I’m still here and loving It. Where did everyone else go? Why do so many drop out of church?

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Belonging to church has always been and continues to be a really important part of my life. Yet according to the 2008-09 International Social Science Survey, seven out of every 10 Australians who attended church monthly or more when aged 11 drop out of church life once they become adults. Why is it that we retain so small a proportion of childhood attenders?

The question is quite pointed for those of us in Australia for our dropout rates are much higher than the UK or the United States (71% of childhood attenders in Australia versus 57% in the UK and 47% in the USA) and young people who drop out in Australia are much more likely to say they no longer see themselves as Christians (46% young people in Australia versus 29% in the UK 25% in the USA).

The problem is long-standing. Across each ten year age cohort from 20 to 69 the dropout rate was between 69% and 83%. So it’s not a case of churches suddenly starting to lose all their young people when they retained them in the past. Rather it seems that for the last 70 years at least we’ve been losing people at pretty much the same rate. And nearly all of them are dropping out in the transition from childhood to adulthood.

There is then something about the way we are doing faith together that is failing to convince 7 out of every 10 people that it’s worthwhile sticking around. The challenge seems to be twofold. On the one hand half of those who drop out still consider themselves to be people of faith. For this group belonging to church simply doesn’t provide sufficient utility to make it worthwhile to continue belonging. The other half of those who drop out no longer consider themselves Christian. Despite belonging to our faith communities as children as they move into adulthood they are not convinced that Jesus is worth following.

This suggests we need to do some hard rethinking about how we help children transition to adulthood as people of faith and who find the church worth belonging to. If you’re one of the three in 10 of us who has stayed, I’d be interested to know why it is you stay. If you’re one of the seven in 10 who have left, I’d be keen to hear why you have done so.

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28 Comments on "I’m still here and loving It. Where did everyone else go? Why do so many drop out of church?"

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Marcus Arnold
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Mate church is so boring I can hardly drag my own sorry arse along. There is nothing there for my 19yo son, he doesn’t go at all and I dont blame him. Both of us love Jesus but we need to rethink how we do church.

Robert Howie
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Similar to Marcus. I love Jesus and try to live a life that follows his lead. But Church as in a Sunday gathering just drains me. Worhsip songs all sound the same and all seem to be in one style, the sermon is one person telling how I should interpret something rather than it being an open conversation and journey. There are too many people, there is talk of justice but no action on justice. I can’t handle it. I used to enjoy going to church but since being introduced to global poverty and standing for justice I find it… Read more »
Matt Darvas
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I think ‘enjoying’ Church has a lot to do with how much we serve in it and take on its responsibility and mandate to ‘reach the community’. I don’t always agree or personally favour some of the styles of worship / preaching / teaching in churches I’ve attended but I find that once I take personal responsibility for partaking in that church’s mission to engage the local and global community, that I can’t sit their and ‘knock it’ because I’m too much a part of it. That’s like knocking your own family for ‘sucking’ when its your own family you’re… Read more »
Sarah Pickering
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For me I honestly never found a church like edgeworth…. It had a nice balance and I felt comfortable to be just me. When you left I tried a few others and it just wasn’t the same

Robert Howie
Guest

I think some truths in that Matt Darvas but there is the added factor (for me) that I have spent the 15 years working for Christian NGO’s, community development organizations and community events. So my whole week is spent working for and being part of ‘the church’ the last thing I want to do on Sunday is more of it. I want to relax and have space

Robert Howie
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also Matt Darvas what the hell is with calling me Robert… am I in trouble>

Kim Burwood
Guest

I don’t always feel like going to church. Sometimes I want a break from everything and don’t feel like making the effort to socialise. However, when I make the effort to go I’m glad I did. Our church has great speakers who challenge me and help me grow. I grew up in church but my views have changed so much it seems I am a different person. My faith is more honest now. I’m comfortable with not knowing everything and don’t feel like I need to be a certain type of Christian to fit in.

Kim Burwood
Guest
Also, if I didn’t make the effort to go I wouldn’t have met some of the most incredible, warm and accepting people I know. I do believe our church is unique. It’s a place where we are all encouraged to get involved and use our gifts. Even our children are encouraged to be involved and as such their gifts develop and they become a true blessing to others. We are told in God’s word to keep meeting with believers and I can understand why. I feel sad for people who have a negative experience of church and as I have… Read more »
Cathie Howard
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I started going to church when I was about 6 but was out of there at 15. I didn’t really get it, it was boring back in the day and it made me feel bad about myself, and life outside church was more enticing. Some kids are not compliant and the urge to rebel is strong. I came back at 28 though because I did believe…

Peter Robert Green
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I started attending church when I was about 15, so I didn’t suffer the Transition Dropout thing, but I noticed that many of those who were already churchgoers did drop out over time. I think there are multiple reasons. Several dropped out because they married partners who pressured them not to attend church, particularly after children arrived. This was more often the case with women, but could affect men as well. Some had never been particularly involved even though they made a profession of faith.This tended to show up by their attending a Sunday service, often at night, and the… Read more »
Ben Mckinnon
Guest

i don’t go to church cause insiders is on

Ralph Reilly
Guest

I read in the bible that the church is important to Jesus, so, he leads me there. Most weeks.

Mel Harwin
Guest
I remember when I was studying teaching at uni a few years back, it was really important that the teacher of today adapted methods considering that young people being raised in a digital age averaged a 2.5min (don’t quote me) concentration time. I don’t know if the teaching methods of the church have adapted. That’s if you go to church for the teaching… If it’s for the relationship/community/fellowship…again If you are into routine and a structured community functions, with God and people, I think it will make sense to attend a weekly service or study that fits well with everyday… Read more »
Paul Banjo Fairlie
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For me ‘church’ never taught me actual life skills that I could use in the world. It is quite an insular institution, and when combined with going to a christian school you get a very skewed view of the world; there is a us & them mentality. Leaving a christian school was one of the best things for me, I met people who were more christlike and not christians than people I knew in the church, and that led me to question wether I want to be a christian or a good person – and they are different things. No… Read more »
Peter Robert Green
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When I hear, “Christian school”, alarm bells go off. I know some are better than others, but the bottom line in most cases seems to be a parental attitude, “I am afraid of the world out there; I am afraid of what it will do to my kids, and I have enough money to make them safe.” If that is the attitude they take to schooling, it will be the attitude they reinforce at church — nearly always a church with some connexion with the school. It is ultimately cultistic, and doesn’t help the children cope with the real world.… Read more »
Tania Harris
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I stay because I love sharing, discussing, growing with like-minded people who know God and who encourage me to know him more. But I also understand why people leave. As we grow older we feel the need genuine community, and sometimes I think, our churches struggle to provide that. (At least that has been the biggest reason for those in my circles who have left…)

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