I've heard it said that 70% of kids in youth groups stop attending church during college and about half of those never go back.
I've read articles about why the youth leave the church and there are two basic schools of thought, one more conservative, the other more liberal about how we really reach the youth. The way I see it we've tried just about everything. We've thrown away the liturgy and turned worship into something similar to the fancy trappings of a rock concert, substituted meaningful hymns with uplifting and exciting contemporary music, we create amazing youth rooms to entice them, provide social activities, we teach them everything we can think of every way we can teach it, we give opportunities for service events, mission trips, indoor games, outdoor games, Bible studies, youth gatherings, and discipleship training. We offer God's rules for a content life, have deep conversations about life choices, create opportunities for life-long friendships, and yet they're still searching and they're still leaving. Huh.
Sometimes we forget that even in high school kids are still kids. They aren't as mature as they dress or want you to believe, they're smart but their hormones and feelings still often override their common sense. They know what they want but not what they need and are willing to manipulate the situation to get it. As wise as they may be on occasion, they still don't have real world experience. They have their world experience and their world is primarily social and split between their friends and their family and they are extremely motivated by seeing their friends and interacting with the opposite sex. Does faith grow in spite of that? Thank God and the Holy Spirit, yes.
If you want to know why they don't continue to go to church during college it's probably as simple as because it's inconvenient and their friends aren't there. They're still kids and it's the first time they're responsible for themselves and let's be honest, many of them didn't attend church to begin with. They attended the youth group. Does faith grow in spite of that? Thank God and the Holy Spirit, yes.
If you want to know why they don't continue to go to church after college the answer is probably just as simple. It's because their family (whatever it looks like) didn't instill that importance in them. Think about it. When you got the Sunday School award for attendance, had to learn how to sit still next to your parents week after week, had friends in Sunday School who went to confirmation class with you and now attend the youth group, know your pastor's name and he knows yours, grew up with your mom or dad singing in the choir, are told you can skip church if you don't feel well but then can't play with friends later because you're sick, sang the hymns and liturgy until you learned them by heart, it has a tendency to become a part of you... and a part of your life.
Keeping teenagers in church after their teenage years is a family commitment made long before their teenage years. How often do we say that out loud to parents?