88% of Evangelical Children Leave the Church After High School

Orginally published on Tuesday, August 08, 2006 at 8:50 AM
by Todd Rhoades

As a parent of four kids the stat in this article really grabbed my attention. What do I have to do as a parent to make sure my kids make the cut. And what is/can my church do to keep 88% of our current youth from abandoning the church?

(AgapePress) - The new president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) says he is disturbed that many students in both public and private schools—even Christian private schools—are leaving the church once they graduate.

In 2002, the SBC’s Council on Family Life reported that roughly 88 percent of evangelical children are leaving the church shortly after they graduate from high school. Dr. Frank Page, the denomination’s new president, says SBC churches need to counter that statistic by finding ways to make themselves more relatable, more pertinent and significant to students before they graduate.

“We’re seeing a societal trend where a large number of young people are opting out of the church,” Page notes. ”Estimates of 15 to 20 million people now in America have said they are Christians but they simply don’t want to be a part of the church,” he says.

Some blame the church “drop-out rate” among young people after they graduate on the secularist influence of America’s public schools. However, the SBC’s president observes, ”The sad thing is that we’re seeing that number of dropouts from church [among] those who went to public school and private school, and that’s an unfortunate trend.”

Although he admits he has no “hard numbers” to back up his contention that graduates from private Christian schools are leaving the church almost as rapidly as others, Page says he is referencing anecdotal information heard from this year’s Resolutions Committee at the recent SBC meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina. “It is a disturbing trend,” he asserts, “and part of it is that our churches have become one- or two-generation churches, and we’ve failed to learn how to reach out to this younger generation.”

The Southern Baptist leader says churches must find ways to connect with this young adult demographic—Generation X, the bridger generation, or “whatever you want to call it”—and must do a better job of discipling members of this group. A big part of the problem, he contends, “is that our churches simply are not relating to or seeming relevant to these students.”

Even though Christian students are under attack for their beliefs in many public schools today, Page believes those who are firmly grounded in their faith can have a “salt and light” influence on their peers and teachers. Nevertheless, the SBC president says his prayer is that more churches will begin offering Christian schools, both for families who can and for those who cannot afford such education.

So… how do parents and churches partner together to make sure we don’t lose nearly 90% of our next generation of church goers?

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  There are 95 Comments:

  • Posted by

    BeHim stated: I don’t get it, why such animosity towards the Study of God (i.e. THEOLOGY)?

    BeHim, as sad as it is to consider, I am convinced that the thoughts from scripture that best explain this are the ones that deal with the “anti-Christs” that Paul states were already out there in his day. That the reason the attacks against God’s word, doctrine, theology, etc… are so pervasive and strong is that the deception is equally as pervasive and strong. What is the best antidote to such a situation? Adherence to and reverence for a sound Biblical gospel message and genuine discipleship, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, a pursuit, not of “getting people saved” but of genuinely teaching church goers what it means to be a disciple, to die to self, to equip them to deliver the complete gospel without compromise. Not a furtherance of the “wonderful plan"/God-shaped hole/say a prayer after me” evangelism that is filling the churches in America with an unrepentant majority.
    Just my thoughts.

  • Posted by


    No one here is suggesting attacking God’s word, teaching bad doctrine, or believing false theology. I think your comments may be unnecessarily inflammatory. We’ve strayed from the question of how we can join parents and churches to “stop the bleeding” and although it has changed into a pretty decent discussion on related points, I think that these most recent comments of yours are a little closer to “name-calling”.

    Hint: I’d also recommend you revisit Paul’s use of the term “antichrist” before you turn his words into a condemnation of certain current church leaders. I think your exegesis on this point is somewhat lacking.

    If it is merely the more progressive, relevant presentation of the Gospel that is represented by many of the people who read this column, I think you may not find much of a sympathetic ear criticizing it wholesale, since this site was designed for, and remains targeted towards, those who do innovative ministry. I enjoy your parts of these exchanges, but I occasionally wonder why you’re here specifically.

    Anyway, God bless you in the rest of your day!

