Youth are leaving the church, many never return, according to Hope College study

The Holland Sentinel

Seventy percent of youth ages 18 to 22 leave the church and only 50 percent of them return later in life.

A new study is raising an alarm about young people who leave the church and might not come back. It also is suggesting strategies to keep youth in church to begin with.

The study says half of that 70 percent who leave will return later in life. In a 10-year period, many who left will return once they’ve married or become parents and want to raise their children in a church. But that still means 35 percent of today’s youth will never return to church.

Young people are marrying later in life and many are choosing to remain childless, said Virgil Gulker, servant leader-in-residence at Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership, a program designed to teach and create the next generation of Christian leaders.

Known locally as the founder of Love Inc., and Kids Hope USA, Gulker worked with a group of students at the Center for Faithful Leadership to determine why youth are leaving at such an alarming rate and to develop a plan to keep those youth in the church.

During the study, which also incorporated the work of high school students, interviews were conducted of senior and youth pastors, boards and youth of several local churches.

The results showed that youth groups, thought to keep youth interested in church, are actually one of the main culprits. Youth are craving involvement in the church more than the entertainment provided by some youth groups. Through social media, some teens will look to find which church is providing the most entertaining program that week to determine where they’ll attend, Gulker said.

In the midst of that, true faith in and a relationship with God is lost, he said.

“They identify with the youth group, but not with the congregation,” Gulker said.

Youth aren’t being taught to understand their own beliefs and faith. Many inherit their faith from their parents, Gulker said, but a parent’s faith won’t get their children eternity in Heaven. A father cannot save his son a place there, he said.

“Faith is not inherited, it is internalized,” Gulker said. “We’re taking them through activities but not working on their faith.”

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