Were You A Church Dropout?

“Oh, he’ll come back. . .
He just needs a few years out in the world.”

This is how one pastor explained his son’s apostasy. The boy had said the prayer at age six. He was safe. It was only a matter of time an he would come back. Right?

LifeWay Research just released a study on “Christian teens” who stop attending church between the ages of 18 and 22. Here are a few highlights:

  • According to the study, 70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.
  • The paths toward college and the workforce are also strong reasons for young people to leave church: “I moved to college and stopped attending church” (25 percent) and “work responsibilities prevented me from attending” (23 percent).
  • In addition to moving to college, others simply “moved too far away from the church to continue attending” (22 percent) and, it can be assumed, did not find a closer church.
  • Many of those who drop out do eventually return. Among church dropouts who are now ages 23-30, 35 percent currently attend church twice a month or more. Another 30 percent attend church more sporadically. Thus, about two-thirds of those who leave do return at some level.

You can read the full report at the LifeWay Research website. But I would like to hear what you think.

  • Were you a church dropout?
  • Should we just accept this as a normal part of growing up Christian?
  • How would you explain this trend?
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9 Responses to Were You A Church Dropout?

  1. KevinHash says:

    I am thankful that Lifeway is doing this research. I pray that it will be used to get our attention.

    Just one idea…
    would be for hometown pastors whose students go away to college to challenge those students to find and join a church during their first semester, and be accountable and invoved there.
    Clinging to the membership back home for sentimental reasons has not helped the kingdom AT ALL. IF they eventually move back home, they can move their membership home, it doesn’t cost a thing.

    We tell our students we don’t want them on the roll 40 years after they leave, we tell them that when they move away, finding a church should be a high priority.

  2. Marc Backes says:


    I’ll bite…one of the obvious reasons for me is that many kids going to college have lived “their parent’s faith” for 18 years. They were never allowed to ask hard questions…never allowed to explore…never allowed to doubt…

    They were catechized, drilled, quizzed and all that looked great on the surface but it was never “my faith”..it was “my parent’s faith”…

    So when a lot of young men and women get to college, it’s time to start living “my life” and from day one, they are presented with thousand of options to occupy their time…and most of them are very hedonistic and sinful…

    For a young person who never made it “my faith”, sin has its appeal and its pleasure…you’re lost, you’re desperate for community, and you’ll graft onto almost anything to belong in the new world in which you find yourself….

    Eventually, you come to the end of those roads and you realize that God is still all you have and all you need. Which I think explains in large part the return to church…

    Some, however, do not return…and that is sad…

    What will be interesting to see is how “College” town churches respond to this research and what implications it has for them as they minister in cities overrun by this very age group…

  3. Juan says:

    I was a church dropout. I was feed up with church and all the things I could not do. Sadly I was in a legalistic church and that did not help.


  4. Juan says:

    I was a church dropout. I was feed up with church and all the things I could not do. Sadly I was in a legalistic church and that did not help.


  5. Scott says:

    I was a church dropout. Then I got saved.

  6. I agree with Scott.

    These people are not Christians. Why would an unbeliever desire to be in the Church. That’s why when they get the chance they leave. (This is assuming it is a Bible based Church)

    I had an Atheistic background, but when I first ‘got saved’ I was a false convert for about six months. If it wasn’t for God’s sovereignty, providing outside materials, I would have never heard the gospel at my first Church. And it was very common for the youth to fall away at that Church too.

  7. Dave Crater says:

    I was a church dropout, I was a no-kidding believer and had been since I was 4 years old – father was and is a pastor. It was not the church’s fault for preventing me from “asking hard questions,” or “exploring,” or “doubting;” I could have as much of that as I wanted, and they would still have loved and served me more than I deserved. It was not society’s fault for throwing lots of sinful temptations at me or pushing me toward career. It was not my mother’s fault for weaning me too early or my father’s fault for being too “authoritarian.” It was my fault, plain and simple. I was immature and selfish, I wasn’t reading my Bible or praying enough, and I was embarrassed to be called a Christian because I thought Christians were nerds and un-intellectual and un-cool.

    Whether people like me turn into a generational epidemic and, in droves, don’t ever come back to church depends on how the church responds to people like me. If the church keeps doing what it has always done – teaching the authentic gospel, rooted in exposition of the Bible, with teaching and church life rooted in the authentic power of the living Spirit – people like me will come back to church when we grow up a bit and, by God’s grace, come to our senses. If, on the other hand, the church tries to lure me back by showing me how hip and intellectual they really are, how much they downplay historic Christian doctrine and worship, how much they understand why I left the church – those old-fashioned “fundy” Christians really are fuddy-duddies – how “open-minded” and “tolerant” and “relevant” and “successful” they are, and how much fun they have on Sunday morning rocking-and-rolling for Jesus with the pastor telling cute stories and funny jokes, people like me will probably never come back because a church like that is just like me and is irrelevant. I don’t need a church like me. I need a church like Christ.

    When our contemporary churches figure out how to be like Christ again instead of like the world, all those formerly-churched kids out there that are like I once was will come back in droves as the Lord leads them back, through the normal progress of life, to the true practice of the faith they once believed.

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  9. I was a church dropout. Our whole family just “got busy” and stopped going when I was in high school. I had heard the gospel, and prayed to accept Christ as a child, but was never made into a disciple. I walked back into a church by myself – the April after graduating from college, and grew like crazy.

    Why did it take that long? Well, honestly, no one from the church followed up with our family when we stopped going in High school. When I went to college, I think I would have been open to going to churches, but I didn’t think about it on my own, and no one invited me to go with them. When I showed up for the first time, it was more to find people – I was pretty much going to work and coming home – and because I’d always said I would plug in when I was finally settled somewhere.

    Why did I stay when I went back? 1)God grabbed ahold of my heart, first and foremost 2)the person I sat down next to that first week said, hey, you should join the new members class. It’s just starting up. 3) I liked the contemporary music, in style and excellence – I wasn’t distracted or cringing at wrong notes. It was fun, and I looked forward to going back.

    God grew me from there.

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