Are we raising disciples or dropouts?

Trends and fads come and go.

Whether you rocked a mullet in the 80’s…

Wore MC Hammer pants in the 90’s…

Played THE GAME and lost in the early 2000’s, or…

Jumped on the fidget spinner bandwagon a couple years ago…

You know what I mean.

Some trends last longer than others and end up shaping our culture for generations. And, these are the trends that we must pay attention to.

Since I started working in full-time ministry back in 2000, one of these trends has been the prevalence of church dropouts among young adults (18-29 years old).

In that time, I’ve been skeptical of the alarmist claims (80% dropout rate), but I’ve also been paying attention to the data that’s out there and the trends that inform them.*

Back in 2011, the Barna Group reported that 59% of young adults with a Christian background had dropped out of church involvement-some for an extended period of time, some for good.

Less than a decade later, that number has increased to 64%.

In other words, the trend of church dropouts among young adults is moving in the wrong direction.

As parents and youth workers, we need to not only be paying attention to this trend, but we also need to be asking ourselves this question:

Are we raising disciples or dropouts?

Asking this question should lead us to another question, and that is…what’s a disciple?

A disciple is a follower of Jesus.

A follower of Jesus lives like Jesus…

AND leads others to follow Jesus.

In case you missed that definition:

A disciple is a follower of Jesus who multiplies themselves by living like Jesus AND leading others to live like Jesus.

This is what the Apostle Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians when he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

If we want to be parents and youth workers who raise disciples, we need to first be disciples ourselves.

Parents…you might think that you’re kids aren’t listening or paying attention to you when it comes to spiritual things and how you live out your faith, but they are.

In fact, there is compelling evidence that shows that the single most important social influence on your kids’ religious and spiritual lives is you.**

To put it bluntly, when it comes to your kid’s faith, you will generally “get what you are.”

So, what kind of example of a disciple are you to your own kids?

Youth workers…you might think you’re off the hook on this, but you’re not. Because, the kids are following you too.

And, the question for you is, where/how are you leading them?

We can attract students with lots of things, but if we are not attracting them to Jesus, we’re not raising disciples.***

So, who are your students following right now…you and your programs, or Jesus?

If we want this trend of church dropouts to move in the right direction, we all need to lead by example…

and follow the example of Christ.

* For a deeper look into the data and trends, check out the 2011 book You Lost Me and the 2019 book Faith for Exiles based on research done by Barna.

** This was one of the conclusions of the research done by the National Study of Youth and Religion and written about in the book Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith.

*** All of us in ministry need to constantly remind ourselves that “What you win them with is what you win them to.