by Lori Richey, former youth director

Research for the 2019 book Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon (Kinnamon and Matlock, 2019) revealed that the percentage of young adults who have stopped going to church is 64%, up from 59% in 2011.  Nearly 2/3 of U.S. 18-29-year-olds who grew up in church told researchers that they have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen.

While these numbers are unsettling, they serve as a reminder that young people in this age group may need some help maintaining an active faith life. For students who graduate from high school and head off to college, parents often wonder what they can do to help their kids stay connected to God through this transitional time.

Here are some ideas:
  1. Have honest conversations with your child about the challenges of nurturing their faith in college. Simply keeping the topic on the table can help young people understand its importance and value.
  2. Be willing to share struggles you might have faced during your own transition to adulthood, choices you made, and what you might have done differently looking back.
  3. After a college decision is made, help your child research if their chosen school has a campus ministry organization, including how to get connected. These ministries often have a social media presence that makes it easy for new students to know what’s happening and how to get involved.
  4. College students may feel anxious about attending a brand new church in a new city. Help this transition by attending a church near the school as a family during a visit before the start of the academic year. Try to meet the pastor or other staff members during the visit – it’s often easy to just walk right out after worship, but helping build relationships now will pave the way for your student when they’re attending alone later on.
  5. During a church visit, find out what opportunities they have for young adults and college students – many are intentional about offering Bible Studies and small groups specifically for this age group.
  6. The first month of school is the best time to make connections to local churches and faith-based campus organizations as most are actively seeking new students to engage.
  7. Remind your child of the ways their home church community has cared for them and your family through the years – remind them that a new church home can be this same source of support during this time in their life too.

Don’t be discouraged if, despite your efforts, your college student prefers to sleep in on Sunday mornings. They are experiencing a dramatic change in almost every area of life, including the opportunity to live out some adult freedom for the first time.  With gentle encouragement and honest conversation, you can play a role in helping them develop a faith that lasts over time.


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