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After Graduation, Then What?


Many young people will soon be graduating from high school or college.  The church can give them a nice certificate to recognize this accomplishment or some other keepsake gift.  We can wish them well in their adult lives. But, can we keep them in the church? After graduation, then what?

Actual figures of how many drop out of church vary.  One of the lower figures I’ve seen is from a 2006 Barna study.  Here is a quote from that report:

In fact, the most potent data regarding disengagement is that a majority of twentysomethings – 61% of today’s young adults – had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying). Only one-fifth of twentysomethings (20%) have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences. Another one-fifth of teens (19%) were never significantly reached by a Christian community of faith during their teens and have remained disconnected from the Christian faith.

After Graduation, Then What Do We Do to Keep Young People in the Church?

I think the question we must ask first is why they aren’t staying.

  • Is it a matter of intellectual disengagement?  Have we not done a good job apologetically with them?
  • Is it a heart issue?  Do they want to be in control of their own lives more than they want God?  Are we praying for them as we should?
  • Or is it something else?

Once we figure out why young people are leaving the Church after graduation, then perhaps we’ll be in a better place to know how to stem the tide of their exodus.


14 Replies to “After Graduation, Then What?”

  1. I think that young people don’t want to give up their compromised moral choices ie choosing to be sexually active before marriage. The world puts a ton of pressure on young people to conform to the world’s lifestyle and they don’t have the spiritual strength to stand strong even if they were raised in a Christian home. What do you think we should be doing differently to keep young people going toward God instead of pulling away?

    • A book I found insightful to in part answer Deb’s question is Right From Wrong by Josh McDowell. There are a couple points he makes that I think we would do well to heed. 1) Use God as the standard or reason by which they measure their behavior, not a bunch of do’s and don’ts. We abstain from sex outside of marriage because God is pure and faithful, not because “thou shalt not…” We need to get beyond the Bible stories and the rules and regulations to the God behind them. Connect them with a God who is worthy of their allegiance. 2) Show the benefit or pragmatic value of following God’s ways. Help them see that it makes sense and is their best interests. Emphasize the truth of Jeremiah 29:11. Perhaps if our teaching in the church focused more on this young people would be more interested in hanging around since they seem to be asking “What’s in it for me?”

  2. I think that too often parents do not think ahead when raising children to be adults. Teaching children to be adults is a process. Maybe, parents are too busy making the cash to be able to do a better job. I would like to see churches have an ongoing parenting class. It should concentrate on basics of why we should do what we do. Help parents think beyond the work week and be creative with the living week in their families.

    I said all that to address that teenagers just want RESPECT. They want us to be proud of them. They want to be adults. Unfortunately do not possess the skills needed right after graduating highschool. They get RESPECT from their peers. If the respect is given them alligence follows. Let us learn how to be the best parents and grow our teenagers up with LOVE & RESPECT.
    Debbie Kessler, Christian Life Coach

    • We as the Church certainly should be helping parents in their role. Having parenting classes can be helpful and there is some good parenting curriculum out there to help in the process. In response to the comment Debbie Kessler left, I have now listed some resources on the site which you can see by clicking on the parenting curriculum link above.

      We need to focus in on the adjective she used …. “ongoing” parenting classes. Sometime I believe we think we have done our part as a church when we teach a class on parenting. “Ongoing” support in needed, and in a variety of ways!

      AND, we need to teach by example. If we want to see parents grow our teenagers up with the love and respect they need, lets, as a church, treat teens that way too!! If they are getting it in the home and the church, it very well could make a difference in their attitude toward life and toward the church.

  3. Dear MinTools, my hat is off to you. A big thank you for creating a parenting curriculum to take to the churches and for parents to instruct themselves.
    I find your website so valuable that words can not express.
    You are a God send. Keep up the wonderful work for Christ.
    Debbie Kessler, Christian Life Coach

  4. I am both a parent and a grandparent, and I applaud the way young people are leaving church. Maybe they have finally discovered that religion is ridiculous. We have the internet now, and you just can’t lie to them any more.

    • If all the church has to offer young people is religion, I would certainly agree with you. Religion has little to offer but an institutionalized, lifeless organization made up of a bunch of rules and regulations. The true Christian Church, however, is the gathering together of people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If the Church functions with Jesus as the Head, it is a living organism wherein people experience a purpose and power in coming together. They find grace and love, not legalism and condemnation. Unfortunately, too many churches have lost this focus and so when people, like yourself and perhaps some of these young people, look at the Church, they aren’t seeing that vitality and relevancy. If, however, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and make it about Him, meeting together as the Church, people in love with Jesus, well … that’s not religion!

  5. I’m new to raising a kid. My sister went to a better place a 4 months back and because my nephew has never meet his real father, he wanted to move in with me. It wasn’t hard to say, yes. He is blood and I love the kid. I’m in search of everything I can find on the internet about parenting because I want to be the best uncle a kid can have so, thank you for the blog post and now I must move on to the next one.

  6. Dear MinTools:
    I too applaud your work as you share your wisdom and knowledge with those of us who are seeking guidance on how to handle many of these situations that are new to us. Our youth are also leaving the Sunday School after graduation and we have been seeking ways to reach out to the young ones who are there now. Our understanding is that once the older kids leave – start having their own families – they do not address attending Sunday School/Church like our parents did with us. We were not asked or given a choice whether or not to attend Sunday School. Our parents went by the scripture – “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will depart from it.” And we do not regret that at all. Young parents today are more into being their child’s pal and not their parents. May you continually be spirit led.

    • Thank you, Denise. You certainly zeroed in on part of the problem. From what you wrote, perhaps churches need to do more to train parents to be parents in the biblical sense. God’s Word squarely places the responsibility for nurturing children/teens on parents (Deut. 6:5-9; Eph. 6:1-4) which most certainly could include getting them into growth opportunities as well as training in the home. And, it also would include parents being a model not only of “going to church” but valuing it enough to get the children there as well. We must, however, guard against simply dragging kids to church and being so consumed with ministry and programs in the church that little happens in the home and hence, end up having the opposite effect than what was hoped … causing children/teens to want no part of what their parents’ church lives were. What they need is a healthy example that draws them closer to God’s heart for the Church rather than repel them from it.

  7. Young people believed, and that is what they are taught by many christian churches, that christianity is about do’s and don’t. But I want to ask this question. Why does a child trust his friend rather than a stranger? The answer is obvious, because he KNOWS his friend. KNOWING his friend is different from KNOWING ABOUT his friend.

    Young people know about God but do they KNOW God? 2 Corinthians 2:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is IN CHRIST (Knowing HIM not knowing about HIM), he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”!

    Lets teach the young people to KNOW GOD. Lets teach them what God has done for them, doing for them and preparing for them. With that knowledge of the grace of God, Paul in his letter to Titus 2:11&12, it will motivate them to be Christlike. Christianity is not about do’s and don’t but a change of life.

    God bless

    • You expressed this well, James. What is the emphasis in our churches? You might be interested in a recent series of posts on the blog on how Bible teachers’ view of the Word matters. One post looks looks at how presenting the Word as merely a book of rules and regulations negatively affects students’ motivation in the Christian life. There is also a post about how we must get beyond the stories and events in the Word, to the God of the Bible. That’s what makes the Bible relevant even today. That same God who parted the Red Sea, protected Daniel in the lion’s den, etc, is the God who will work on our behalf today. Are we taking young people far enough … like you said, to not merely know about God but to truly know Him?