By Aaron Earls
Churches have a young adult problem. Two-thirds of those who attended church regularly as a teenager (66 percent) drop out as they transition into adulthood, according to a Lifeway Research study.
But there are things churches can do while students are still in high school, as well as things to do as they move into college and work life.
Among young adults who stayed in church between the ages of 18 to 22, 42 percent held a leadership position in their activities at church while only 15 percent of those who dropped out had a similar level of commitment.
Among those who stayed, 54 percent say they had regular responsibilities. That was only the case for 15 percent of those who dropped out.
So how can your church keep teenagers invested as they become adults? Here are seven tips.
1. Develop an intentional transition.
Don’t treat this period haphazardly. Be intentional about moving students from youth ministry into deeper areas of service in the church.
Maybe have a commissioning service for graduating seniors. They aren’t simply finishing high school; they are entering a new phase of ministry.
2. Create an advisory board.
One way to give students responsibilities and leadership opportunities is to have them involved in reaching their peers.
Enlist key students to provide input on young adult outreach, as well as the general direction of the church.
You aren’t looking to give them authority over every church decision, but you want them to recognize they are as valuable to the body as other members.
3. Help them discover and use their spiritual gifts.
Part of helping them recognize their value is helping them understand the gifts they’ve been given to serve the church.
Invest in them and their gifts and it will pay dividends in their lives and the life of the church as a whole.
4. Give them responsibilities.
Plain and simple, give them things to do—even though it may seem risky.
Yes, you may have times where some project doesn’t get done in the time it should, but are you more concerned with the projects or people?
Make the task appropriate to the individual, but don’t be afraid to push them to do more than they think they can do.
5. Encourage them to lead service projects.
Younger generations are often looking for ways to serve others, why not leverage that desire for the church?
What are some areas of community service that you’ve wanted to do, but haven’t had the time or resources to work on it? Ask some college students to take charge.
6. Involve them with the student or children’s ministry.
Obviously, apply all the rigors and checks you do for volunteers, but having young adults serve in the children’s and youth areas can benefit both sides.
The young adult is more invested and recognizes their importance and the next generation sees someone closer to their own age who is making faith a priority in their life.
That keeps young adults from dropping out themselves and is a factor in keeping those teenagers and kids in church as well.
7. Let them teach.
It can be scary—both for you and for the young adult teaching for possibly the first time—but it can have an eternal impact.
I remember adults giving me opportunities to teach on Wednesday nights or as a substitute for a Sunday School class. Later growth could’ve never happened without those early opportunities to stumble.
It is much easier to quietly stop coming to church when you’re simply sitting on the back row than it is to skip a week (or two or three …) when you’re sitting in front of a class as the teacher.
Allow young adults to invest themselves in your church and you’ll find them much more likely to stick around long into adulthood.
Aaron is a writer for LifewayResearch.com.