What I always hated hearing about in church was how many students leave the church and fall away from God as soon as they enter university.
As youth, you hear it all the time–“6/10 teens leave their faith when they enter university, and it could happen to you!” We’re warned all the time to make sure we don’t fall away, and I think that’s important. In church, though, many adults seem to think we’re doomed, but very few will offer to help!
I’m a firm believer in the fact that your actions speak louder than your words. In my opinion, churches can say whatever they want, but unless they actually act on those words, they mean nothing. So when I hear youth leaders saying that they want to stop how many students leave the faith but then do nothing about it, I become skeptical. It seems to me like the leaders see my age group as a pointless cause, and that it’s inevitable that we will leave.
But I don’t think that’s true. See, I have some theories as to why kids leave the church.
1. Students leave the faith because life is scary.
It’s scary being on your own. Everything is so new, so foreign, and there’s no one there to help you. You’re on your own, and the first few weeks of school are honestly some of the most lonely weeks I’ve ever experienced. For most kids, the only way they get to know people is through frosh week, and that’s not exactly the most Christian of activities. But it’s there, and when you’re in a new city, with new people, starting your brand new life, you’re lost, and go for what’s easy, because easy is less stressful, and you don’t need more stress at this time.
2. Students leave the faith because they did not have a firm foundation.
A lot of kids just don’t have a firm foundation of faith, and college can really shake even the most secure believers–especially kids who don’t come from very strong families or aren’t close with their parents. If you don’t have that secure attachment to God, then it’s easy to be pulled by everything around you.
3. Students leave the faith because they just weren’t ready for the adult world.
I just don’t think a lot of kids are ready on any level to leave. They aren’t prepared–I’m surprised by how many people come to school not knowing how to do laundry. When you’re not prepared, everything is much more stressful. These kids are already dealing with increased school work, harder topics, and important decisions for their future–the last thing we want to worry about is how to use a vacuum cleaner, or how to create a budget. When you get stressed, it’s easier to break. Your resolve really begins to crumble, and it’s harder to say no as a result. You begin to become burnt out, and after the craziness of the week, the last thing you want to do is sit through another lecture at church.
I know there are tons of reasons why kids leave the church, but I really think that those are three major contributing factors. At least, from watching others and experiencing doubts myself. And I can’t help but look and say “Churches! If you care so much, why not address some problems?”
I’ve just finished my third year of university now, and the second year living on my own. I personally have not found it difficult to stay true to my faith, but I really think that’s due to some pretty simple things my parents and friends did for me before I left home.
There are so many simple things that churches and youth groups can do that would help–not entirely fix–I don’t mean that. But there are some really easy fixes to some problems that we’re just not addressing as a church community.
1. Teach kids how to be adults
What if we offered classes for kids in grade 12 on how to live on your own? How to work the washing machines at a laundromat, how to make a budget, how to organize your bills–just the basics of living on your own! That on its own could alleviate so much stress. I wish that someone had sat down and just made me a budget or showed me how much money I truly have to spend on coffee and movies and the like. Teach kids how to write resumes, how to find help, what to do when you lose your wallet/phone/keys/etc, because it will happen. How to cook is a huge one. Why are our teens leaving home without knowing these things?
2. Connect our kids with Christian community
Why don’t youth pastors just e-mail each of their graduating students a link to each of the Christian campus groups at the university they’re going to? I have met so many Christian kids who just didn’t know that IVCF existed on our campus, and didn’t start coming out until their 2nd year! If youth pastors, parents, and friends would just connect kids before they even left, we’d see kids engaging in Christian community a lot more than we do now.
3. Teach real Bible material and stop the fluffy teen stuff
Teens are only going to be dependents for about 5 years; then we become adults. So why do we always hear stories about the same youth-related issues in grade 9 and in grade 12? There’s something wrong with the system when 13 year old kids and 18 year old kids are being given the same message, and both are expected to relate. Get grade 12s involved in actual small groups instead of preaching at them or making them go to huge group discussions. Youth group is meant to train teens to become leaders in the church community, so let’s start training them how to study God’s word individually while they still have some supervision! Maybe then they would begin to understand what they believe and why they believe it instead of just sitting through another youth group sermon.
Some of these may seem a little harsh, but after moving out on my own, I feel strongly about how many things the church could do for their young adults. It really isn’t that difficult–it’s quite logical actually. Kids start as children, go to children’s ministry. Then they go to youth group, which is a gradual shift because we do different activities from grades 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, and so on. The logical thing would be to then slowly shift from grade 9 activities to grade 10 to grade 11 to grade 12–but we’re not seeing that. And I think that’s where the problem lies.
We need to stop sending out children to fight the battle of faith. Instead, we need to equip Christian teens to become adults on practical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
This article first appeared on Life as a Dare.