The Beta Collective recently launched for 2018, and we had the privilege of having Steve Parr with the Georgia Baptist Convention share with the group the importance of the small group strategy we often call Sunday School.  An added benefit of the day was some information that Parr shared with the group regarding a research project that he led with his colleague Tom Crites that they reported in their book, “Why They Stay.”

This book addresses key determining factors that influence why students stay in church after they finish high school and would be a great read for all church leaders and parents. A couple of key factors in his presentation caught my attention, and I want to share with you the two common denominators that stood out.

The first factor that caught my attention was that students were 90 percent more likely to stay in church if they liked their pastor while growing up.  This statistic speaks to not only the approachability of the pastor but the consistency as well.  Multiple pastors during a student’s church experience proved to be detrimental to their continued participation in church.  Also, a “bad church experience” was the number one self-described reason that a student has strayed from church.

The second factor that caught my attention was that a young adult was more likely to stay in church if they attended a church with a vibrant student ministry.  Interestingly, this factor had no correlation between having a student pastor or not.  In fact, students with multiple student pastors during their teen years indicated it was more detrimental than not having one at all.  The issue was not a particular adult who influenced them but a culture with multiple adults pouring into their lives that provided spiritual energy for them.

The common denominator in these two factors is the significance of the relationships between students and spiritual leaders in their lives beyond their families.  It reminded me of the importance of pastors having a relationship with all age groups in the church and investing in the lives of children and young people. 

Pastors, never underestimate your influence in the life of the children, students and families in the church you serve.  Taking the time to acknowledge the child and talk to the student could be critical to their spiritual engagement down the road.

Those who invest their lives as youth workers in our churches often wonder if it is worth it.  This research affirms the value of the time and energy given. 

A church youth worker has an opportunity to speak into the life of a student in a way that parents wish they could.  This reality brings to the forefront the need for churches to equip student workers for the important work God has called them to in helping students focus on spiritual things in those formative years.

In a related matter, the research also indicated that there is a positive correlation between attending Christian camps/retreats as a teen and the likelihood of being active in church as an adult.  What a great confirmation of the importance of what takes place at Falls Creek!  It also serves as a reminder that it’s not too early to start praying for what God will do this summer in youth camps at Falls Creek.