Dispelling Myths about Young Church Dropouts

While reports have confirmed a mass exodus of young adults from the church, one local pastor and researcher says secular universities are not to blame.

Sam S. Rainer III, who heads Rainer Research, says it's a myth that universities push believers away from the church.

"No significant different exists between the dropout rates of those who attend at least a year of college and those who do not," he said in his latest weblog.

Sixty-nine percent of active churchgoing youth stop attending church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22, Rainer stated. Yet 71 percent of active youth who do not go to college stop attending church during the same period. Results are based on a three-part research project on why 18- to 22-year-olds leave the church and how to get them back.

But many Christians, including youth ministry leaders, have pointed to colleges as a major influence in the departure of young believers from the church or Christian faith altogether.

For many young adults, transitioning into college life means falling into the party scene as they try to make friends on an unfamiliar campus. And apart from parents, for the first time for many, students experience the freedom of making their own decisions. A lot of times, those choices leave out God and church.

An earlier study by LifeWay Research found that 25 percent of young adults said transitioning into college was a major reason for quitting church.

However, a more likely reason they listed for dropping out of church was "I simply wanted a break from church," with 27 percent of young believers saying so.

A University of Texas at Austin study also found that the highest rates of decline in church attendance were among those who never attended college.

"The college itself is not prompting students to drop out of church," said Rainer.

Dispelling a second myth about young church dropouts, Rainer said high school students do not plan to leave the church once they go to college. An overwhelming majority (80 percent) of high school students do not plan to leave their church once they graduate high school, according to Rainer's research project. Only 20 percent of high school students have preconceived notions to leave the fellowship once out of their parents' nest.

"Students are not fleeing the church because of deep desires for personal freedom," Rainer noted. "Nor are they scheming to leave once out of the house."

And they're not fleeing because they are disenchanted by a host of church scandals publicized in the media, the researcher added.

Despite several high-profile sex scandals in church leadership and money fraud allegations, only 15 percent of young believers who feel displeasure with the church say it's because of a moral or ethical failure of the leadership, according to Rainer.

These findings are released ahead of the release of a book co-authored by Rainer and his father – Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. The tentative title for the upcoming book is Essential Church. The release date is planned for fall 2008.

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