By Aaron Earls
Every church wants to avoid losing teenagers as they become young adults, yet most will drop out for some time. Some will return, but many leave and never return.
According to Lifeway Research’s in-depth study of young adults and church dropouts, there are steps your church can take to reduce the likelihood the teens in your congregation walk out and away for good.
If these principles guide your student ministry, you’ll make it less likely those students become part of the dropout statistics.
Involve other adults
Student ministers and youth leaders should not only spend time with their students, but they should spend time talking to other adults about getting involved with the teenagers in the church.
Among students who drop out of church, 17% say no adult in the church made a significant investment in them personally or spiritually between the ages of 15 and 18. Among those who stayed in church, less than 5% say that was their experience.Having more adults than the student pastor develop healthy relationships with teenagers in church decreases the odds those students will drop out of church. Click To Tweet
Conversely, among those who dropped out 27% say five or more people made such an investment. Among those who stayed in church, close to 4 in 10 (39%) had five or more people intentionally pouring into their lives personally and spiritually.
When asked specifically if an adult spent time with them regularly to help them grow spiritually, 46% of those who dropped out said yes, compared to 58% of those who stayed.
Having other adults and more adults develop healthy relationships with teenagers increases the odds those students will remain in church as adults. One way to bring in other adults is through small groups and classes, which also matter.
Connect students to small groups
Encourage teenagers to be connected in small groups which help them see other adults living out their faith and knit them closer together with those their age as they study Scripture.
Among eventual church dropouts, 71% say they attended a small group or Sunday school class as a teenager. For those that stayed in church as a young adult, that increased to 78%.Those who dropped out of church as a young adult are less likely than those who continued to attend to say they were regularly involved in a small group as a teenager. Click To Tweet
Beyond that, 41% of those who dropped out said they were involved with an in-depth Bible study or discipleship class at church. For those who continued attending church throughout their young adult years, 50% said such a class was part of their teen years.
Having students listen to an adult teach about the Bible with other teenagers who are studying Scripture has a lasting impact. Students shouldn’t merely sit and learn, however. Getting them out to serve is also important.
Get them involved in serving
One of the priorities of student ministry should be moving students from being merely receivers of Bible lessons to those who are living out that message. A great place to take first steps of service is within the church itself.
Compared to those who stayed in church, those who dropped out as a young adult were less likely as a teen to have given financially (37% to 46%), participated in a mission trip (35% to 46%), participated in service projects through the church (60% to 69%), held a leadership position in activities at church (30% to 39%), and had regular responsibilities at church (42% to 56%).One of the priorities of student ministry should be moving students from being merely receivers of Bible lessons to those who are living out that message. — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
Make sure your church provides such opportunities to students. Allow them to take the lead on ministries. Offer mission trips and local service projects. Give them chances to live out their faith within the church body. But also stress the need for being faithful at home as well.
Encourage personal spiritual disciplines
Student ministers and church leaders should be concerned about what happens in the spiritual lives of teenagers outside of church because that also influences whether they stay involved.
Among the students who stay in church, 74% say they regularly spent time in prayer privately as a teenager. For those who dropped out, 63% said that was part of their normal practice.Young adults who stayed in church are more likely than their counterparts who dropped out to say they regularly prayed and read their Bible as teenagers. Click To Tweet
Students who continued to attend church were also more likely to read their Bible regularly. Among those who stayed, 61% spent regular time reading the Bible privately. For those who dropped out, 46% said the same.
Don’t spend all your student ministry focusing on how involved teenagers are with what is happening at church that you forget the larger amount of time they’re away from you. What they do at home matters, which leads to the final point.
Disciple their parents
Student ministers play a vital role in the spiritual development of a teenager, but that influence pales in comparison to that of the parents. So, in addition to seeking to grow students spiritually, church leaders should be working to encourage the parents in their walks with Christ.
Among those who dropped out of church as a young adult, 77% say their parents attended church regularly during the student’s teen years. Among those who stayed, 83% say their parents were regularly at church.If you want churchgoing teenagers to become churchgoing young adults, make sure you are not only discipling them but also their parents. Click To Tweet
Two in 3 (66%) who dropped out say their parents provided spiritual guidance during those formative teenage years. For those who continued to attend church, however, 83% said their parents helped to guide them spiritually.
Overall, 66% of young adults who attended church regularly as a teenager drop out for some time, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That percentage is a four-point drop from 2007 when Lifeway Research first studied the teen dropout rate. Churches can continue to lower the percentage of teenagers who leave our congregations by focusing on the spiritual health of students—at church and at home.
Aaron is online editor for LifewayResearch.com