  • Posted by

    Peter here is the problem of which I speak, aside from a failure/refusal to recognize the 88% statistic is likely due to the issues I’ve mentioned, you said “If it is merely the more progressive, relevant presentation of the Gospel ...” There is a problem with that gospel presentation, it is disempowered by the lack of honor it gives to Almighty God, thus it is not empowered by the Holy Spirit and has no ability to save those who are “won” under it. Read Romans 3:4-8 where Paul talks about unrighteous acts/lies abounding to glory for God - if they do then how would He righteously judge the unrighteous? I like the way the NASB translation has it:
    But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)
    May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

    But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?

    And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

    The problems mentioned in the article would be less were there are greater adherence to God’s doctrine, to a salvithic gospel message, and less pursuit of a “more relevant” gospel presentation. The God I know and revere is not limited by culture or any other obstacle one might want to purport.I’ll limit my comments to these so as not to get off-topic.

  • Posted by

    “The God I know and revere is not limited by culture or any other obstacle one might want to purport.”

    God doesn’t change.  We do.  Our culture changes God spoke to Moses through a burning bush.  Who is to say that God can’t speak to us through any number of instruments.  God’s message does not change.  Never has, never will.  But God throughout the Bible used whatever means he felt necessary to speak to those He wanted to reach.  I don’t see how attempting to use “culturally relevant” presentations changes that. 

    Sorry if that’s off-topic, but I personally think it’s related to what causes people to leave the church in the first place.  It no longer fills a need in their lives.  God will always be relevant.  There will always be people searching.

  • Posted by

    John 3:36,

    with this being said, please tell me how you envision the church working, and give me examples as to what a service would look like, how ministries function, etc.  I am also curious to know what evangelism looks like from your perspective…

  • Posted by

    John 336,

    I’m going to just respond this one last time, because I think we should move on. Todd has been too gracious in allowing us to continue as long as we have.

    First you say “Peter here is the problem of which I speak, aside from a failure/refusal to recognize the 88% statistic is likely due to the issues I’ve mentioned.” I can’t see how you can possibly have facts to back up a statement like that.

    You then stated “There is a problem with that gospel presentation, it is disempowered by the lack of honor it gives to Almighty God...” You have no idea what “that gospel presentation” is in my church’s context, nor, I suspect, in many churches like mine, which are rather contemporary, relevant, and seeker-friendly, and I believe you are making strong assumptions of them with what has appeared to me to be hearsay in some cases. And I’m trying not to be insulted by your implication that my ministry is actually “anti-christian”. (Did you look up those Pauline “anti-christ” passages yet?)

    I pray that you can learn and grow through our exchanges, specifically I pray that you learn (as I did eventually) that our particular interpretations of scripture or opinion on how church should be “done” might not be equivalent to scripture itself, which is what I think you might believe.

  • Posted by

    [Who is to say that God can’t speak to us through any number of instruments.]

    God is to say!  He has spoken to us in the prophets and apostles and His Final Revelation is complete - FINISHED (Hebrews 1, Revelation 22).

    Today he speaks to us through The Holy Spirit BY His Word; NOT through prophets, burning bushes, apostles and still small voices.

    Here’s a question:

    The Gospel is presented in the book of Acts 12 times by 7 different people.

    Was love mentioned first by any of them?  Why not???

    I mean if there was anyone who could qualify Jesus loving ALL sinners no matter what, it would have been the Apostles.  Why didn’t they start with a Jesus Loves you gospel message?

    Because the love of God is something imputed when you are declared Righteous.

    THE Gospel IS:
    Christ died on the cross, was buried and rose again on the 3rd day according to the scriptures.

    Any message (no matter how culturally relevent) other than that is commanded to us by Paul to accurse (curse to hell - amathama(sp).

    Why did Christ die on the Cross?  Why is it important He was buried?  Why is it important He rose again?  On the 3rd day?  Why does it have to be according to the scriptures.

    This is where the new gospels come from… answers to these questions vary and have NOT one mind but many and God does NOT author confusion!  NOR does He deceive or employ deceptive (sales and marketing like) tactics.

