How do we stop losing young adults in church? It seems part of the answer lies in our focus during high school, as well as the transition from high school to college. In a survey released by Lifeway Research, new data shows that the number one reason for not attending church for young adults (20-30) is that they stopped going during college. But it is not due to being disillusioned by liberal college professors or atheists on the campus. According to Ben Trueblood, director of Student Ministry at Lifeway, “For the most part, people aren’t leaving the church out of bitterness, the influence of college atheists or a renunciation of their faith.” In fact, 71 percent of those surveyed said they did not intend to drop out. So why do so many students drop out while in college? According to Trueblood, in many churches college ministry “is a forgotten, under-resourced ministry area,” he said. “Focus is placed on children, students, and then not again until someone enters the ‘young family’ stage. This needs to change.”
Students and parents spend huge amounts of time looking for the best college, the best programs, and the best location without ever wondering about the local church.
Here are some ideas to help prepare students in this critical transition to college.
Use time in their senior year to focus on college life
Students need to be prepared for life in college. One way to do this is to work in an eight to ten-week track for seniors that focuses on college. I have found in teaching Sunday School to seniors that they come alive in these special college sessions. The key here is to get them talking and thinking how the Bible influences the choices they make. Everything from dating, dealing with roommates, to money management should be included. They want to talk about life in college, and by creating a special track you also open the door for parents to follow up.
Bring in college students during Christmas break
Nothing is as good as hearing “war stories” from college students. You might be able to talk about college in the “good old days” but seniors also need to hear from current students. Since recent graduates are often back for Christmas break, plan on having a small group time or Sunday School class dedicated to allowing your seniors to ask questions of current college students.
Help parents and students see the need for a local church
Students and parents spend huge amounts of time looking for the best college, the best programs, and the best location without ever wondering about the local church. Help students and parents see the need to begin thinking about local church options while they are doing their research. In today’s application process, researching churches has never been easier. Most churches have websites, podcast sermons and pictures of what ministries they are doing. Make sure to do your research before you visit a campus so you can also potentially visit a church as well.
Create an “Adopt-a-Student” program for freshmen students
To help extend connections to students even while away, a church can help support their students by having a family adopt them. Yes, they most likely have their own families who care for them, but having non-family church members care for them shows God’s love and concern through the church family. This program can consist of church members writing letters, sending care packages, emailing notes of concern, or checking in with students from time to time.
There are always going to be students who drop out of church during college. We cannot stop this reality. But we can make a big impact if we help students identify their core beliefs and assist them in seeing the importance of participation in church while in college.