Study probes why college students leave church

September 14, 2011

PASADENA, Calif. (RNS) Millions of college freshmen are overwhelmed
right now trying to make new friends, adjusting to more rigorous school
work and learning to live away from home. Whether they also find time
for church during their first two weeks on campus will set the mold for
the rest of their college years, according to new research.

These findings come from a six-year study of approximately 500
Christian youth group members, conducted by Fuller Theological
Seminary's Fuller Youth Institute in Pasadena, Calif.

The study's results will be released Sept. 17 in "Sticky Faith:

Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids." The book examines
why, according to a 2006 report by Christian research firm Barna Group,
61 percent of 20-somethings who regularly attended church as teenagers
later left the pews.

The study implies that parents and church leaders need to do a
better job preparing high school seniors to maintain their faith.

Only one out of every seven students surveyed said they were well
equipped for college, and less than 50 percent of seniors with doubts
talked about them with others, said Kara Powell, executive director at
Fuller Youth Institute, and co-author of "Sticky Faith."

What also hinders students is being too dependent on youth faith
group worship. Nearly 60 percent of seniors surveyed attended
intergenerational worship and possessed a higher faith maturity in
college, Powell said.

Nevertheless, 40 percent of freshman said they had difficulty
finding a church in college, Powell said, and students' perception of
faith made it all too easy for them to shove it aside.

"Students' view of faith was that it was like a jacket, something
they can take on and off if they feel like it," Powell said.

"One of the heartbreaking things, and why that two-week window is so
influential, is that students feel guilty when they make mistakes and
feel hypocritical and so full of remorse that they don't feel like they
can then show up at church."

Powell suggested that parents share their own transitional
experiences, and discuss their mistakes and good choices, so their kids
can trust to share their concerns and struggles with them.

Parents should also go visit churches with their kids near their
college campuses, or visit new churches close to home, to prepare them
for finding a new place of worship.

Youth pastors should also nudge seniors to think about what they
should look for in a new church and how they can be active Christians in
college, said Jonathan Morrow, a youth-oriented equipping pastor at
Fellowship Bible Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and author of the book
"Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower's Guide for the Journey."