 10 per cent of the country’s children and youth. Of that 10 per cent, seven of every 10 will disconnect, at least for a period of time, during their young adult years. This means that 97 per cent of Canadian young adults have either never connected or have chosen to disconnect from the life of the church.

Reaching the six million plus Canadian children and youth who currently never connect with the church is critical. We must, in every way possible, engage and support people and ministries whose focus is to see young people come to living faith in Jesus. But we must also respond to the issue of retaining the children and youth we have already connected with. To commence, let’s understand clearly why young adults disconnect from the church.

According to the LifeWay study, there are three main reasons for the detachment:

1. Life change: The study indicates, “Life changes or life situations cause young people to leave the church. In fact, 97 per cent of dropouts list one or more specific life change issues as a reason they left church. Six of the top 10 reasons church dropouts leave relate to life changes. The most frequent reason for leaving church is, in fact, a self-imposed change, ‘I simply wanted a break from church’ (27 per cent).”[2]  It is important to note that 25 per cent of the students stopped attending when they relocated, usually to attend college. Work-related reasons were referred to by 23 per cent of the respondents.

2. Church or church leadership: Fifty-eight per cent of those who dropped out chose at least one of the 14 church- or pastor-related reasons. The most common was: “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical” (26 per cent). Another 20 per cent “didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.”

3. Crisis of faith and/or the church’s practice of faith: For 52 per cent of church dropouts, “religious, ethical or political beliefs” contributed to their departure. Some did not find themselves aligning with the church’s stance on political/social issues (18 per cent) or moral/ethical guidelines (16 per cent). Not wanting to associate with organized religion was mentioned by 16 per cent of respondents while a questioning of faith or doctrine was indicated by almost 15 per cent.[3]

“The reality is that many young adults will have a season when they wrestle with their faith and their relationship with the church. So, while we must have our strategies to care and connect, we must also respond to the issues of faith, church and daily moral choices.”

Judging from these results, I would suggest that our first response is obvious: We must stay connected with young adults during life changes.
Many of you reading this will have a family member or a member of your youth/young adult group looking at a relocation or career change this fall. Do something! Help them connect with people who will befriend them and encourage them in their faith journey. Are they going to a city that has educational institutions? Then as a parent, youth pastor or church leader, you must make it a priority to identify a campus ministry and local church you can link with to ensure they make a relational connection. Do it soon! Most students who do not connect within the first two weeks of a move do not connect at all.

If you live in a community to which students or young employees relocate, you have an obligation before God to open your hearts and homes to them. You need to develop strategies to integrate them into your lives and ministries. And those at the receiving end need those on the home front to communicate. A good friend of mine lamented that, even after they clearly communicated a willingness to welcome incoming young adults, none of the churches in their region connected them with students or their families. Make the call!

The reality is that many young adults will have a season when they wrestle with their faith and their relationship with the church. So, while we must have our strategies to care and connect, we must also respond to the issues of faith, church and daily moral choices. Spiritual formation calls for consistent influences that live and teach the faith full of grace and truth. We cannot wait until young adulthood to deal with the core issues of life in Jesus. In our homes and in our student ministries, we must disciple now!

At the core, we are dealing with a drama lived out in the spiritual realm. One of the encouraging aspects of the LifeWay study is this observation: “Many of those who drop out do eventually return. Among church dropouts who are now ages 23 to 30, 35 per cent currently attend church twice a month or more. Another 30 per cent attend church more sporadically. Thus, about two thirds of those who leave do return at some level.” [4] I believe the Lord hears the prayers of parents, grandparents, pastors and prayer ministries. I believe He does, by His Spirit, keep His Word alive and active in the hearts and minds of young adults. And I do believe God can use people with open hearts and lives to renew a sense of commitment and belonging in our young adults. Keep loving! Keep praying!!

 

Lord, You know the passion we feel for the children, youth and young adults You have brought into our lives. Hear our cry, attend to our prayer, and draw the ones we mention specifically to You now into a deep, vibrant, living faith in You. For Your glory and our joy. Amen.

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David Wells is the General Superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

This article appeared in the August/September 2011 issue of testimony, the monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2011 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

[1] . “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church,” http://www.lifeway.com/article/165949  (*Note: LifeWay Research of Nashville, TN, is a reputable Christian research organization. Dr. Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, is a frequent conference speaker at PAOC related events. Their research on this subject is extensive and covers both Canada and the United States.)

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. “Church Dropouts: How Many Leave Church between ages 18-22 and Why?” (LifeWay Research presentation, Spring 2007).

[4]. “Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church.”

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