For many years now, evangelicals have been greatly concerned by the connection between young adults going away to a four-year state college and students abandoning the faith. And there is good reason to be concerned. For regardless of which study one finds most reliable, the rates of apostasy are truly alarming. Check out the following research. In each case, the study in question tracks the percentage of students that leave the faith by the time they graduate.
- 88% The Southern Baptist Convention’s Family Life Council study. (2000. Unfortunately, I cannot find the actual study, only references to it.)
- 70% LifeWay Research study (2007. LifeWay also found that only 35% eventually return to the church.)
- 66% Assembly of God study (Again, I cannot find the actual study, only references to it.)
- 61% Barna Study: “Most Twenty-somethings put Christianity on the Shelf (2006)
Four years ago, in 2007, Steve Garber, author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior updated the award-winning, 1998 edition of his book. In the updated edition, he compared two groups of people: (1) Self-professed Christians that entered the university and left the faith after four years of college and, (2) self-professed Christians that entered the university and remained active in the faith upon graduation. His findings were fascinating. With few exceptions, those that continued on in their faith had three commonalities:
- They established a relationship with a mentor who actively lived out his/her Christian faith.
- They established a peer-group that met regularly and actively lived out their Christian faith.
- They possessed a Christian worldview that was sufficiently developed to recognize the fallacies of the worldviews that are often taught, both implicitly and explicitly, at the university level.
To my way of thinking, this raises at least three significant issues for Christians that are committed to youth.
First, what are we doing to establish robust, culturally conditioned ministries on college campuses around the world? Is this a priority of the church, or an after-thought that only becomes significant when it is our child that leaves the faith?
Secondly, what are we doing to develop the Christian worldviews of the teenagers that still live in our homes and attend our churches? Are we assuming that Sunday school lessons, family devotions and prayer times are sufficient, or are we actively training our students to deconstruct the assumptions that lay behind other worldviews. Moreover, are we actively teaching our students how others will attempt to deconstruct the worldview of the Christian?
Finally, what role does the social community play in the formation of the Christian character? And what are the implications of this as we consider how we do ministry both to the youth in our church and to the youth outside of it?