Debunking the Dropout Myth

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fall2How many kids drop out of church after their high
school years? The LifeWay Research Teenage Dropout Study provides
one of the best available snapshots into this subject. I don’t
entirely agree with LifeWay’s choice to define regular church
attendance as showing up at least twice-a-month for one year. (When
I was a youth and children’s minister, twice-a-month kids were in
my “strong prospect” file-not in my “regular attender” file!)
Nevertheless, the numbers from LifeWay are statistically reliable.
According to this study, 70 percent of young adults who had
attended church twice a month or more for at least a year during
high school dropped out after high school.
Even with LifeWay’s extremely generous definition of church
involvement, the dropout rate is at least 20 percent lower than the
nine-out-of-10 statistic. Among young adults who attended church
three or four times per month as teenagers, the dropout rate is
likely lower.

  • Many young adults come back. Sometime between
    their mid-20s and their early 30s, a significant number of dropouts
    return. According to LifeWay, 35 percent of young adult dropouts
    return to church at least twice a month by the time they’re
    30.
    What causes 30-somethings to come back to church? Influence from
    parents or other family members was a deciding factor in 39 percent
    of returns; friends at church were influential 21 percent of the
    time. One out of five dropouts came back after they married;
    one-fourth returned because they had children. Other factors in
    these comebacks included an inner sense that God was calling them
    to return.
  • Young adults aren’t just dropping out-they’re also
    dropping in.
    Here’s good news that rarely shows up in news
    stories: According to the biannual General Social Survey, the
    percentage of young adults attending weekly worship services has
    risen steadily since 2000. In 2008, church attendance among
    evangelical 20-somethings returned to the same level it was in
    1972. What’s more, a 2008 study from the Pew Forum found that 39
    percent of adults who’d been raised disconnected from any church
    have become Protestants.
    So what can we conclude about the infamous dropout numbers? The
    rates of dropout and return are far less bleak and more complex
    than we’ve been led to believe. The claim that 90 percent of kids
    drop out after high school clearly needs to be left behind.
         

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