By Amanda Wood Williams
When it comes to church attendance among college students, statistics are concerning: many young adults don’t attend church, even if they attended as children.
According to a study by Lifeway Research, 70 percent of young adults stopped attending church for at least a year between ages 18 to 22—during the time when most Americans attend college.
So what can churches do to curb the number of dropouts? Based on a survey of church-going college students by Dr. Donald W. Caudill and Benjamin J. Payne at Gardner-Webb University, here are eight ways to keep young adults coming back to church.
1. Be strategic about welcoming young adults to church. College students are looking for a safe place to relax, away from the stress and busyness campus life. Offer a stress-free, welcoming home-away-from-home for young adults.
2. Reach out to students who live near your church. More than 94 percent of those surveyed say they would prefer to attend a church located near their places of residence.
3. Recognize what students are looking for in a local church. Young adults are looking for excitement at church—but that excitement comes from a surprising source. Most students (89 percent) say the sermon—and their perception of it as exciting—would motivate them to attend church. By contrast, only 53 percent indicate they prefer rock music, professional lighting, and engaging media in church.
4. Allow students to help. Millennials have gained a reputation for being one of the most altruistic generations in decades. What better vehicle for helping others can be found than the local church? Most students surveyed (86 percent) say volunteer opportunities at church appeal to them, and more than 60 percent say they look for opportunities to participate in mission trips.
5. Teach the Bible. Almost 84 percent of students report they attend church to learn more about the Bible. Students are hungry for the Word of God as they grapple with new ideas and challenges to their faith; it’s imperative to provide them with biblical teaching as they navigate these unchartered waters.
6. Spend time getting to know young adults. College students often attend class hours away from their hometowns, and any new environment can be a scary place. Familiarity—a sense of belonging—is something they seek. Personal relationships are foundational when building that sense of belonging, and the most important relationship is, perhaps, the relationship between young adults and their pastors. Almost 8-in-10 students surveyed say knowing their pastor personally is important.
7. Encourage diversity. Almost 76 percent of students surveyed indicate they like churches where they can meet people from many cultures. Consider partnering with other churches for special events that encourage cultural awareness.
8. Offer free food. Poor college students may seem cliché; nevertheless, free food is a huge draw for young adults. More than 68 percent of students surveyed say that all things being equal, they would attend a church that offered free food on a regular basis.
When it comes to attracting young adults, consider all the factors that could keep students away from church—from the mundane busyness of college life to deeper spiritual issues of doubt that often correspond to reaching adulthood in today’s culture. Try the above solutions and keep track of young adult attendance to see if your congregation is making progress attracting—and retaining—young adult interest.
Most important, shower the college-age students in your congregation with love, understanding, and prayer, knowing you are planting seeds that will produce spiritual fruit in their lives for years to come.
Amanda Wood Williams is a freelance writer with a deep interest in helping local churches attract new members who become passionate followers of Christ.