Why they stayedIt has been widely reported that many young people are leaving the church. What is less often reported is that many stay. Steve Parr and Tom Crites have teamed up to produce and excellent new book on why those who stay, stay. Here are a few excerpts:

  • Those who were never baptized were almost 400% more likely to have strayed as those who were baptized among those who grew up attending church. Should we not simply baptize all of our children if this is the case to increase the likelihood that they will remain faithful? It does not work that way. As a matter of fact, those who are baptized as infants are much more likely to stray than those baptized following their salvation experience. The research revealed that participants baptized as infants were 184% more likely to have strayed from church compared to those who were baptized at an alternate time in their life. The reverse was true of those baptized following a personal salvation experience. While being baptized following one’s personal commitment to Christ did not ensure that they were still active, the data revealed that they were much more likely to remain faithful compared to those baptized as infants. Those baptized after salvation were 16.6% more likely to remain active than to have dropped out.
  • As participants shared about their relationships with their mothers, a person who indicated he did not have a close relationship with his mother was 65% more likely to stray from church. A person who did not have a close relationship his father was 50% more likely to stray. Needless to say, relationships within the family are critical to spiritual health.
  • As a matter of fact, our study revealed that there was little or no variation between whether a young adult had stayed in church or strayed if they viewed their temperament while growing up as very compliant, somewhat compliant, or somewhat strong-willed. However, we discovered that a very strong-willed child was 42.5% more likely to have strayed from church as a young adult than to have stayed, and the variation is significantly larger than with the other three groups. Likewise, when you consider those who were very compliant and somewhat compliant contrasted with the somewhat strong-willed and the very strong-willed, you see a significant difference in the likelihood of straying if the child had more of a rebellious nature. This factor may be the most challenging for us to address since we have no control over the temperament of a child. However, there is action that we can take.
  • In our study, young adults were asked about the factors that contributed to their staying in church, and many shared that their parents’ style of discipline may have contributed significantly to their spiritual state. Participants were asked to describe the disciplinary style they experienced in their home and were given a scale that offered several choices ranging from “abusive” to “very loose.” It was interesting to see that the experiences were diverse and spread across the scale, including both “abusive” and “very loose” extremes. Young adults who have stayed plugged into church indicated that their parents had a more “balanced” disciplinary style than those who strayed from church. A person who grew up in a “somewhat strict” environment was 21% more likely to stray, and as the disciplinary style moved to “very strict” and eventually to “abusive,” the percentages of young adults straying from church increased more precipitously.
  • The research on young adults who grew up in church revealed several key points about ministry to students. For example, recalling their church as having provided sufficient “youth activities” when they were growing up had a positive correlation to those who stayed in church as young adults.
  • In summary, the results showed that those who grew up in church and had remained faithful as adults had very likely attended college and graduated.