  • Posted by

    Out of curiosity, which of us has disagreed with that?  Which of us has said that the gospel is anything but what you have just said?  Are you calling those of us who use different language or different methodology to communicate that exact message heretics?

  • Posted by

    [Are you calling those of us who use different language or different methodology to communicate that exact message heretics?]

    What does scripture say?
    Galations 1:6-10
    6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

    Does this new method or different language run the risk of being considered a different gospel?  If so, why risk it?  Considering Paul an Apostle of God warns of being accursed.

    Paul when speaking of the Love of God is ALWAYS talking to Believers/Christians (in fact, so are all the other Apostles and Jesus Himself) NOT the world in general or as a whole.

    Starting with a Jesus loves you gospel is not what Paul and the Apostles preached/delivered to us.

    If you are communicating that “exact message” then you are in line with scripture.

    scripture is clear however if you are not communicating that “exact message” then there are consequences.

    I do not condemn you snoop, for I like anyone else run the risk of falling too; I only hope you and I and others will adhere STRICTLY to scripture and not the ideas of men and if we’ve done such things we confess them, repent of them and turn away from doing them.

  • Posted by

    As I read all of this, I ask myself the question:  How did the church in the first century minister to the younger people?  Maybe we need to just throw out the “youth program” and bring them into the church family.  On missions trips to Mexico, I notice that the “youth ministry” is missing in most of the churches I visited.  They don’t know they need a youth ministry.  I believe the average age in Mexico is about 21 to 25 which makes it a young nation.  The youth that get saved get put to work.  We treat our teens like big children when a century ago they were getting married at age 16 and 17 and having children.  We don’t have a formal youth ministry at our church.  I just put the few under my wings, we do some activities, I pray for them and some I even put to work.  There is also the challenge of something else - freewill.  That is also a factor.

  • Posted by

    every now and then i think about planting a church, and when i start to envision what i would do, i never have a ministry for high schoolers.  age specific ministries end at 8th grade, and from that point on the church is a multigenerational body committed to worshiping Christ through service together…

    but like i said, that is my dream…

  • Posted by

    O.K., now that we have sperated the individuals into their respective camps, (The Bible tell us everything, including the methods we are allowed to use, or The Bible tells us everything but allows us to create some methods, or Generational ministries are useful but then we as youth focused ministers have to turn them over to big church where all our teaching and realness gets washed out and the less than authentic ruin all our work) How about something from all the different camps (I actually hate that term, we are in His camp or we are outside His camp)but still how about some suggestions from some different arenas?  What would you suggest that would make a difference in someone’s life?  I for one do not need you to defend your position as the only true position, I need to hear something that will make a difference, an idea that has worked or might work I promise to compare the idea to scripture, thanks

  • Posted by

    What did Jesus do?  He spent time with people.  12 people.  He mentored and loved and confronted and poured and taught them through every little life lesson along the way.  Layne, I think the following is a new idea - I said it earlier but it might have been lost easily since we’re on page 3 now!

    What if pastors only preached on Sundays and mentored the rest of the time?  That’s it.  Find up to 12 people and start pouring.  Your family, your staff and your key leaders are all included in this 12.  They in turn must have anywhere from 6-12 people in their lives whom they pour into.  Pretty soon everyone would be functioning in their gifts and moving in unity towards the vision of that church because of all the communication and empowerment that takes place when you actually spend time with people.

    Along with this I support the idea of having One Family church body where everyone worships and serves together, the old teaching the young and the young inspiring the old.  This means a lot of people would have to chill out in how the service is run.  So the baby is crying...why doesn’t one of the older “grandmas” give mom a break and take baby for a walk?  So the kids are jumping and running during the music...our God is a playful God and this is their worship.  Have kid-teen-oriented object lessons or songs interjected here and there.  Teach and allow the kids to pray and minister at altar time.  I’m also an advocate of smaller churches (500 or less) and this is where this idea might flourish best.

