Recently, pollsters have confirmed what many of us already know: a large number of Christian students leave the church once they graduate from high school. Barna has the number at 61%. Lifeway has it at 70%. Even if we take Barna's lower number and then subtract another 10% just to be conservative, we're still left with a situation where we are losing half our kids.
But let's NOT be conservative because it looks like the situation could be worse. According to political scientists Robert Putman (Harvard) and David Campbell (Notre Dame) in their book, American Grace, young Americans are dropping out of religion at a rate 5-6 times the historic rate (30-40% have no religion today versus 5-10% a generation ago). The Church definitely has a challenge on its hands.
So what are the causes? Well, there are a number of reasons young people leave. Moral reasons. Sociological reasons. But it seems clear they also leave for intellectual reasons (Drew Dyck has some important thoughts on the interplay between the reasons young people give for leaving). In his book Soul Searching, sociologist Christian Smith found that students reported leaving the religion of their upbringing primarily due to "intellectual skepticism and doubt." Certainly Christian students who cannot give a reason for their hope in Christ to everyone who asks (I Peter 3:15) will be ill-equipped to deal with the intellectual minefield that is the modern secular college campus.
Here's part of my solution: start exposing our Christian students BEFORE they leave for college. Let's bring up their doubts BEFORE they do and then create a safe place to talk about those doubts. Recently, I did just that at a local Christian high school in Southern California by pretending to be an atheist college professor. You can see how the Christians students did, as I recorded the dialogue: