Next month, high school seniors will walk across a platform, draped in cap and gown, and receive a diploma signifying all they have learned. Many will strike out on their own, going to college, military or a career.
Of those students who leave home, how many will stay connected to church? The Barna Research Group, several years ago, found that some “65 percent of high school students stop attending church after they graduate.” The actual number may be higher or lower, but whatever the case, an eye-popping number of high school graduates who are involved in church stop when they get on their own.
There are a few helpful things that we, grown-ups in the church, can remember and do in the face of this trend.
/// Help young people “own it”
By stepping away from the church, those who do so are either intentionally or unintentionally disowning their faith. One of the calls of Christian parents, youth ministers and places like Falls Creek is to help young people own their faith. That way, when they are apart from hearth, home and Christian influences, their faith was not something that other people acted out for them; it was something very personal, very real to them.
/// Never give up on them
A quote that is misattributed to Winston Churchill says, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” Whoever said that statement was saying, albeit in a controversial way, that our thinking often changes from our 20s to later in life. For a single college student, attendance in church may seem more optional than when he has a high stress job, a mortgage and wife and two kids. Just because someone is out of church this Sunday doesn’t mean they will always be out of church.
/// Invest in them and pray more
Oklahoma is blessed to have Oklahoma Baptist University, as well as one of the most active Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) in the country. Through our Cooperative Program dollars, we are investing a lot of resources in reaching young people. For students heading to college in Oklahoma, make it clear that the BCMs are a key link between the campus and the local church. The BCM motto is “Every Campus, Every Life.” Whether you know almost no young people or many, you can pray for them. Together, through our work and our prayers, we can reach a large part of that 65 percent of church drop-outs.
I close by doing something I almost never do with my column: share a personal story. If you were to rewind to my college days at a secular university, you would never have guessed I would be a deacon in my church and working in the ministry. While not living in full rebellion, as a college-aged adult, I cared more about politics than I did what was said in the pulpit. While not running in a bad crowd, I was all too ready to skip running with the right crowd, a Sunday morning congregation.
If God can use someone like me, he can use any one of the 65 percent.