Are the Churches of Christ Declining? More Goods News and Bad News, Part 3

Christian colleges

One of the most fascinating parts of Yeakley’s “Good News and Bad News” is his study of retention rates of children in the Churches of Christ. How many who graduate high school as a Church member stay in the Churches 10 years later?

Of those who enroll in a Church-affiliated university, Yeakley finds that 83.5% were members of a Church of Christ 10 years later. 90% are active members of a Christian denomination. The rest are either inactive or have left the faith altogether.

Compare this to about 65% for high school students in total, and it’s obvious that the Christian colleges are doing something right. Of course, such an education largely appeals to students who are committed to their faith, so the credit may go more to committed teenagers self-selecting for a Christian college. But no matter how you look at it, the colleges are certainly doing a creditable job of helping our students remain faithful.

Yeakley does not provide statistics for students who get involved in a Christian student ministry at a secular university, so no comparison is possible. However, he does say that the number one indicator of how likely a student is to remain faithful is whether the student becomes involved in a local church while in college. This certainly argues strongly for campus ministries based in a local congregation.

Ironically, it’s sometimes easier to get involved in a local church at a secular school than at a Christian college. I attended Lipscomb, which I loved. But we had chapel and Bible class every day. It was hard to go to church on Sundays, just to sit through another chapel and Bible class!

And the local churches were overwhelmed with the number of college students. They tried to accommodate us, but it’s just hard for that many students to get involved in local churches.

I’m presently an elder in a church with a campus ministry to the University of Alabama, and my church works hard to involve students in our congregation while they’re here. But I have no idea what the retention rate is (so many students drop out of school or never even attend church, it’s tough to figure). But students who get involved generally mature in Christ, and we’ve had many go into the mission field or become fulltime ministers.

Therefore, parents, encourage your college students to get involved in a local church while in school. Not everyone can afford a Christian college education. And there are many majors the Christian colleges don’t offer. Just try to point your children to a school with an active campus ministry — and a church that will take your students in and be a good example for them.

Youth ministry

Another important statistic is the fact that churches with active youth ministries have higher retention rates than churches that do not. This is true even if the church has no youth minister. The important thing is that the church has a program aimed at teenagers beyond classes and worship services.


Surprisingly, the churches with challenging adult curricula retain their teens better than churches that “just rehearsed doctrine week after week without ever being expected to study and learn anything new.” But it makes sense. Parents who have a vibrant, living faith will have children more committed to the faith.

Also important to retention is the parents’ level of involvement in church work. If both parents are active in church work, the retention rate is over 80%. But if only one parent is active, the rate is 50%! When neither parent is active, the retention rate is in the 20 to 30% range. “Active” means regular in attendance plus having a specific area of ministry. Mere attendance doesn’t get it.

I’ve taught for years, based on observation, that it’s especially important that the father be active in ministry — and that the children see that it’s so. It’s hard to raise a boy to care about church if dad just goes through the motions.


As is surely no surprise, those Church members who marry within the Church are much more likely to stay in the Church than those who do not. This is surely one reason the Christian colleges produce such high retention rates!


If you want your children to grow up to be faithful Christians, make sure both parents are active in church. Make sure the kids see dad involved in more than attendance.

If they go to college, encourage them to get involved in church, particularly a church that has a heart for college students that will encourage them while they’re there.

And a Christian college is great help. But it’s not essential and not always possible.

Speaking from many observations, if you send your kid to a Christian college to be reformed, it won’t work. It’s too late. Well, it does work sometimes, but not often.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Are the Churches of Christ Declining? More Goods News and Bad News, Part 3

  1. Donna says:

    I think our children can grow up to be strong Christians even if they choose to leave the CofC. I know this series is about retention but sometimes leaving is the ONLY choice, My son is super involved in another area church, and I am grateful because to me the important thing is his relationship to God….not to a "tradition".

  2. Alan says:

    Here's a reference to a great sermon by Voddie Baucham (a Baptist preacher) on the subject of retaining children in the church.

    Note, the sermon you want is now #8 on the drop-down list (rather than #7 as the reference says). Believe me, this sermon is worth your time.

