Several months ago, as part of a pastor’s accoutability group, I read Thom Rainer’s book, ‘Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts.’ The book is built around a study that found, according to Rainer, that “more than two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of 18 and 22”. I have heard numbers similar to these often over the past several years. This is heart-breaking to me. To think that adults have dropped out of church at a time of major life-changing decisions breaks my heart. I was not surprised by this research. All “professional” church people know that our churches have back doors that we need to close. The inability for churches to keep and connect people who come in the front door only encourages them to slip out the back door. Although I was not surprised by the number or age of churchgoing adults leaving, I was surprised a little by the reason. Rainer wrote, “Most dropouts are not leaving because they no longer want to identify with organized religion. Dropouts do not all question their faith. Few are angry with or have stopped believing in God. These dropouts don’t completely depart from their faith. They rather part ways with the church.”
What are we not doing as the church? As a pastor, the idea of people “dropping out” of church disturbs me. The thought of people “dropping out” also resonates with teachers and those in the school systems. I believe it disturbs teachers to see kids “drop out” of school. I have noticed something about the school system however. They tend to be proactive in their efforts to curb the drop out rate. I believe our efforts as a church should be proactive as well. We are guilty of trying to develop a plan or strategy to get them back rather than keep them in the first place. God has called us to minister to people. We can’t do this if they are no longer here. Let’s begin the process of closing the back door and keep the people God has given to us. I don’t have all the answers. I know we can do this together as a church. A quote from a former dropout, in my opinion, sums it up perfectly. “It should be harder to leave a church than to join a church.” I agree.