Another snippet from my book, Essential Church?, and a conference I spoke at yesterday in Orlando:
If we create fun activities for students they will stay…right? Wrong! Many churches fall into the trap of thinking games and other activities will keep youth in the church. Indeed, these types of events may help attract students from the community who do not know Christ, but they do not help to assimilate the students who have been in the church for a period of time. Our research has revealed that the vast majority of students under 18 attended many activities in their local church prior to their departure. But by age 22, 70% of those who will drop out of church have already done so. In general, teens are highly active in their local church – 86% attend worship on a regular basis, 74% go to youth-specific activities, 66% attend some sort of small group, and over half go to Christian camp. But it’s not keeping them from dropping out of church.
Why? These students were engaging in many church activities, but they were not necessarily actively involved in growing more spiritually mature. While most students are participating in church activities, relatively few have actual responsibilities in their church. Only 37% of those under 18 have regular responsibilities in their church. And only 25% of teens held leadership positions in their group.
Going to Christian camps, attending youth functions, and being present for worship are important for teens in the church. They should be part of corporate worship and fellowshipping with others their age. If they do not take ownership of their church, however, then they are more inclined to leave when life begins to change drastically at age 18. They leave the church at one of the most critical life junctions, going to college and/or graduating high school.
Ministering to young adults is difficult. Assimilating them in the church proves even more complicated. Activity alone is not adequate. Participation, while a step forward, will not help keep college students in the church. This age group must be given responsibilities and leadership positions when they are ready. And most importantly, the church should be obedient about teaching them one of its essential functions: reaching outward into the community and the world through giving, service, and missions.