In my last post, we discussed why college students and young adults drop out of church after high school. We discovered six reasons why (the majority of) young Christians are leaving the Church for a period of time, some to never return.
For some reason, “A robust Christian faith and an accompanying commitment to the church is not being passed on.” So says Lifeway researcher, Ed Stetzer. Though many young adults do eventually come back, their commitment level is not what it once was. Should we be concerned about this trend? I think so. More importantly, what can we do to turn it around? I want to offer some advice that may be helpful.
In general, we know the answer is discipleship, but how many people can first, define what discipleship is and second, describe the pathway to get there? Discipleship is an easy concept to understand but a difficult one to carry out. So for this post, let me describe discipleship this way. I believe the answer to thriving in your Christian faith after high school is two-fold and it starts with the family.
Passing on a robust Christian faith in your family
The family is the greatest source of discipleship there is. More than youth ministry, college ministry, the local church, para-church ministries; the family has more impact on whether or not a young person faithfully follows Jesus than anything else. According to research, “82% of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults.”[i] God’s word sanctions this type of discipleship,
And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT)
In other words, eat, breath and live His word day in and day out. A pastor I know said it this way, “Raise your kids to be world-changers. If you raise them to be good Christians and they backslide then they will become average Christians. If you raise them to be world changers and they back-slide they become good Christians.”[ii]
Can you guess what one of the determining factors was in whether or not teenagers stay in church? “My parents were still married to each other and both attended church (prior to 18).”[iii] Wow, can you imagine that just staying married and giving our kids a good example of attending church together makes a huge difference. In a low-commitment world, it makes sense that commitment actually means something.
Maybe you find yourself not valuing commitment. You are just one choice away from a totally different life. Why not consider being a high-commitment person? In a commitment phobic world, you will stand out like a sore thumb – to those around you, and eventually to your kids. Furthermore, imagine what would happen if we didn’t just attend church regularly, but we actually served, gave and most importantly made Jesus the center of everything?
Invest in a young person
It’s sad to say, but most churches aren’t that great at discipleship, and I have to admit, as a pastor it sometimes seems like an elusive goal. Many of the questions that young people have are life issues and questions that are best answered in the context of a discipleship relationship. But how many young people have a person they can go to with those difficult questions to? And how many parents, pastors and youth pastors are drawing out answers to the questions they struggle with? It takes more than a casual family dinner, a great large group meeting or even a good small group to make a disciple. It takes a solid foundation of relationship and intentional discussions. We must probe the heart.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Proverbs 20:5 ESV)
In his article, Ed Stetzer writes that one of the most predictive factors in whether or not teenagers stayed in church was, “At least one adult from church made a significant in me personally and spiritually (between 15-18).”
Obviously, we are barely scratching the surface on discipleship. The purpose of this post is not to give you a comprehensive view on how to disciple students (I do some of that in my upcoming book – link). The purpose is rather to spark a discussion on how we can best help young people thrive in their Christian faith when going from from high school to college and beyond.
So we have a mix of factors from both family and church that come into play here. I believe it is up to the church to partner with the family in order to help our students stay strong through this crucial transition. In such cases as the family is dysfunctional, the church plays and even more crucial role in helping young people through this transition.
What is your experience with this? What are some factors you have seen that seem to influence whether or not young people are successful in the spiritual transition between high school and young adulthood?
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