The Barna Group team spent much of the last five years exploring the lives of young people who drop out of church. The research provides many insights into the spiritual journeys of teens and young adults. Included are five myths and the reality behind the myth.
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Myth 1: Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.
Reality: The reality is more nuanced. In general, there are three distinct patterns of loss: prodigals, nomads, and exiles.
My comment: Although for most people who become believers before they turn 18, the idea of “losing their faith” after high school probably reveals that attendance at church events during high-school was more to please their parents than their own genuine faith.
Myth 2: Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults’ maturation.
Reality: First, this line of reasoning ignores tens of millions of young Christians who never lose their faith or drop out of church.
My comment: I think this myth is a straw man and don’t think that many people really believe this.
Myth 3: College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.
Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians’ spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the ‘faith killer’ many assume.
My comment: What happens inside and outside the classroom during a four-year university experience has a strong impact on young adults. However, while some may “fall away” many others benefit from access to the Gospel and Christian community for the first time in their lives.
Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly “biblically illiterate.”
Reality: Young Christians lack biblical knowledge on some matters, but the research showed their knowledge was not significantly less than older Christians. Instead, when it comes to questions of biblical literacy, the broader culture seems to be losing its collective understanding of Christian teachings.
My comment: This one reminds me of what we dealt with in Turkey. We knew that most people knew little of Christianity and what they knew was usually wrong. This reality has implications on how we introduce Jesus to young people who grew up outside the church.
Myth 5: Young people will come back to church like they always do.
Reality: Some faith leaders minimize the church dropout problem by assuming that young adults will come back to the church when they get older, especially when they have children. However, previous research conducted by Barna Group raises doubts about this conclusion.
My comment: Anyone who has been part of a church and then leaves for some reason should be a concern even if many come back when they have children. The research cited above shows that not that many come back.