Is there a modern day exodus in churches of young people?

One stat I see all the time at youth ministry conferences is the drop out rate of students and young adults.  I have seen various numbers thrown around.  It has been as high as 90% to 75%.  The number varies, and it makes us wonder what is going wrong in our churches that we are losing that many students.

There is an article that Ed Stetzer wrote over at Christianity Today called: Drop Outs and Disciples.  This article has great insights for us as youth leaders.  The biggest question that we are facing is: why are students leaving at an alarming rate.

Ed Stetzer states, “LifeWay Research data shows that about 70% of young adults who indicated they attended church regularly for at least one year in high school do, in fact, drop out.”  The drop out occurs in grade 11-12.  The number one reason why they drop out is because “they simply lose track of the church and stop seeing it as important to their life”.  That statement should haunt us.  How could the gospel not be important to and for their life?

Ed Stetzer found 4 prescriptions that helped students stay in the local church: 

  1. I wanted the church to help guide my decisions in everyday life (prior to 18).
  2. My parents were still married to each other and both attended church (prior to 18).
  3. The pastor’s sermons were relevant to my life (prior to 18).
  4. At least one adult from church made a significant investment in me personally and spiritually (between 15 and 18).


Here are ways to help students stay connected in the local church for the long haul.

Make disciples who make disciples.  When I look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, it’s not just for pastor’s or leaders, but for everyone.  Everything you teach should be re-teachable for your students and leaders.  No matter what your youth ministry size, you need to be making disciples.

Teach with an end in mind.  We have said this before, but what is your end goal for teaching students?  Early on in ministry, I would teach random things from a different curriculum.  There was no plan, no strategy.  At the end of students time in the church and ministry, they learned about what I was interested in, not what I felt God was leading me to teach.

When you have a goal or a few goals for teaching then you can be specific with what you are trying to place in their lives.

Build Relationships.  If you are from a large church or a small church, build relationships.  Stop trying to fix the students you are around, and just be with them.  Love them.  Help other leaders to love students and lean into their lives.

We live in a culture today where teenagers don’t have a ton of real relationships.  They have a lot of superficial relationships.  They can spot fakeness a mile away.  Move into students lives, and constantly show up and show the love of Jesus.

There is a lot of hope.

When I look around today at youth workers, there is a lot of hope that we are building relationships, discipling students and are thinking through our teaching plans.  I pray that you would continue to, ” press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14.

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