Most know anecdotally that the church is not assimilating college students. But perhaps not known is the gravity and pervasiveness of the problem. A new study reveals that 70% of young adults ages 23-30 said they stopped attending church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.
At my own church, the college-age slice of the church population is a relatively low percentage. And eight miles away is a large extension campus for Indiana University. We are just beginning a college ministry. I look forward to what God may do in the future.
At present, however, churches (mine included) are struggling to retain those within this age group. Children grow up in the church only to fall away once they go to college. While some go to a different state or town for college, when they leave, they do not attend another church in that area. And many who remain local just fall away without much of a battle from inside church.
What are some ways to keep these students?
Make the church essential in their lives. Two-thirds of those who stay do so because the church is “a vital part of my relationship with God.” Ed Stetzer says it best: “Teens are looking for more from a youth ministry than a holding tank with pizza.” Too many churches maintain a passive attitude with those in the younger to mid-teen range. If these students do not take ownership of their church, they will see no need to stay. Start recruiting teens to be greeters and ushers within your church. Train them to teach Sunday School for the children, and challenge them to volunteer for outreach events and VBS. You might be surprised at how receptive they are to helping. One of the greatest ways to assimilate this age group is to go on a church-wide mission trip. All ages side-by-side – young and old working in unity for a common missions goal.
The pastor must connect the sermon with the students. Of those teens who stayed through their college years most stated that their pastor’s sermons were relevant to them. Surprise, biblical truths must be conveyed to all – not just the adults. As a pastor, I make it a point to speak directly with the students during my sermons. They typically all sit together, so I’ll step down from the pulpit and address them specifically, telling them how my sermon applies to their lives today. I’ve never heard any complaints from them, only compliments.
Get the parents involved. Parents that attend church with their children help assimilate them in their church. Not all students who attend church have Christian parents. Parents that do are to be considered a blessing. For those students without Christian parents, the church should actively seek out mentoring relationships. In fact, 20% more students stay in churches where parents are authentic in their faith. If you’re not convinced that parent involvement is critical, then read the latest AP poll. Spending time with family is rated as the top answer to an open-ended survey in which 13-24 year olds were asked what makes them happy. The poll also revealed that half of this age group state that religion and spirituality are important and that being involved in an organized religious group makes them happier.
Looks like the old excuse that teens and young adults just aren’t interested in church, or that they are simply rebelling from their parents, doesn’t hold water. It’s time churches started an intentional plan to disciple this age group. What is your church doing?