There is a well-known statistic that tells us that 80% of youth stop attending church after they graduate high school. As a parent, that’s the most horrifying statistic in the world to me! Let me bring that closer to home, that means, in a church youth group with 20 kids, over 15 will no longer go to church after they graduate. In a home, 3 out of 4 of our kids statistically will forsake fellowship by the time they’re 18. The cry of all of our hearts should be “why”?!

I have heard many theories of why they leave: New temptations in college—no mom and dad bubble to be a governor for their sinful nature, exposure to new faiths and skeptical questions, not being properly discipled at home, going to youth group, not going to youth group, not sufficiently understanding creationism, etc. While these are real issues, I don’t believe any of them are the reason they quit church.

RootsI spoke with a youth pastor friend who spent half of his life serving youth full-time, and with the first-hand empirical evidence of years of leading, watching, mentoring, equipping, and counseling teenagers he said that he can confidently say that most of them were NOT SAVED. They didn’t read the Bible regularly, they didn’t share their faith, many were sexually active, many experimented with drugs, they didn’t fight for godly fellowship, they were not givers, dated unbelievers, and the list of goat-like qualities goes on. They simply hadn’t been translated from darkness to light. They didn’t drift away from God after high school; they weren’t with God during high school. They drifted away from “church.”

The real question should be, how can we help our kids clearly understand the gospel—the power of God to salvation, and then equip them to live as believers?

Many of our youth genuinely don’t understand the gospel, the whole counsel of God, and we often just presume that they do. And many churches and homes have not taught our teens that an essential, fundamental part of being a disciple is sharing the gospel, and then equipped them for that adventurous task.

Ray Comfort is an evangelist, author and founder of Living Waters Publications and The Way of the Master. “Roots” is a 6-week video-driven youth evangelism curriculum based on Season 4 of “The Way of the Master” TV program, which was filmed throughout Europe.

For many students, college is a time of personal and intellectual discovery. On a fresh autumn day, it is easy to remember the first brisk days of school and all of the excitement that came with the discovery of learning and making new friends. In recent years, much attention has been paid to the apparent lack of religious commitment among college students.

Some say the college experience is to blame, while others cite intellectual skepticism as the source. Others say that the statistics are misleading and that students are simply worshiping and studying faith in new ways – independently or within student ministries. Regardless, intellectual skepticism seems to be a topic of conversation worth addressing, as it pertains to students and parishioners alike.

New College Students Experience New Intellectual Demands.

College is a transitional time for students, not only socially, but intellectually. Derek Melleby, with the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding wrote in a 2008 article that churches need to focus on preparing students for life after college by teaching them to learn to think.

“Many students lack critical thinking skills, failing to take what knowledge is at their disposal to form their own beliefs and convictions. We must continually create space for students to wrestle with the big questions of life. College should not be the first time that students engage in abstract or deep thinking, but for many students it is. Critical thinking and Christian discernment are spiritual disciplines that need to be developed. Like anything worthwhile in life, the developmental process takes time and is difficult,” he writes.

In 2010, the American Family Association held the panel discussion “Church Droupout: Overcoming the Youth Exodus.” The panel found that intellectual skepticism was the key factor in the cited 75% dropout rate. But is higher education really to blame?

Wait a minute. What exactly is critical thinking?

Before continuing, let’s review what critical thinking actually is and why it can be difficult to apply in a religious setting.

Critical thinking is a type of reasonable, reflective thinking that is aimed at deciding what to believe or what to do. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false. – Compliments of

In order to apply critical thinking skills to religion, it is necessary to consider the possibility of fallacy. That’s right. In order to become a critically thinking Christian, we have to listen to arguments against our beliefs. This is incredibly hard because it can be intensely offensive! Imagine if someone came up to you and began insisting that God is imaginary?

When Christians lack critical thinking skills developed in regard to their faith, it is easier for anti-Christians to make false claims to logical and rational thinking. Christians who have committed time, research and reflection to their beliefs are better prepared to apply critical thinking skills to anti-Christian attacks; but they have also experienced the blessing of being intellectually confident in their beliefs.

Intellectual Christians

It is entirely possible for Christians to defend their beliefs using critical thinking; however, there are always limitations in logic when discussing faith. By its very nature, faith is mysterious and beyond experiment. That is something we, as Christians, accept and revere.

However, critical thinking is often absent from church environments, especially evangelical churches. The shades between intellectualism and religiosity are often painted in black and white, and, somehow, political views have begun to creep into the evangelical faith to define beliefs outside of the church doctrine. The pressure to conform to all church community views can sometimes squash disagreement and dialogue; and those who hold the majority beliefs simply view (and portray) the opposition as wrong.

