Today my mother-in-law sent me an article about why 18-22 year olds drop out of church from Lifeway Research. She knows I enjoy reading about what other researchers have found related to church worship, discipleship, and the like. The article she sent me led me to find the actual report, which includes the methodology, data, and results. Here is a link to the report:
As I read the data, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that really stood out to me. While there are many points of data worth discussing, especially related to the “life changes/situations,” I want to focus on just a few that really should cultivate further conversation related to church and pastor related issues.
Relationship issues mar the dropouts. The top responses for many of the questions related to church/pastor related issues include “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical,” or “I didn’t feel connected to anyone in my church or others weren’t welcoming and friendly.” I have no doubt this is an issue; I hear it all the time. One solution, although not the only one? Make intergenerational ministry your church’s priority. Create a family atmosphere and build relationships among the various generations in the church. Model mutual submission in all you do. If unity is the aim, and I believe it is, then the 18 year old going to college will feel LOST at college without the support of a church that values intergenerationality.
Very few (13 percent) indicated that worship style is what kept them from coming. To me this just continues the point I’ve made for years—worship style is NOT the most important factor of growth/retention in a church. Worship style should be based on the church culture, actual culture/demographics of your area, and the resources and talents of all ages God has brought to you. Intergenerational worshiping churches will not look exactly the same and that’s GOOD. What will be the same? Use of various generations in worship leadership.
Of those who stayed in church, among the top answers was “church activities were a big part of my life.” I agree that those youth who are connected to the church in other ways outside of worship and Bible study (i.e. serving) have a purpose/”skin in the game.” My personal experience is that all ages are more connected when they are pouring into the life of the church. We’re in this together—the church needs me to be there. I’ve found this especially easy to accomplish by involving as many in music ministry as I can. I’ve watched many, many students grow in their faith because they loved to play and/or sing and felt compelled to be here every Sunday. Yes, we are teaching “holy habits,” but we are also reinforcing the ideology of not simply being a consumer Christian, but part of the BODY of Christ. I think those students who leave for college who’ve been serving for years will be more likely to do so into young adulthood.