I have just finished a very quick run through (I have not read every word.) of the new book, "Why They Stay" by Steve Parr and Tom Crites, which is the result of their survey of 1400 young adults.
They use the term "Black hole" to describe the years from high school graduation to marriage where "61% of those in the survey who no longer attended church strayed during their college years.". First, it is their contention that a significant factor is many churches which have no class or group for those who have graduated high school, but are not married. They argue that churches need a college age ministry whether they are in a college town or not.
Parr says, "Our research revealed that a young adult who is connected with a congregation quickly after high school is 138% more likely to stay in church than the young adult who does not connect with a church in the transition time after high school.".
I have long contended that the first three weeks of freshmen year in college are golden in opportunity and need. As college ministry churches and campus based college ministries we must ask, "Are we putting the priority and resources necessary toward reaching and connecting freshmen to church in that first fall semester...... those that come to us AND those that just left our youth ministry?". Or, are we just accepting that we will lose 61%?
Are we addressing the "Black hole" as we need to?
Factors they state for young adults staying connected to church:
-Loved their pastor when they were young.
-Had a good children's and youth ministry, but not necessarily a full time person.
-Have a high view of scripture.
-Parents demonstrated a strong and balanced involvement in church.
Some factors in those who leave:
-frequent turnover of youth leaders and pastors (Stability of ministry is huge!)
-church conflict or moral failure of church leaders
-youth were separated from families in worship
For me one perhaps over simple conclusion from this book is, we must admit that we do not have a student's college career to reach and connect them to the church....it is almost fall semester or nothing! If we really are concerned about the loss of young adults to the church, are we putting the necessary emphasis on this crucial time frame? Some of the young adults surveyed were asked what in their opinion the church thought about them. A common answer: "They don't think about us.".
This book is good for parents, church staff and college ministers who help churches and parents. Some sections are written to parents.
"Why They Stay" by Dr. Steve R. Parr and Dr. Tom Crites, Westbow Press, a Division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan