Why are Young Adults Dropping Out of Church?

An increasing number of young people are finding community outside of church.

Church pews could witness fewer teenagers on Sunday mornings if the present trend continues among young people. According to survey results from LifeWay Research, 66 percent of U.S. youth who regularly attended a Protestant Church for a minimum of one year as a teenager dropped out of church attendance during the time between 18 and 22 years of age. Only 34 percent continued to attend church by going twice or more every month. The research was conducted in 2017.

A majority of young churchgoing people do not visit church on Sundays at certain points in their lives, like transitioning from high school to college and moving away from home to settle on their own after they get their first jobs. The survey found around two-thirds of all church drop-outs return when they’re older. The present-day young Christians cite heavier spiritual and political concerns as causes to move away from the church permanently. The numbers in recent years have never been greater, with 70 percent of respondents citing these beliefs as the departure cause in 2017. Only 52 percent quoted the same reason in 2007.

When asked why they dropped out, 96 percent of the respondents cited a life change as the primary reason for doing so. The next popular cause was the pastor or the church in question at 73 percent. Third in line was political, religious, or ethical beliefs at 70 percent. The fourth reason, at 63 percent, was the student ministry.

When asked to select between the given options in the questionnaire, the five top reasons include 34 percent of the respondents moving to a new place to attend college. The second reason is the hypocritical or judgmental position taken by other church members (32 percent) and third place at 29 percent is the absence of being connected to people in their church. 25 percent gave the reason of disagreeing with the stance taken by the church on social or political issues, and the last was work responsibilities at 24 percent.

An increasing number of young people, a few temporarily and others permanently, continue to move outside their churches to find a group which shares their spiritual or religious beliefs. Many young people locate such a community within their college campus.

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