Understand Why Some Stay

Tom Crites and I recently conducted a national research project in an attempt to understand what helps young adults stay committed to church. Much has been written about the erosion of attendance and the exodus of young adults from church, but not everyone leaves. We surveyed 26-39 year old young adults who grew up attending church to discover what happens in their younger lives that helps them stay committed into their adult lives. The findings have been incredible. We discovered fifteen major takeaways and are now in the process of writing to help equip parents and pastors to be more effective in making disciples that mature and stay committed to the church.

Here is one example of something that did not make as much of a difference as we would have thought: participation in a new Christian’s class. Various denominations use different terms for this experience, but in essence it reflects several hours of equipping and education to help a new young believer understand the essentials of faith and doctrine. Participation is a rite of passage in some faith traditions provided at a particular age, while in others it is available at whatever point a child, or in some circumstances teens or adults, express their desire to become a follower of Jesus Christ. An introductory discipleship experience such as this is commendable, important, and any church would do well to offer an orientation experience for young believers. However, no correlation was noted between whether one did or did not attend such a class and whether or not they stayed in church as adults.

The point of this finding is not that a church should not offer such an experience. I believe that they absolutely should and if your church does not, you need to find a way to make it happen. However, you cannot confine one’s discipleship experience to a four, six, or eight hour class. A New Christians class or the equivalent by any other name is an introduction to discipleship, and Christian education and spiritual maturity cannot be conferred by a certificate. Discipleship is a lifetime journey. Offer the New Christians class but also be sure to determine what comes next. Simply providing a New Christians class does not result in a lifetime commitment to serve Christ in a local church.

I look forward to sharing more with you about this project in the future. In the mean-time, if you would like to dig a little deeper, take time to listen to the podcast interview as Jody Livingston and I discuss several of the key takeaways with a special focus on youth ministry. Go here for the podcast: Jody Livingston Podcast