    Having said that, I have to ask - why all this talk about methods???  Here’s my method:

    a) Church leadership WAITS ON GOD and prays for the vision for their particular church in their particular community. 
    b) They receive it and use their God given gifts and His direction to implement this vision how best they see fit.  That could look like anything or NOTHING that we are now familiar with as “church”.  We just need courage to be obedient if He tells us to do something that has never been done before.

    Every church is in a different community with a its own purpose and special design from the Lord to meet the needs and people of that community.  Whatever method you guys come up with here I guarantee you it wouldn’t work for me - because I live in a small Northern city in Canada.  There is something unique here in the DNA of my church body which God is going to use to bless our community and make disciples here.  It wouldn’t work for you.  Why are we so worried about making everyone fit into OUR little method box???

    Simply put, our kids aren’t staying in church. 
    We can offer more opportunities for them to get involved and have ownership at a younger age. 
    We can offer parenting classes and more support for young parents. 
    We can mentor. 

    I think most of us have agreed that there is an authenticity lacking from what we do now. 

  • Posted by

    I have yet to read where anyone is suggesting that the thing to do is preach a different gospel.  I’ve looked and I’m not seeing. 

    I guess I keep coming back to Jesus loving me first because scripture states that God so loved the world that He sent his only son,...etc.  It seems to me that based on that, the whole reason God sent Christ to die in the first place was becaused He loves us.  I don’t know, maybe I’m reading it wrong.  Even Paul wrote that the greatest of faith, hope, and love is love.  I respectfully submit to you that scriptually speaking, the Gospel exists because God loves us and wants us with Him in heaven.  I didn’t get that from anything other than reading the scripture. 

    That’s just me.

  • Posted by

    BeHim writes (quoting snoop I believe) {[Are you calling those of us who use different language or different methodology to communicate that exact message heretics?]}

    For me, YES. I think he is.

    And I think your use of the Galatians quote is perhaps a bit out of context. Paul is talking to the Galatians about a legalistic “gospel” that has been preached to them, in which our works are capable of saving us. That’s the thrust of his message in Galatians, that we are not saved by observing the law. That’s not the situation here with this discussion.

    I hope we’re leaving this one alone now. I’ll see y’all next week, I’m off to the Summit.

  • Posted by

    Thanks Kat, I like your suggestions mentoring is a good idea very challenging to do.  Ive done the kids in the service thing sometimes it works good sometimes not so good, even in the same church the ability of the congregation to not loose focus changes.  What if we had one or two grandmas who would take several of the small ones to give the parents a break?  Stuff like that where some are ministering to others etc. I think that we do need to be creative in encouraging and ministering and mentoring.

  • Posted by

    [I guess I keep coming back to Jesus loving me first because scripture states that God so loved the world that He sent his only son,...etc.  It seems to me that based on that, the whole reason God sent Christ to die in the first place was becaused He loves us.  I don’t know, maybe I’m reading it wrong.  Even Paul wrote that the greatest of faith, hope, and love is love.  I respectfully submit to you that scriptually speaking, the Gospel exists because God loves us and wants us with Him in heaven.  I didn’t get that from anything other than reading the scripture.]

    Great Jeff… who specifically is “us” you keep referring to?

    Everyone on the planet or Believers?  Christians.  Those of The Faith.

    If you suggest it is the Believer, Christian, those authored if Saving Faith.  I agree.

    If you suggest it is everyone on the planet.  I disagree.

    While “WE” were yet sinners Christ died for “US”.  Refers to Believers.

    The Believer understands the Love of God as being saved from the Wrath of God.

    The Gospel begins with the Wrath of God and ends for those who Believe The “Good News” that God has provided Life Abundant through His Love - The Love of God.

    To reverse this message and begin with the Love of God is deceiving.  Why?

    Because the consequence to sin is no longer eternal damnation but instead, Love.

    All I have to do is Believe.  There is a deceptive understanding of the consequence of Sin.  Sin all of a sudden doesn’t cost as much as it did before (as it would if you had to sacrifice an animal that cost you livelihood – culled from your flock or actual money if you had no flock – how much more The Blood of God!!!).