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    Because of the ways that Flavil gathered his data by mailing out questionnaires to a selected 3000 churches of Christ he missed a lot of people who have left the churches of Christ either for other churches of no public faith at all. However at the local congregational level this research is irrelevant in an attempt to apply some global macroscopic approach to evaluating a local churches ability to pour spirituality and faith into their offspring make life long growing disciples of them. Each individual congregation should sit down with their directories for the past 20 years and look at the children that spent years 0-10 (the most formidable in thinking and character) in a typical church of Christ. Then find out where they are now in relation to public and private faith. This number has much more significance and meaning for a local congregation than some brotherhood wide number. It forces a local church to deal with the good the bad and the ugly of its own reality in making disciples of their offspring.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    You are quite right. I've issued that challenge on Church of Christ forums before and received a collective yawn. My experience is that we'd rather argue over MDR than do an honest self-evaluation.

    At my own church, we've not run any numbers (it would be too depressing), but we have made some serious efforts to improve in this area because we know we need to. We don't need a census to see this particular problem.

    (I do want to emphasize that this isn't about trying to keep the kids in the CoC so much as in the faith. Teen and college years are critical times.)

    We have hired a married couple as co-youth ministers. It helps if the girls have a female presence on staff.

    Our campus minister and youth ministers work to coordinate the "hand off" of teens to the college ministry.

    We've started a singles ministry, as so many of our single college students graduate and stay in town.

    And both the youth and campus ministries are moving to a model of trying to mature our students in the faith, rather than the old-style attractional model.

    And the early results are positive.

  5. Joe Baggett says:

    Sadly it is very depressing. The only reason I suggested doing this was that some need that type of brutal reality to see the problem and shake themselves from their self delusion.

    However many such as yourself have noticed this to be a serious issue for some time. My only suggestion is this. People are most significant formed from years 0-5 then 5-10 mostly by their parents. So the real training and emphasis needs to be with parents with children in this age and parents to be, teaching them to teach and train their children.

  6. Alan says:

    I know it's hard to find time to llisten to an online sermon… The sermon linked in my previous comment takes the position that it is the parents' responsibility to teach (evangelize) their children, and that the role of the church is to support the parents in that (by equipping the parents). The point is made quite strongly that hiring a "cool" teen minister (because the parents aren't getting the job done) is the wrong solution. Instead the solution is to strengthen and equip the parents. I'm not doing justice to the sermon but it makes some very strong and convicting points along those lines.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    I most heartily agree that the parents have the overwhelming weight of responsibility. The church's place is to support their work.

    This earlier post:
    points out some of my disaffection with fashionable youth ministry styles of late.

    We teach parenting on a regular basis, both in the classrooms, through weekend seminars, and bulletin articles. And we need to do more.

    But we have to also realize that we have many kids on our youth programs who have no Christian parents. In that case, the burden of bringing them up in the Lord is entirely on the church.

  8. Alan says:

    I don't know how I missed that article!

    We are attacking the problem from multiple angles. We have a deacon focused exculsively on helping teen parents, and another deacon working with the middle school. We have a married couple who work with the teens (meanwhile we are "in the market" for a full time teen minister). Our teens do a lot of service projects (feeding the homeless, taking service-oriented mission trips, week-long trips to help with Katrina cleanup, etc). We also have a summer camp that our teens love (staffed by parents and other adult members of our congregation and others in the area). The summer camp in particular has changed many, many lives. We have a mentoring program, where teens are matched up with older adults in the congregation. Our teens are serving alongside adult lead teachers in our children's teaching program. etc… All of those things together have a cumulative effect, but I think in the long term, working with the parents is the key.

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    Here are some questions to provide some perspective.

    Involvement, ministry and programs are not the equivalent of spiritual growth. I had an experience similar to the one that you mention in the "middle of the road" church I grew up in. We went to Mexico Mission, Sing at the nursing home, etcetera. Out of my graduating class I am one of five out of 25 that still goes to church regularly anywhere. So the solution I would suggest does not exist in more activity or involvement or ministries but rather the perspective with which those things are done. I believe that elders should spend more time one on one discipling young parents in these areas.

    Do young parents pray with their children about things that really matter not just thank you for the food?

    Do all parents allow their children to question what they have been taught and study the bible with an open mind? Do they present the evidence and arguments to faith in Jesus and eventually let their children believe for themselves?

    Do young parents take their children to serve others? Especially people who are not like them by race by socio-economic group?

    Do young parents have people over to their house to eat churched and unchurched?

    Do young parents let their children see the vulnerable side of their faith that is real and authentic?

    Do young parents train and teach their children how to love others especially those who are not just like them?

    Do young parents teach their children to be peace makers?

    The list can go on for a long time.

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