Post-high school years have often been cited as a season when most students struggle in their Christian faith and leave the church. But recent research shows that that might not be the case.
Fuller Youth Institute released findings on Tuesday showing that two to three years after finishing high school, students said they were feeling "closer to God."
Over 400 students were asked the open-ended question "Since leaving high school, what's changed about the way you view God?" Among the 14 different responses given, the top three categories of change were all positive changes.
Feeling closer to God, believing that God is bigger than they once thought, and having a greater understanding that God is with them and for them were the largest categories of responses.
Other categories included "I have no more relationship with God," "I don't think it has changed much," and "I have experienced God's faithfulness more deeply than I ever understood it in high school."
The findings are part of Fuller Youth Institute's College Transition Project, a longitudinal study of over 400 youth group graduates during their first three years in college. The project was launched in 2006 to better understand what provides for a better transition from high school to college especially when it comes to faith.
Previous research and estimates by youth workers suggested that a majority of youth group seniors struggle with their faith and with connecting to a faith community after graduating from youth group. Initial research through the College Transition Project revealed that about 40-50 percent of students struggle in their faith after graduation.
But two to three years later, students were found to be experiencing positive changes when it came to their faith.
"They said that they now see God as more active, involved, and important in their day to day reality," the Fuller Youth Institute reported.
"I view God on a much more individual level and feel as though he is much more a part of my life, mostly because I allow him to be more a part of it," one student said, according to the research report.
Students cited spiritual disciplines and involvement in Christian communities as sources of or support for their faith integration.
Many students also said they became closer to God through the adversity and challenges they faced since leaving high school.
Another common theme reflected in the open-ended responses given was the new perspective that God is more sovereign and less black and white.
"Students who once thought God existed to serve them, 'now see that there are some things that [God] will say no to. He's not subject to our will but we are subject to his,'" the report stated.
Additionally, many gained increased confidence in God's goodness, love and grace towards them.
Youth workers are encouraged to use data from the research project to help shape their ministries and better equip young people so that they could grow and change in positive ways after they graduate high school. Helping students integrate life and faith is just one suggestion the youth institute makes.
The Fuller Youth Institute plans to develop resources based on its research for youth ministries.