If students can’t find answers to their intellectual questions at church, where will they go? Friends, professors, the Internet? What can youth groups do to help high school and college students develop critical thinking in terms of faith?

Doubt, like temptation, is something that young adults must learn to face. A Christian who is unprepared to face doubt may never return to the church.

Mariana Ashley is a blogger and freelance writer for She offers advice for choosing the perfect online program for prospective students and parents and welcomes comments via email at

It’s no secret that many young people leave the church and their faith. The lesser-known fact is that many keep their faith but leave because they don’t see the Body of Christ as essential to their walk with Jesus.

That’s an untruth we must attack if we are to train young people up in the way of God. But how? That’s what this book is all about.

Yes, we are lights to the lost. But we must never lose sight of the fact that we are lights to one another as well, including those living lukewarm lifestyles. Believers stuck in mediocrity need to see passionate followers of Jesus in action—both in word and deed. And passionate followers of Jesus must practice unconditional love to their unlovely brothers and sisters.

We have a stake in each others walk with Jesus. We either grow together, or cut down each other. Going it alone spiritually isn’t right unless specifically called by God.

Question For You: What does this mean for you and your ministry?

Music sets a tone. The weather sets a tone. Sentence structure sets a tone. And people? People really set a tone. The problem is that many young people don’t see the power in Christ they have as tone-setters. Instead, they

  • Tell others that they want to make a difference in the world, but ignore the little differences they could make along the way.
  • Grumble at the headiness of their congregation, but refuse to speak up about head-knowledge Christianity.
  • Wonder why the church doesn’t provide ministries, but never think of starting one.

Imagine the impact we’d have if we all lived as tone-setters for Jesus—not only outside but also inside the church. Imagine throwing off fear. Choosing to love. And encouraging others in the ways of the King.

Question For You: What would it mean for you and your ministry to tone-set for Jesus inside the church?

Caleb Breakey is the author of two forthcoming books with Harvest House Publishers, and is currently raising pledges to create a DVD Series about “Following Jesus Without Leaving the Church.” If you are interested in his project, please check out his page RIGHT HERE. As of this posting, he’s raised $6,271 of the needed $9,000 to create the DVD Series. Leave a comment and you will be entered into a drawing of Logos Bible Software: Leaders Library ($325 value). Winner will be chosen at random next week!


This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.


This one is tough: How do you tell students you’re leaving the church? There’s no easy way to break the news, but here are a few ideas to consider when you’re in this situation.

Tell your inner circle first.
Gather up your key volunteers and break the news to them first; no doubt some of them will be disappointed, discouraged, or even frustrated/angry, but they deserve to hear it from you first. They trust you, so they trust God’s Spirit in you, but leaving is difficult on everyone—and it will be especially challenging for them. Take in the moment, share in the tears, and give them the privilege of hearing it from you and first.

Tell the rest quickly.
Don’t make those faithful few carry it for too long—plus, once it is out there word travels extremely fast. Have a resignation letter/statement already prepared and work with your leadership to figure out the appropriate channels for distribution.

Prepare for a few common questions.
It wouldn’t hurt for you to think ahead of a few questions you might experience in a follow-up meeting or conversation. A few things that we’ve been asked:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Do you love them more than us?
  • So what’s the real story behind you leaving?
  • I feel betrayed by your decision. Can you help me understand how God led you to leave us?
  • What’s going to happen to the youth group without you?

Understand the real pain your students are experiencing.
You may be excited about you departure, but before you deliver the news, understand the genuine pain this causes many of your students. You are leaving. You are leaving us. You are leaving me. You’ve had months to process it, but they’re hearing it for the first time. Let them process the news, too, and be prepared for tears, anger, and confusion. This is a great chance to show grace under fire.

Give words as your parting gifts.
Instead of giving into the temptation of taking shots when you leave, work hard to give words of affirmation and belief to the students, volunteers, and church as a whole. If the church chooses to honor you for your time serving the church, turn it back on them and praise them for doing the work of the ministry that will long outlast your tenure.

Help them follow Jesus, not the youth pastor.
Sometimes students get this confused, so point them to Jesus every day while you serve and continue to point them there as you leave. When we follow a human, only one thing is for sure: We are going to be disappointed.

Any other words of advice/experience to share with those that are about to tell their students the news?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

How to Leave Well

 —  May 11, 2012 — 6 Comments

Leaving a church is a tough decision. You’ve already weighed, deliberated, and debated the decision for months (or perhaps very briefly and acted impulsively) and the transition plan is quickly coming together. You want to leave well…but how do you do that? It’s challenging even under the best circumstances. And even if you’re leaving under tension, there’s no reason to let students, volunteers, and friends get caught in the crossfire of an ugly departure. Here are a few ways we think you can leave well no matter the situation.

