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Are Young Believers Staying in Church After Graduating?

Two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22, according to a new study from Nashville-based Lifeway Research. Thirty-four percent say they continued to attend twice a month or more.

While the 66 percent may be troubling for many church leaders, the numbers may appear more hopeful when compared to a 2007 study from Lifeway Research. Previously, 70 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds left church for at least one year.

The reality is that Protestant churches continue to see the new generation walk away as young adults. Regardless of any external factors, the Protestant church is slowly shrinking from within.”

The dropout rate for young adults accelerates with age, the study found.

While 69 percent say they were attending at age 17, that fell to 58 percent at age 18 and 40 percent at age 19. Once they reach their 20s, around 1 in 3 say they were attending church regularly.

Virtually all of those who dropped out (96 percent) listed a change in their life situation as a reason for their dropping out. Fewer say it was related to the church or pastor (73 percent); religious, ethical or political beliefs (70 percent); or the student ministry (63 percent).

The 96 percent supplied the following reasons:

The five most frequently chosen specific reasons for dropping out were: moving to college and no longer attending (34 percent); church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical (32 percent); no longer feeling connected to people in their church (29 percent); disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues (25 percent); and work responsibilities (24 percent).

How many students attend public schools?

In America’s public schools, there are over 50.7 million students, based on federal projections for the fall of 2022.

How many students attend charter schools?

According to data from four years earlier, almost 3.3 million students, or 6.5 percent of all public school students, attend charter schools.

How many students attend private schools? What are the religious affiliations of those schools?

In total, 5,719,990 students attend private schools, according to NCES 2017 data.

  • 37.4% of those in Catholic schools

  • 24.4% in nonsectarian (non-religious) schools

  • 15.2% in un-affiliated religious schools

  • 12.0% in conservative Christian schools

  • 11.1% in other religiously affiliated schools

Note: numbers may not add to 100 due to rounding.

How many students are homeschooled?

There are an estimated 1,755,233 homeschooled students. That’s 3.23 percent of all students, according to NCES 2019 data.

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