How to Keep Young People in Church After Graduation
The facts are there: Many young people leave church after graduation. Here are four ways to keep them in your community.
Biblical DepthSam Rainer, who has been heavily involved in the study of the millennials with Lifeway, records that students who hear sound sermons each week, are involved in a small group Bible study and those that study the Bible on their own are the ones who rarely drop out. I feel that church leaders for years have felt that the solution to keeping young adults in church is through really cool technology, relevancy, a casual environment and contemporary music. I am not against any of these things. In fact, all of the things listed are good things—but they cannot be the most important thing. Millennials do like these things, but according to the research done by the Barna Group as well as Lifeway Research, we find that millennials value biblical depth much more. Rainer’s challenge to church leaders: go deeper!
MentorshipThe second way to keep young people in church is through a mentorship program. It has been proven that teenagers who are being mentored and discipled by an adult are less likely to leave the church when they graduate high school. But, I believe that churches have gone away from a mentorship program in most cases. The best example that we find of a good mentorship program is in Scripture through the relationship of the Apostle Paul and young Timothy. The Baker Encyclopedia on the Bible described their relationship this way:
“The apostle Paul, undoubtedly Timothy’s spiritual father, refers to him as “my true child in the faith” (1 Tm 1:2); he perhaps converted Timothy on his first or second missionary journey. The son of a Greek (or gentile) father, Timothy was yet uncircumcised; however, when Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the second journey, he had him circumcised, so as not to hinder their missionary endeavors among the Jews. Timothy, who was “well-spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2), became Paul’s companion and assistant on his second missionary journey at Lystra.
Here we see the Apostle Paul investing in the life of a young adult, Timothy. From this description of their relationship we find that Paul discipled Timothy, he challenged Timothy with practical ministry application, he ministered with Timothy, he did life with Timothy and he gave leadership away to Timothy. That is a good mentorship program, and if this was done more frequently, I believe that it would reduce the rate of young adults leaving the church.
Connecting Earlier to the Local ChurchIn youth ministry, teenagers are usually involved in a heavy program. In fact, most youth ministries are programmatic in nature, almost to a fault. They can be so programmatic that they pull teenagers out of “big church” (what it is referred to by teenagers) and into the youth program. Then when students graduate out of the youth ministry, they do not know how to handle adult church, because they have not been exposed to the adult side of church. According to Lifeway’s Research, 20 percent of young adults left because they did not feel connected to the people in the church. Brad Waggoner, vice president of research and ministry development for Lifeway said this after they uncovered their research on the epidemic of young adults leaving the church: “Relationships are often the glue that keeps people in church or serves as the attraction to begin attending again following a period of absenteeism. Many people are deeply influenced by friends and loved ones. Church leaders should passionately and consistently challenge church members to maximize their influence with youth and young adults. Frequent and intentional contact can either prevent or counteract the tendency of some to drop out of church.” I think it is crucial to have teenagers in adult services regularly. Teenagers should be involved in serving in the local church. Teenagers should be allowed to usher, sing in the choir or through special music, play in the worship band, volunteer, etc. In other words, students should be involved. It is proven through Lifeway’s study that students who are involved and connected are much more likely to stay when they graduate high school.
Have a Singles MinistryMany churches have absolutely nothing more than a Sunday school class for young adults. Some churches do not even have a class for that age; they just send the college students into classes with all of the adults. Now one could argue that placing them in adult classes can be healthy, and I tend to agree to a certain extent, but you have to have something that brings that group together. Sam Rainer lists several aspects of a good singles ministry that will keep young adults. First, the singles ministry must have biblical depth. We are not going to spend much time here, because this was one of the overall themes of the entire church that needs to happen to retain young adults. Secondly, set high expectations. Ninety-six percent of millennials say that they believe that they can do something great. Seventy-seven percent said that they are motivated to make a difference by serving others in society.  This is great news for the rest of the world, because it is clear that the majority of the millennial generation wants to make a meaningful contribution to society. Therefore the singles ministry must set a high expectation to do something great if they want to keep young adults. Third, Rainer suggests keeping them with multiplication (evangelism). Rainer states that “every church we have studied that is effectively reaching and retaining young adults is highly intentional about evangelism.” Lastly, Rainer suggests keeping them through simplicity, namely discipleship. He challenges churches to possess a strategic discipleship structure.
Although these suggestions may seem simple, they can go a long way. The church must address the epidemic plaguing most churches. When churches address the epidemic, they will find that things must change, or the millennials will not attend their church. When young adults feel that the church is interested in making a difference, they will come.
 Sam Rainer, “Four Keys to Keeping Young Adults in Church.” . http://www.lifeway.com/Article/four-keys-to-keeping-young-adults (Accessed June 12, 2015).
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2069.
 Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), 116.
Josh Evans is the family pastor of the Oakleaf campus of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He has served in this position since June of 2014. Before that, Josh had been a mentor and pastor to students since 2006. Josh is passionate about seeing life change in families and teaching them the truths of the Word of God. Josh is a blogger, speaker, family pastor, and die-hard Duke Blue Devils fan! Josh and his wife Abby were married in February of 2008, and those years have been the happiest years of his life. Josh and Abby have two kids. Lynlee and Cameron. Josh and his family live in the Jacksonville, FL area. You can connect further with Josh on this blog or send him a direct email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More from Josh Evans or visit Josh at http://joshhevans.com