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Church dropouts

More college students walking away from Christianity

By Christina Quick

Allison Lynn grew up attending an Assemblies of God church with her family. But when she moved from home to go to Texas State University in San Marcos, she walked away from her faith.

“I wanted to experience college life and all that went with it,” Lynn says. “I knew in my heart I couldn’t do some of the things [other college students] were doing and still call myself a Christian. So I just decided I didn’t want anything to do with God.”

The binge drinking, drugs and relationships Lynn pursued didn’t bring her the freedom she craved. Instead, she spent much of her college career feeling as though something was missing.

At the urging of her younger sister, Lynn started attending Chi Alpha her junior year and eventually rededicated her life to Christ. Now a senior at TSU, Lynn hopes to become a youth pastor and help other young people avoid the mistakes she made.

“I see a lot of students doing the same things,” she says. “They have a void in their lives that they’re trying to fill with the wrong things. I drank alcohol until I threw up. What I really needed was God in my life.”

Lynn’s story is not unusual. An alarming number of college students are severing ties with the church. Some, such as Lynn, later return to the faith. Others walk away permanently.

More than two-thirds of Protestant young adults exit the church between the ages of 18 and 22, according to a recent report by LifeWay Research, a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Among the chief reasons young adults gave for quitting church — one in four mentioned the transition to college, while 22 percent said they moved too far from church to keep attending and 27 percent said they just wanted a break. Another 23 percent named work responsibilities as the primary factor.

“The years immediately following high school graduation often determine the course of a person’s life as decisions are made about careers, lifestyles and spouses,” says George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. “It’s a tragic loss when a young person walks away from the body of believers during this crucial time. We must pray and do our best to not let that happen.”

Wood says approximately 60,000 AG youth are expected to graduate from high school next spring. National statistics indicate 50 to 70 percent will leave the faith within four years. Among those who attend evangelical colleges, however, the percentage is only about 5 percent.

“The temptations [on a secular campus] can be so strong during the college years,” says Dennis Gaylor, national director of Chi Alpha campus ministries. “It’s easy to fall away if you don’t connect with other Christians early.”

Gaylor says the relationships that first-year college students form during the initial weeks of school are often the ones that continue to influence them during their entire four-year stay. Those who are part of Chi Alpha try to make connections quickly, even offering to carry students’ luggage as soon as they arrive on campus.

But those efforts aren’t always enough to keep students involved in church life, according to Dick Herman, Lynn’s Chi Alpha pastor at TSU.

“There are students who check out our campus ministry once or twice and then we never see them again,” Herman says. “Ultimately, they’re pulled away by other things and other relationships.”

To address the challenge, Chi Alpha is partnering with a new organization designed to help students develop Christian relationships on campus long before the school year begins.

Youth Transition Network operates a comprehensive Web site,, that links students to campus ministries and local churches as well as potential Christian roommates and friends before they set foot on campus. Registered users can peruse the database and Web links by entering a zip code or the name of a city or university.

The site includes information on more than 4,300 campuses, including community colleges.

“Our goal is to get them connected with people who can be godly influences on their lives — before they ever leave home,” says Jeff Schadt, a former Campus Crusade for Christ pastor and founder of YTN. “When they arrive on campus, they could be met on the curb by a friend so they’re not alone that first day.”

The organization operates a second Web site as well, This site is designed to help parents and ministry leaders equip students for the college transition.

YTN is a coalition of numerous campus and youth ministries, including Chi Alpha, Campus Crusade, The Navigators, Josh McDowell Ministry, Baptist Collegiate Ministry, National Network of Youth Ministries, and Youth for Christ.

Gaylor says the crisis of churches losing young people on America’s campuses has sparked the first time all the major players in university ministry have cooperated to address an overarching need.

“We’ve been very evangelistic when it comes to reaching the non-Christians on campus,” Gaylor says. “Now, with so many of our own falling away, we’re recognizing we have to be more deliberate about reaching the church kids."

CHRISTINA QUICK is staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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