College Pulls Our Kids Away: 5 Things You Can Do
by Dave Lusk • Strategic Ministry Coaching & Consulting • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Summer is almost here again, and after missed proms, missed graduations, and classes moving online, students graduating this year are excited to get back to normal. For many of you, that means preparing for college freshman orientations and moving your now young adult to their new school. And so, as we begin these traditions again, let’s hope there is one tradition that disappears for good. That is the tradition of young adults leaving the church after graduating from high school.
As a youth pastor for nearly 13 years now, I have walked through the tradition of graduation with families many times. I’ve seen young adults go off to college and sadly leave the church completely. But I have also seen young adults go off to college and continue to grow in their faith. The truth is that college will try to pull your young adult away from the church, but not in the way you think. Lifeway Research did a study that found that two-thirds of young adults that had been attending church regularly dropped out after graduation from high school. That means only one in three church families will see their young adult continue their faith after graduation. And unfortunately, that statistic remains fairly unchanged since the early 2000s.
So what is it that’s causing our young adults to leave the church in such staggering numbers? Is it the influence of the atheistic worldview being taught by most secular institutions? Is it that the church isn’t “relevant” or that the church is too “judgmental” for our modern world? The truth is far more simple than that, the truth is that they simply fell out of the habit. 7 out of 10 young adults interviewed as part of the Lifeway Research study said that their leaving was unintentional. It wasn’t a conscious choice that they made to walk away from the church. It wasn’t that they were talked out of it by atheistic college professors or peers. It was simply that they didn’t continue the habit once they moved to college. For many, it just wasn’t a priority.
So as you prepare to send your young adults to college this fall, as they are gathering all of their dorm essentials, let’s talk about ways you can prepare them for this next stage of life. And specifically how you can help them not to fall away from the church.
1. Teach them that church is more than just a once-a-week activity.
One of the main reasons students fell away was simply that church was not that important to them once they went to college. To put it another way, they saw it as an extracurricular activity more than something essential to their life. And for many young adults, this is something they learned growing up. It can be the unintended lesson taught by families that find themselves with ever increasingly busy schedules.
Between plays, sports practices, tournaments, travel teams, grades, and homework, it can be hard to find time to pursue faith as a family. But the unintended side effect of everything else being more important than pursuing faith is that your kids learn that everything else is more important than their faith. Now that isn’t to say your kid can’t do plays, sports practices, tournaments, travel team, homework, and everything else. But it is to say that finding a way to pursue faith while doing those things and helping your kids to see that their faith and relationship with Jesus is more than just a once-a-week activity needs to be priority number one.
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2. Help them find a church.
One of the great joys of my time in youth ministry is getting to help families find a good church where their young adult is going to college. I love to see families making finding a good church a part of their preparation for sending their young adults off to college. Take some time this summer to do some google searching with them and see what churches are close to the campus. Make a list and start reaching out to the churches. Or if that seems daunting enlist the help of your youth pastor or senior pastor. If they can’t help you, email me and I’ll help you find a church.
Once you have found a church (or multiple churches to check out), plan to attend together. If you are taking them to the campus to get them settled, plan the trip so that you can be there and go to church together as a family on Sunday.
3. Stay in contact with them.
This is an exciting time for your young adult as they begin to venture out on their own. As a parent or youthworker you have helped prepare them for this, and so you are giving them the space they need to become their own person. But that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with them. They want to hear from you, so make faith a part of those conversations: share what God is doing in your life, ask what God has been doing in their life, keep encouraging their faith, and help them see yours at the same time.
4. Help them find a mentor.
Having other adults involved in their lives who will encourage their faith is one of the greatest gifts you can give your young adult. Network with adults in the church near their college campus who will be willing to mentor your young adult. If you found a healthy church near the campus, it won’t be hard to connect with adults who are willing to mentor your young adult.
5. Pray for them and with them.
Pray for them every day, and when you contact them, pray with them. Trust that the God who loves them is with them.