Findings from a Southern Baptist-sponsored study of young adults leaving the church:
70 percent of 18-year-olds who attended church regularly in high school quit by age 23: they don’t like it. And by age 30, 34 percent still have not rebounded. That means one in four young Protestants has left the church.
On their laundry list of reasons: they wanted a break (27%), church is too judgmental (26%), they moved away to college (25%), busy with work (23%).
On the positive side, the 30 percent who kept attending church cited solid spiritual reasons, including: “it’s vital to my relationship with God” (65%) and church “helps guide my everyday decisions” (58%).
So churches lose three-fourths of their young people. About half of those eventually come back. But one-fourth never do.
Some of this can be explained in terms of the natural separation that happens when young adults break with their families on the road to starting families of their own. Church is something they did with their parents, so, in their separation from their parents, church gets dropped. Once they become parents themselves, church becomes a part of their lives again.
And yet, separating from the church is dangerous, since in this interim young people often fall into serious sin, which, as the Bible teaches, if not dealt with and forgiven, can harden the heart and become a pretext for unbelief.
There are other factors: The more legalistic the church–that is, the more the church seems all about strict external rules and harsh monitoring of behavior, rather than internalizing the law through the Gospel– the more eager the young person is to get out of there. Also thoughtful young people often find their churches so unthoughtful that they readily consider all of Christianity to be childish. Then there are the widely ineffective Youth Groups that, in trying to address the lack of interest, often make it worse.
This is an enormously important issue for churches to address, so let’s use this blog to get at some answers: Did YOU break away from church? Why? What brought you back? What could the church have done to keep you and to minister to you through that crucial period of your life? Or, why did you stay? What was your church doing right?