(Photo: AP / Helen D. Richardson, Pool)
More youth leaders are preaching the alarming exit of college students from the church yet churches don't seem to be grasping the significance of the loss of even one youth.
"I'm fearful that we as a church in the U.S. are using the word 'lost' incorrectly," says Youth Transition Network coordinator Jeff Schadt.
The church community generally refers to the unsaved people as the "lost." With evangelism on the decline among Christians, church leaders are trying to reinforce the understanding of the unsaved world. Leaders of the Billion Soul Initiative a massive global evangelism campaign aimed at saving one billion souls are pointing out that the Christians in America have lost the understanding that the world is unsaved, as Pastor J. Don George of Calvary Church in Dallas described.
Schadt, however, is expressing concern over the misuse of the term "lost" and the priority of the churches.
"The word 'lost' has come to mean the unsaved," he says. "All our focus goes towards evangelism. But when Jesus ... is talking about the lost sheep, he's talking about one of his sheep.
"I'm wondering what priority our churches and our ministries have when someone walks out our back door. Do we really worry about it?"
Schadt was referring to the thousands of youth that fall away from the church when transitioning from high school to college. Youth leaders estimate that 65 to 94 percent of their high school students stop attending church after they graduate.
A three-year longitudinal study by Fuller Theological Seminary's Center for Youth and Family Ministry is currently surveying high school Christian students and their transition into college.
One danger that a college sophomore described in the study was that unlike high school, in college, "every choice is up to you, and you set your own schedule. You can do whatever you want."
Despite the overwhelming exodus of youth from the church, Schadt believes churches have switched their priorities when saving the "lost," or rather, the formerly churched.
"I think we've lost our priority on the lost among the saved."
Losing one youth does not just amount to a single loss, but the loss is magnified by a thousand because of the loss of their potential future influence, Schadt says, citing Isaiah 60:22 (The least of you will become a thousand).
"What we're hoping to get the churches to see ... and to really understand is that losing one to Jesus was more important than staying with the entire flock. He would go after the one lost sheep and leave the 99 behind.
"We don't realize how many lives we're going to influence throughout our life."