Why are Young People Drifting from the Church?

This post may spark an argument in your next staff or leadership meeting. Hopefully, it will actually prevent one.

A recent study by LifeWay Christian Research indicates that about 70% of young adults who attended church on a regular basis do, in fact, drop out. (The dropout rate is from all Protestant churches—evangelical and mainline.) Another stats shows that 80% of young people who dropped out of church said they did not plan to do so during high school.

Just a week ago June, 14, 2017 in Phoenix, AZ there was the 2017 SBC Annual meeting. Another year of news of the declining baptism numbers has been reported. The Southern Baptist Churches have decreased eight of the past 10 years in evangelism and seeing conversion happen. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell said, “Southern Baptists’ failure to lead more people to Christ is a pastor issue,”

So what has happened? Statistic doesn’t say everything, but there are few things we can learn as we face the reality of these numbers.


1. Disciple, disciple, disciple.

I couldn’t agree more with Milton Hollifield, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina said, “a lack of disciple making” 

Why does the American church insist on reaching the world without making disciples?

If your student ministry is a six-year holding tank with pizza, dodgeball and games, don’t expect your young adults to stick around. Students can see through the lines if you just run a program to collect numbers or if you truly care about their individual soul. Discipleship is a lifestyle, not a program. As Eugene Peterson said it well, “Discipleship is long obedience in the same direction.”

Christianity Today conducted a study by Ed Stetzer titled, “Are students leaving the church in droves? What can we do to stop the bleeding?” has shown a significant study on this part with factors that helps churches to engage with young people.

  • At least one adult from church made a significant investment in me personally and spiritually (between 15 and 18).
  • I wanted the church to help guide my decisions in everyday life (prior to 18).

People can tell three things about a person in the first 5 mins of your conversation.

  1. People know if you care about them

  2. People know if you believe what you believe

  3. People know if God’s hand is upon your life.

International Mission Board President David Platt said, “You don’t care about the many if you don’t care about the one,”

Here is the reality: in the SBC world, if you baptize more than two people in an entire year from age 18-29 year olds, you are in the top 20% of all SBC churches in the nation. In essence, out of over 47,000 SBC churches, 80% of those churches baptize less than two young adults every year.

Why is this so? It seems like to me if I am a young adult, it seems to me we that we are shouting aloud to people saying, “If you are a young adult WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU! WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE.” I mean, no one in their right mind will ever say that, really, however though it seems to me that there is an “invisible sign” that goes out by how we do church.

Many, many, many young people are crying out for real authentic community. Yes, they don’t want fake (hypocrites) they want the-real-deal, especially in a time such as this that we are technologically advance driven society that they are so much fraud. They want to experience and be spoken with grace personally in their lives!

You can really reach out to young adults, but you can’t just simply have a sign up saying “ya’ll welcome.”


2. Authenticity, authenticity, authenticity. 

It’s no surprise at all. The shift has taken place within not only in the church but in the lives of our young adolescence and young adults in America. Church has for many become something their parents want for them. The statistics are overwhelming and many of them have exited the church and are distance and disengaged in the spiritual family as they do not want something that is not real.  

In young adolescence years they begin to recognize hypocrisy in others. The brain development quite rapidly from abstract thinker to more concrete thinker, they have heart breaks and wonder if there is a God who cares about them, finding their identity and how all religions fits. The church seems an appropriate place to fit in, doesn’t it? However church is too often the last place they show up to.

The truth of the reality is still there. Young adults are exiting the church as they exit their teenage years. A study was done by Pioneering Research conducted by Christian Smith at the University of North Carolina describe this phenomenon as, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

Essentially this stand says this, “There is a God and He wants us to feel good and to be good to others, therefore life’s goal is to be happy which means God doesn’t have to be as involved in our life and because we are happy and good we will go to heaven.” (FYI: This is not Christianity at all. It is a dead religion that send people straight to hell)

George Whitfield an English preacher perhaps the most famous religious figure of the eighteenth century spoke on this very thing. Pure heathen is Moralism in the church without Christ himself. Mere heathen morality, and no Jesus Christ is preached in most of our churches today. It is a lifestyle embraced by most largely dwelt churches of a theme of morality and decency and lack of Christ himself.


Yes, I’ve heard the reasons over and over from many students. “I wanted a break from church. I moved to college. My job made it impossible or difficult to attend.” Those are real opinions people gave which cannot be denied, though what is interesting is that young adults still did make a choice and intentionally chose NOT to attend a local church over those various reasons. I just recently was in a conversation with a young adult who gave me the reason, “Well, the church was judgmental and hypocritical. I don’t want to be part of that”

The real fundamental question we are raising here, why so many young adults stopped going to church upon graduation? It’s because their faith just wasn’t personally meaningful to them. They did not have a first-hand faith experience in their lives. 

“They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church.” These are very legitimate reasons! However, those are far from the heart of the gospel. The gospel of Christ embraces lost sinners and are found in vibrant growing Christ forming community!

Therefore, the gospel you believe determines what kind of disciple you become. The church, a healthy church, is the hermeneutic of the gospel.

If we are truly are making disciples based on the biblical model that has been modeled by Christ rather than driving a moralistic therapeutic deism of a behavioral modification model, then people are naturally drawn to this. Part of the reason the problem is not that the young adults are rejecting these profound doctrines but they have not only been taught these doctrines at all! They have been taught from the doctrine of the secular age rather than the scripture that has been lived and demonstrated by the communion of saints. Discipleship is more caught than taught.


Transmitting the faith from one generation to the other.

No, the dropout numbers are not nearly as bad as many would have you think, but there are still way too many students who fail to see the significance of the church moving forward into early adulthood. But there are things we can do to change that. In fact, we must change something in order to see a different result.

How far do you have to walk before someone in order to lead? Not ten steps, you’ll be an idiot if you do so. People aren’t able to catch up. How far do you need to walk before leading someone? Just one step at a time.

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