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Why Do Students Leave Church After Graduation?

Why Do Students Leave Church

Graduation is a day of celebration, reflection, and gratitude that will be cherished by graduates for years to come. Everything they’ve known for x amount of years has brought them to this juncture. What a celebration! And then reality walks up to that intersection. Things can look completely different from the lens of a parent and the graduate, especially when it comes to addressing why students leave the church after graduation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, about a third (35%) of U.S. parents with children under 18 say it’s extremely important to them that their kids have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults. 

Why college students leave their church differs for each person.

“The world for young adults is changing in significant ways, such as their remarkable access to the world and worldviews via technology, their alienation from various institutions, and their skepticism toward external sources of authority, including Christianity and the Bible.” 


→ Church Action: Do you have an online presence? Are you connecting with the youth in your congregation via technology and in small groups to establish personal relationships? 

Why do college students leave the church?

“I am convinced most do not go with the plan to drop church. It is just a fact that college is busier than high school, with either increased academic expectations or activities, or both.  It is easy for a college freshman to just assume that church will fall in somewhere there because it has in the past. The first month passes, and they have not connected anywhere, which is usually the end of it. A Christian student has to be intentional about connecting to a church.  Intentionality is key!”

College Ministry

→ Church Action: Do you have a presence in the local university for outreach, events and connection? Don’t expect them to come to you- go to them- they are hungry for something to remind them of home and traditions in the sea of everything being new and overwhelming. Be intentional in reaching them. It’s easy to play flag football or provide coffee and a smile. 

How to keep students in church after graduation should be our focus now.

Lifeway Research shares this staggering statistic: “We should recognize that when someone drops out in these (college-aged) years, there is a 69 percent chance they will stay gone.”

→ Church Action: Do you have a college-aged program in your church? Forming alliances with other churches across the state and country to collaborate in the continued nurturing of these young people is necessary. A friend of mine recently told me that some friends in her church knew of a couple who opened their home to college students for dinner, study spaces, games, coffee, etc. Think about how you can implement this in your community and share with your pastoral friends to do the same


Why young people drop out of church might have more to do with their personal wrestling of their childhood faith and the stretching of what they do know, and the exploration of what they don’t. Furthermore, American Beliefs reports that Christians might leave the church but not their faith. An article from Church Leaders pontificates this thought so well that it should be sounding alarm bells within our homes and ministries, “Are we surprised by youth leaving the church? Students don’t get smarter when they leave home; rather, someone actually treats them as intelligent! Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt.”

→ Church Action: Communicate regularly with your graduates. This can be done with humor and social graphics. It can be in a group format and individually. Ask them questions and follow up. Keep the conversation going, and do not lose touch. They are busy with work, papers, events, exams, and sleeping. But make the time to challenge their thoughts with love and respect their journey. We all have a journey; having someone walk alongside you makes all the difference. 

We should not be surprised that the enemy would rather our children not continue in their faith and slack off while in college. As a pastor, small group leader, parent, and friend of a graduate, you can tether your prayers to God’s promises. You will discover His peace in this discipleship process as we fight the good fight of faith for future generations.

Donna is ​ACS Technologies’ Chief Customer Officer. Her focus is on strategic planning and operations of the customer experience organization. This includes Implementation, Ministry Success, Learning, Training, and Customer Service. Donna’s focus and passion have always been for our ministry partners. She has worked in the service part of the organization her entire career. Donna joined the company in 1985 as a Customer Support Representative.

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