    Why do we do this?  Because it’s more palatable to the hearer?  Gets more “conversions” (sales)?  “Easier” to understand?

    Whatever the defense, it is still another gospel.

    I didn’t say someone here has said this (in this article or these posts) but is it what someone here might teach or believe?

    If so, are they teaching/believing in another gospel?  If not, why not?

    [What would you suggest that would make a difference in someone’s life?]

    In Bible College the older students always led the new students in prayer and Encouraging scriptures and we went street witnessing.  Always teaming a new student (possibly new Believer) with an older student (a person who has been street witnessing for two or more semesters and comfortable with taking the lead in witnessing).  It left such an impression (I did it for 4 semesters) that when I got back home, we did it in the college group I attended before leaving for B.Coll.  Some in the group still talk about “those days”.

    Street witnessing with Bible Tracks are a great way to see a “mature” Believer actually defend his Faith.  One thing I always recognized… There were never senior pastors out witnessing - youth, associate - even worship leaders but never the senior pastor (or a person who had been a senior pastor).

    You never know who you’re going to meet on the street or what position they are going to choose to defend.  It’s a great practice to add to the mentoring stage.  Actually using what you’ve been teaching and been taught.

    I’ve witnessed some conversions but mostly just Believers letting people know they are Believers and willing to talk about it.

    Another thing I’m in the process of proposing is a “Socrates Cafe” idea I read about.  Where basically we get together and discuss Biblical issues - much like we do here on the blog but in person, with scripture and defending with one another what we Believe and why.  What would be cool is getting this group to go street witnessing at some point.

  • Posted by

    BeHim, I hate the fact that you are attempting to derail this method-specific conversation back to your own passionate theological biases, but I will, I must say this:  The Story, the Gospel, The Romance, always, always, always begins with His Great Love for us.  In the beginning He created us, knowing full well the depths that our sin would take us, and yet, because He Loved us, (Yes, the World, the “Whosever” cited in John 3:16), He created us anyways, and thus committed Himself to the path of the Cross.  This does not negate our need for repentance; no, it elevates it, because how wretched we must be to sin in the face of this all-consuming love.  You cite the Acts; I cite 1 John, “God is Love”.  It begins and ends there.

    You may now return to your regularly scheduled discussion smile

  • Posted by


    why do you take part in street witnessing?

  • Posted by

    [why do you take part in street witnessing?]

    Are all Calvinists - hyper-Calvinist?  This is your assumption is it not - why do you “believe” I’m a hyper?  Were you taught to think that or do you REALLY know the distinction snoop?

    Is the distinction important?

    Is it important to distinguish between Christianity and Muslim?

    How about Catholic and Baptist?

    These are all systems of Theology (studying God) with their own set of presuppositions they teach.

    If I presume God is not willing that any should perish to mean God is not willing for any man, woman or child on earth to perish then this presumed idea will have a consequence - an action.

    Perhaps changing the approach, the message maybe even The Word itself to something else that will bring that person to say - I believe in Jesus.  “Whatever it takes” to get them to that point.

    What is the consequence?  The Words, Message and Meaning behind them are lost in the translation/communication man made.

    If God is NOT willing for ANY man, woman or child to perish then WILL any man, woman or child perish?  No – none would perish EVER.

    Does God’s Word return void?  No.  So if God’s Will is for none to perish will it happen?  None will perish.

    Can man’s choice change God’s Word to return void?

    Let GOD BE TRUE!

    God would be made a liar if we would were to believe that man’s choice is above His Word and Will.  Who then does Salvation belong to if not God?  God said His Will is for none to perish yet we know some or many will – HOW???  Because their choice?

    Salvation doesn’t belong to God then; Christ’s work wasn’t finished on the cross then - it’s only finished when man completes it with his/her all powerful choice.  NO!

    Let everyman be the liar!  God IS TRUE!

    God is not willing that any of “US” should perish - again referring to the Believer.  WHY?  Because HE IS the Author and Finisher of our Faith and remember… HIS WORD DOES NOT RETURN VOID - He will not lose us.

