3 Reasons Students are leaving the church after graduation

The title to this blog post is no secret to student ministry. I have heard a statistic as high of 80% of students are leaving the church within 2 years after they graduate high school. I used to think that was an over exaggerated statistic, but as I look into our church, it is not that far off. It is actually pretty accurate. Okay, maybe a little. I would say 70% are leaving the church within 2 years after graduation. We see this statistic, and it begs the question, WHY? Why are they leaving? I wrote a post a while back on how to keep them in church after graduation, and you can read this here. This is not on how, but rather, why they are leaving. Here are 3 reasons why I see students leaving the church after high school graduation:

  1. Lack of Involvement to the local church- I look at our students who continue in church after graduation, and there is an involvement in the local church…well, most of the time. Okay, the majority of time. They were connected to the local church, and not just the student ministry. If we are not careful, we can grow a student ministry, and lose tons of those students, because they were only connected to the student ministry, and not the local church. Connect and use them in your church. Find areas for them to serve and be involved in the church, and not just the student ministry. Students crave ownership over their student ministry, and this is why they are so faithful. So, why not take that principle, and apply it to the local church.
  2. Parent Back Up- Parents are huge in the spiritual success of students! I look at my core student leaders, and the majority of them have solid parents who are backing them up and teaching Biblical principles in the home. This is why parent ministry is so big! I encourage our small group leaders to reach the parents, and not just the students! If you can get the parents in church, the odds are better for the students to get connected in the local church as well.
  3. Generalized Preaching- You might be thinking, what does this mean? I thought of this recently, and it made sense, and I hope that this makes sense to you. For years (at least in the circles that I have grown up in) have generalized our preaching. We use clichés from the pulpit, and phrases such as “Stand for God,” “Live for Jesus,” “Be bold,” “Be strong,” “Be courageous,” “Do right,” etc. These are all good, and nothing is wrong with these clichés, but for the younger generation, they are asking, How? How can we do this or what does this mean? For years, we have taught “Do this and Do that,” and have slowly made our Christianity generalized, and not authentic. If you want to keep your students, make the preaching Biblical, and practical. Give the Bible to them in a practical, “How to” type of way, and make the “do points” of your preaching right where the students are at. Do not generalize your preaching and your points for the message, because you are going to have a group of students asking, why and how?  We live in a simple and practical society, and our preaching should be the same so that the students can grasp it and leave church applying the Bible instead of asking questions like, “how can I do that” as they leave the service.

I hope that this blog post has been a help to you. If you have any thoughts on the subject, you can always comment or email me. I hope to hear from you soon.

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5 thoughts on “3 Reasons Students are leaving the church after graduation

  1. Thank for this blog post..

  2. Josh, there are tons of articles about youth leaving the church after graduation. Thanks for adding to the other side of the discussion of what can be done in response. I have often wondered at the amazing effect of the driver’s license on a sixteen year-old. Now they have the freedom to get a job, hang with there friends (somewhere else besides their own neighborhood), and cruise the mall (or the drag if you live in a small town). All of a sudden, they become exposed to the “what’s next” of life: job, relationships, social involvement on their own terms.
    I often hope churches will figure out that these kids becoming young adults need to see what’s next. The church does not offer much. You usually go from the youth group where everything is tailored to that culture into the adult world where it is tailored to the world of their parents. There is usually little offered to that transitional period of life.
    Every church has a ministry opportunity to the 18-26 year old community. Oh, they might not be coming to the red brick building on the corner, but they are working at the mall, the groceries, the hospitals, the parks, and the pizza places and all over town. The ministry begins with going to where they are. They left the church for a reason (and you gave three) but what is the reason that they will return.
    I believe in the local church. It will be there before, during, and after the college years for a young adult. I agree real involvement in the church-life is crucial. This is a training ground for a solid Christian pilgrimage. Urge the leadership of the church to plug them in, not just pacify their time. Everyone values something more when they feel, make that know, that their contribution is welcomed and needed.
    The boss, the significant other, the world says “I will be here for you after graduation.” Don’t let the church be silent.

    • Excellent thoughts, and you nailed the problem. Normally, there is nothing for the transitional time of their lives after student ministry to adulthood. Churches need to be more sensitive to this age, because it is so important. Thanks for your thoughts Ken!

  3. Good stuff Josh.

    Involvement in ministry is so important for sustaining faith during the time of transition from high school to college.

    It’s as if that kind of involvement has a way of moving students from the posture of “taking” to the posture of “giving.” I think that when students get involved in ministry they gain a sense of ownership and importance that – generally speaking – might not have been available when they were “just a kid” in the youth ministry at their church back home.

    When we believe that we are making difference, and that what we’re doing really matters, we show up on Sunday (students are no exception). And there’s something incredibly powerful about showing up week after week to sing the songs, study the Scriptures, pray the prayers, and fellowship with friends.

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