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.
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.