    If you don’t understand the presumption behind a belief then you’ll assume the belief based on yourself.

    One presupposition fits within the context of all scripture:  God’s Word will not return void and no Believer will be lost (John 17)

    The other presupposition has to change scripture and context to fit around the belief.

    The distinctions are very important because the consequences are costly!

    You ask why I street witness:

    Because I am commanded in scripture to give the Gospel freely and I disciple because I am called to disciple; street witnessing and evangelism are Biblical - Paul, Peter, John and Jesus were all examples of phenomenal street evangelists.

    Did all hear, were all Believers?  Not even when they heard The Savior Himself.

    Every person who claims “there is a god” has some system of theology - the question is if the Theology is Sound (carefully examined to be True to scripture) or not.

    It’s what we use to know that muslims, jehovah’s witness’, mormons and hindus are wrong when they say “there is a god”.

    The moment we put down The Truth of God in favor of belief is the moment we’ll believe in any god being true.

  • Posted by


    Do you know for absolute sure your presuppositions are founded in scripture (their starting points)?

    If yes:  How do you know for absolute sure?  Have or do you test them?  How do you test them?

    If not:  Why don’t you?

  • Posted by

    umm....BeHim have you hit your posting limit yet?

  • Posted by

    I think you missed the point of my question, probably because I wasn’t being specific enough.  It just seemed to me from an earlier post of yours that the purpose of your street witnessing was to allow believers to show confidence in their faith…

    you can get into the calvinist arguement if you want, that is neither my intention or desire and i refuse to debate that with you or anyone… I am just wondering the why behind what you were doing…

    as to your follow up post.  what presuppositions are you asking me about?

  • Posted by

    Nora said: “The Story, the Gospel, The Romance, always, always, always begins with His Great Love for us. “

    Nora, cite for me one example from scripture wherein Jesus or one of the disciples begins a witnessing encounter with “God loves you...” or “Jesus loves you....”

    I’ll let you know right now, to save you time, there are none. How do I know? Study of God’s word will reveal as much. I do not say this to rebuke you, I am saying this out of a compassion that you know the One True and Living God. If one comes to God after a God loves you, Jesus loves you, ask Him into your heart… message, what happens when they get to say Luke 9:23 (Deny yourself, pick up your cross daily and follow Me.) or John 3:36 (that God’s wrath abides upon those who do not believe in His Son - which is the condition of all prior to repentance and faith and being found in Christ).
    Is God love - of course He is. It was out of love that He struck down Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant , it was out of love that He did not allow Moses to go into the Promised Land for failure to abide by God’s instruction, it was out of love that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for failure to pay their due tithe in Acts. It was out of love that He demanded obedience, otherwise disobedience reigns in the lives of men and they are emboldened in their defiance.

    Now I don’t mean to get way of topic - but was it not Paul who after being blinded by God for days and miraculously regaining his sight who said - I would not have known sin but for the law? If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, how can you expect a person to go through that learning and gain wisdom and knowledge if they are first told “God loves you!”? In their mind is likely the thought - “Well if God loves me, He surely won’t banish me to hell or eternal death, but will love me enough to look past my faults, if I have any."Such a “convert” will not esteem the difficult teachings of Jesus Christ and depart when the desires of the flesh conflict with holiness and righteousness. As BeHim said and Romans 3:4 declares “Let God be true, but every man a liar;"May the Holy Spirit unveil the complete nature of Almighty God to you and to the youth of this nation that the 88% statistic would become a distant memory, but short of that I know there is not a man-made effort that will have any hope at accomplishing that task.

  • Posted by

    John 3:36

    Here’s one example . . . Jesus shows up when a woman has been caught in adultery (which means some man was also committing adultery or sexual sin - BTW), and Jesus rescues her from certain death before he says one single word about sin.  Then, the first word He does say is not to the woman, but to all the sinners (male sinners BTW) who have stones in their hands.

    He doesn’t ask the woman to consider her sin until He has unequivocally demonstrated love (love, love, love) to her.


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