Why do students leave their faith

University StudentsSomewhere between 60% and 80% of high school students will leave their faith in college.  Depending on where you live and who is doing the research.  That is a LOT of students leaving their faith.  Unfortunately it hasn’t changed much over the past decade.  I remember hearing the same statistic quoted to me when I was leaving high school in 1998.  The question I want to tackle is why do so many students they leave?

I remember hearing that statistic over and over again as I finished my senior year in high school.  I remember that I was determined not to be one of those people who left the faith as they went to college.  So when I showed up at North Dakota State University as a Freshmen I went looking for the Christian fellowships on my campus.  I got involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for two reasons.  One was that they played Ultimate Frisbee on the field behind my dorm.  The second was that the first three meetings I attended the dean of the college of engineering and architecture was speaking and he gave a phenomenal defense of the faith.  I loved it!

As a campus pastor I help college students move into the dorms every fall.  I meet hundreds of students and their parents.  As I move students into the dorms I always do an informal survey.  I ask the student if they have a religious or church background.  Working in a rural MN setting I have found that roughly 60%-70% of the students say yes.  While the number has declined over the years, it is still high.  I used to get excited about how many said yes.  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to translate to involvement in fellowship on campus.  So what happens?

We could blame the University.  We all know the stereotypes that college life has built over the years.  Drinking, Drugs, Sexual Immorality, the Atheist professor.  I don’t think that is it.  Yes those things all happen on campus.  Yes they are a temptation for students.  However I think there is something else.  I know countless students who don’t have a church background or a faith that do not succumb to those temptations.  It would be interesting to see the statistics, I think that it would be statistically insignificant.  So why do they leave the church?

Over the years, I have made some observations.  First, a lot of students tell me that they have a relationship with God, but they don’t need to go to church.  To that I respond, what about Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Students often have not thought about that before but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to change much.  The other response I hear is “I already have a group of friends and a church back home.”  I often wonder if we have created too much of a “personal relationship” with Jesus in our teaching.  The second observation is that they have a church back home and nothing seems to be like it.  I wonder if we could help our students by giving them the tools to discern what church they could connect with.  I wonder if we could give them experiences in other churches so that when they leave their home church, their ready to join a new church.

Back to my own story.  I give a lot of credit to my home church for preparing my faith for college.  While there were a few students from my home church that left their faith, many didn’t.  There was a period of time when many of the InterVarsity chapters around our region had peers from my home church who were key leaders.  To that end, I am grateful for their input in my life.

One of the pastors at my church invited me to consider giving a seminar on “Faith and the University.”  To include something about preparing your student or child for the University.  I really appreciated the invitation.  I hope to do something soon.

What have you seen?  What is your experience?

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