New Network Draws Attention to 'Graduation Evacuation'

Concerned with the loss of youth from churches after graduating from high school, Mission America and the National Network of Youth Ministries joined Ministry Edge in a newly formed network to urge ministries, churches, and others across America to bring about a change.

After collecting responses from a large number of youth workers and pastors, the Youth Transition Network issued a statement that defined the top five reasons why youth leave the church, which include lack of challenge, lack of critical thinking, lack of caring adults, loss of a support structure, and the minimalization of the Gospel and its influence on the culture.

“The church has a dropout problem ranging from 69 to 94 percent, depending which study you read,” stated Forrest L. Turpen, COO of Christian Educators Association International in a letter urging churches and ministries to sign on. “This dropout problem occurs after teens graduate from high school within a two year interval.”

Paul Fleischmann, President of NNYM, has worked in high school ministry for 37 years to reach students and said the attrition at the college level is "disconcerting."

"After all this effort and creativity, manpower growth, and obvious advances in so many ways in youth ministry, it's very disconcerting to see that 69 to 94 percent of youth don't seem to go on in their faith," he commented.

Although studies have found differing results, Fleischmann said, "Whatever the statistic, there is a tremendous drop-off of kids from the church, and that is a crisis."

To find solutions, the newly formed Youth Transition Network issued a “Call to Action,” calling for “denominational executives, senior pastors, high school and college parachurch leaders, and youth pastors along with researchers to take action to find strategic solutions to solve this crisis.”

Teens are not returning to the church later in life as leaders previously believed, according to Josh McDowell in a presentation by the Youth Transition Network.

One reason cited by youth workers and pastors for why youth leave the church include their lack of involvement.

"Kids are not involved in ministry and living out their faith," they stated. The students are "entertained, inspired, maybe even engaged," but they struggle to integrate faith with life.

Keeping Your Teen in Touch with God: Why teens turn away from the church and how you can prevent it by Dr. Robert Laurent found that the church lacks opportunities for youths to take charge, rather than youths not wanting to be involved.

A panelist at a recent Mission America forum stated, “There was a time when students ran events and retreats; now we have professionalization. Everything is run by church staff, which takes ministry opportunities away from teens. We produce product (events) for consumers, not for life change.”

The next problem the Youth Transition Network found was that students were not equipped to think critically about their faith.

According to a study from Fuller Seminary, youth feel unable to express doubt in church groups.

The third problem, the Network determined, is the absence of parents and mentors that exert a strong influence on the lives of their children.

"Youth today feel abandoned by parents whose marriages are falling apart and whose careers are more important than their families," according to the document issued by Youth Transition Network.

After the recent establishment of a mentoring network by NNYM, Fleischmann said, “It isn’t that youth don’t want help—400,000 are signed up for mentors. There just aren’t enough adults willing to help.

The fourth problem the Youth Transition Network noted was that students were suddenly bereft of a "support structure" after leaving their parents, local church group, and Christian friends.

"When they arrive on a college campus they are vulnerable to whoever befriends them first—and also to the taunts and harassment of professors that put down most of what they have been taught," the statement explained.

A professor of government at the University of Texas in Austin, J. Budziszewski, told the Christian Post that students are often subjected to anti-Christian "bigotry" from their professors, and that it is a "common problem."

Lastly, the Youth Transition Network stated, "the gospel has been minimalized along with its impact upon the culture."

Aside from the Network, other ministries similarly recognized the "graduation evacuation” and have sought to solve the problem, and all seek a church-wide effort.

In January 2004, Dare 2 Share launched "Capture Their Hearts", a five-year campaign that encourages each adult – whether parent or church minister – to get involved in fostering their teenager's faith. D2S also partnered with Focus on the Family in April 2005, broadening the outreach to a sizeable number of Christian families.

Teen Mania recently launched the "Battle Cry" for a "generation in crisis," calling on families, churches, and ministries, as well as secular leaders to change the number of students who leave the faith.

"Even though there is a tremendous need, we can do something about it, and we must,” said Fleischmann. “Are we going to just go on with our lives year after year, hoping for the best? Or are we going to acknowledge that we are in a battle and do whatever it takes to win it?”