Dropout Study Illustrates the Great Opportunity We Have
I have a 20-something friend who is a short-term missionary in Spain. Her mission is to plant house churches in the midst of a collegiate community, because in her words, “most of these people would never think about setting foot inside a church.”
If you want to know the truth of it, very few set foot inside a church in Spain, period. For the most part, churches there are dusty museums that are a reminder of a world that existed in the distant past.
If Protestant churches in America don’t take the results of the Church Dropout Study and the Young Adult Study seriously, this current reality in Europe is going to be our future.
While the Dropout Study focuses on young adults’ behavior and perceptions between ages 18-22, the results of both studies have striking similarities.
Young Adults leave churches because they don’t have relationships and because there seems to be little hope of finding community because there isn’t an environment to build it.
The Dropout Study tells us only 44 percent of people 18 to 22 found other people like them in the church and only 41 percent said they felt at home. Only 47 percent found the church to be a welcoming environment. These issues were No. 1 in the Young Adult Study as well.
Here is the truth at many churches: when you graduate from high school, you drop off the face of the earth. There is no programming for you and there is no sign from the church that you even exist.
This was alarming 20 years ago. Today, it’s mission critical.
Here’s why: All of the family, social, educational and religious structures in our country were set up around the idea that you go to school and church for between 18 and 22 years and then you immediately get a job, get married and start a family. When you’re in the middle of life’s greatest decisions and transitions in your life, you were fully supported.
Nothing could be further from the truth today in America.
The average age people are getting married today is between 27 and 28 and climbing.
The average age these people have children - if they have them - is climbing radically as well.
That structure of the past does not support today’s 20-somethings, who are waiting longer to do all of these things, out of both necessity and following the world’s trends.
When you’re a 20-something and you’re postponing all of these decisions, who befriends you, supports you, teaches you and loves you in this time of waiting?
Many parents are not. With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce and many more parents pre-occupied with materialism and chasing their own dreams, many 20-somethings get little to no support from their parents.
The church is not.
Post-secondary education isn’t providing this support, either. More and more college students are commuting and going to school part-time because of the skyrocketing cost of education. So, they really don’t have a community or a support system on campus, either.
I am a very optimistic and idealistic person, so let’s take this an entirely different direction.
There is a great opportunity for the church to launch out into this opportunity and welcome young adults into the church. They want to know their purpose in life. They want to serve a cause greater than themselves. They crave friendship. They need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
It’s time we filled this gap.
About the Author
Jim Johnston has worked in a variety of roles, ranging from marketing to publishing to Internet development. Prior to coming to LifeWay, he worked as a reporter and editor for the Montgomery Advertiser and also as an adult-in-missions editor at the Brotherhood Commission in Memphis. Jim and his wife Tammy have been married for 23 years and have two sons, Spenser, 17, and Ethan, 10.