Teen churchgoers often stop attending as young adults, LifeWay study finds

Children attend an worship event hosted by the national youth ministry organization Christ in Youth.
Children attend an worship event hosted by the national youth ministry organization Christ in Youth. | (Photo: CIY)

Two-thirds of American Christian teenagers who regularly attend worship at a Protestant congregation for at least a year quit going for at least a year when they become young adults.

According to a report by LifeWay Research released on Tuesday titled “Most Teenagers Drop Out of Church as Young Adults,” 66 percent of young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.

The major reasons respondents gave included “moving to college” (34 percent), “church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical” (32 percent), “no longer feeling connected to people in their church” (29 percent), disagreement with their “church’s stance on political or social issues” (25 percent), and employment obligations (24 percent).

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The report drew from data collected from a survey done Sept. 15 – Oct. 13 of last year of 2,002 respondents who attended Protestant churches, with a sampling error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

The 2017 numbers were a slight improvement compared to 2007, when 70 percent of respondents reported leaving for at least a year between ages 18 and 22.

Alex McFarland, national talk show host and author who has hosted dozens of “Truth for a New Generation” apologetics conferences, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that he believed the LifeWay study was “accurate” and attributed the numbers ultimately to “issues of worldview.”

“If they are taught the biblical worldview and the responsibility of every Christian to be a steward of their life and their influence and be a part of a church, really all of those things could ultimately be dealt with,” said McFarland, who encouraged “teaching a more cohesive, consistently proclaimed biblical worldview.”

Regarding the 25 percent of respondents who reported leaving over their church’s views on social and political issues, McFarland told CP that this should not lead a church to “abdicate its roll to be a voice for righteousness within the culture.”

“Churches should speak to political and social issues,” stated McFarland, who noted that at his conferences, young people normally make up 40 to 50 percent of the attendees.

“The number one voice they look to is their parents and secondly, to youth pastor, pastor, or some type of clergy, for biblical truth, about the big questions of life. So what the church shouldn’t do is stop talking about the great issues of our day from a biblical perspective. Sexuality, morality, gender, salvation.”

McFarland warned that for many youth, the couple of hours they spend in church and Sunday School often competes against “something like 32-40 hours a week in a secular classroom, hundreds and hundreds of hours in a year in terms of secular media.”

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