Three Predictors of Whether Kids Will Stick with Church or Leave
[Editor’s Note: The following blog post contains portions of a Christ Cast with national youth ministry expert Dr. Richard Ross. The topic is “How to Live so Filled with King Jesus That He Overflows into Your Family.” Can we predict which kids will walk away from the church when they leave home, and which will stay? Dr. Richard Ross weighs in.]
Research reveals that about half of the kids that grow up in church don’t stick. They wander away. A few come back when they have children, but not that many. If they wander away from the church and from the faith, basically they don’t come back.
And so the questions any parent or youth leader would ask is, “Which half sticks and which half leaves? Are there any factors to watch for?”
In my experience, there are three predictors of whether kids will stick with church or leave.
In Love with Jesus
Here’s what we know. The kids that come to church for 18 years and are just religious—meaning they think being in Christ simply means going to church and obeying rules—have a high chance of walking away. But the ones who stick are head over heels in love with Jesus. He is the central facet of their lives. Christ is their King, and they’re jumping out of bed in the morning for some great adventure with Jesus that day.
What this means for parents is this: To think that your kids will be in the faith, loving Jesus, and serving him when they’re 50 has everything to do with whether they capture your aliveness in Christ and begin to adore him the way you’re adoring him. Kids who are deeply in love with Jesus instead of just religious have a much greater likelihood of sticking with church.
Friendships Outside of Youth Group
Another predictor deals with friendships. If all the close friendships are within the youth group only, there’s a greater likelihood of walking away from church. Now, yes, they may know their Bible teacher or an elder, but if they’re living in a youth bubble, it’s not positive. For instance, they’re always on the youth floor, or the youth building, or the youth basement; and if you ask them, “Who do you know at church?” and they name only teenage names, those kids do leave the church far more frequently than those that are all tangled up in relationships with the full congregation.
If the youth ministry of the church can give teenagers a chance to work with and interact with children, it is a smart thing. Equally, if teenagers are given ways to meet, relate to, and build relationships with adults, I’m telling you, that matters in terms of lifetime faith.
If a student goes off to college and has spent her last six years loving the youth group, what happens when the youth group isn’t around anymore? There’s no reason to attend church. On the other hand, if she spent the last six years loving the church, then she’ll find a different expression of the church in her new town.
Consistent Church Attendance
Another factor is how faithful they were in church attendance. We just know that to be a fact. I’m distraught by the number of faithful church parents that get so fascinated with scholarships and trophies that they’re allowing their kids to join traveling soccer teams, sports teams, and whatnot, and missing every other Sunday, or in the spring missing a month or two of Sundays. And then the parents are appalled when the kids don’t want to go to church.
Teenagers live in the present moment. When they’re gone a week or two, it is as if they haven’t been to church forever. And they will even say, as you’re trying to drag them out of bed, “Well, I don’t feel close to the church anymore,” or “I don’t know anybody at the church anymore,” or “I don’t feel like I’m part of that anymore.”
It is a mistake to make parenting or family decisions that pull kids away from the life of the church on any kind of frequent or repeated basis. That too becomes a factor in who’s going to stick and who’s going to fall away.
In summary, parents and youth leaders who want to give their students the best shot at sticking with church will help cultivate a love relationship with Jesus, foster Christian friendships outside of youth group, and attend church consistently.
You can watch the full Christ Cast below:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Richard Ross
Dr. Richard Ross is a professor to the next generation of youth ministers at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has authored many resources, including his latest book, The Senior Pastor and the Reformation of Youth Ministry. You can connect with Richard on his website, Facebook, or Twitter.