Announce it far and wide.
People need to hear it from you—so make sure when you go public you make the reach as far as possible. Not to add to the drama but to make sure that people hear it from an official channel instead of through the prayer chain, errr….grapevine. If you talk about it in church on Sunday, by Monday morning it should be on Facebook and the church Web site just so it stops confusion and slows down rumors.

Keep the transition short but sweet.
Once you know, and your leadership knows, shorter is usually better. Although we love to romanticize the idea of the handoff and peaceful transition of power, an abbreviated timeline is usually the best route. Once you announce things you’ll be perceived as “halfway in” and a lame duck, so a graceful exit is preferred. By the way, has anybody ever actually seen a “lame duck”? Just wonderin’.

Maintain unity.
We aren’t suggesting you hide the truth, but we are begging you to protect the fragile unity of God’s church. Don’t dare to think your exit is a time to grandstand for change and call for resignations. Leave in the spirit of unity and you’ll never regret it. Not everybody deserves or needs to know the “whole story.”

Really leave.
You’ve made the transition plan public, quick, and abundantly clear—now stick to it! Resist the urge to babysit the students. Fight the arrogant belief that no one will care about them when you’re gone—God loves them far more than you do and will watch over his children. Besides, you always said you were working yourself out of a job, so here’s your chance to see how you did. Don’t meddle; it isn’t your place anymore. Resist the urge to ask friends and former students how the “new guy/girl” is doing. Don’t let yourself become critical of changes he or she begins to make in your absence.

Pray for the church.
The church will go on without you. In fact, it may even thrive once you’re gone. Oftentimes staff transition allows the leadership of the church to be more focused in their vision and retool any errant plans to accomplish that vision. And while it may hurt when something you built from the ground up gets unceremoniously axed, pray that God will further his Kingdom while your Empire crumbles. Besides, if you really leave like we suggested above you won’t know they changed things!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

I really enjoyed reading Thom Shultz’s Holy Soup take on why students are leaving the church post-high school. There’s been so much discussion about this issue I enjoyed a fresh angle on how to help fix it. Here’s a clip, head there for his complete thoughts:

So, why are our young people losing faith in the church and God? It’s a relationship problem. They don’t think of Jesus as their friend. He’s a concept or an historical figure. He’s an academic subject that their churches teach. And once they graduate from youth group, they forget about the Jesus subject—just as they forget about their other high school subjects. Jesus gets left behind with algebra and early American literature.

Ironically, many youth ministry analysts suggest that the cure to the young’s exodus is . . . more academic religious knowledge. They insist what’s really needed is “deeper study,” “stronger biblical teaching,” and “more robust theology.”

Thorough Bible knowledge is a good thing. I’d like to see more of it. My organization publishes Bibles and Bible resources. But kids aren’t walking away from the church because they lack an adequate accumulation of Bible facts.

They lack relationship. And relationships—of any kind—rarely grow and bond primarily due to the accumulation of data. Relationships—with people and with God—develop through demonstrations of unconditional love, building of trust, forgiveness, reliance, and tons of two-way communication.


We’ve all heard it. Finding a job is tough in this economy when so many people are out of work. Youth Ministry is no exception. Most of us who have steady youth ministry jobs are staying put, but for a lot of us that simply isn’t an option. So while finding a good Church in this tough economic climate may seem tough, it’s not impossible. In fact, I’ve done it twice.

The first time was in 2008, when the markets first collapsed. My salary as a Youth and Children’s minister was payed out of the interest generated by an endowment. I used to joke that I was the “June Jolly Memorial Youth Pastor”. The fund stopped generating interest and my salary money evaporated over night. I walked into the office one morning and was told that I was being let go immediately. I got on my denomination’s website and there were NO youth ministry jobs in my home state of Kentucky. I had a strong sense, though, that this was my life’s purpose and that if I exhausted every effort to remain in ministry, God would honor that and make up the difference. I wound up moving to North Carolina where, until just recently, I served as a Youth and Children’s Minister at a larger Church and with a raise in salary. But that was after several months of earnest search and “loser days” sitting in our apartment watching bills pile up while my wife bore the weight.

As I write this, I am avoiding the chore of packing up my office. Next week I am moving to my new Church in Virginia. Last fall, my wife’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a fatal illness of the blood and bone marrow. He was given three years to live. After much prayer and soul searching, my wife and I decided that we needed to move closer to home. Seeing our family only two or three times a year was no longer right for us. Our current Church was really supportive when we decided that we would begin looking for a new Church family. I kept them in the loop early and often in my decision making process and they allowed me to remain employed while I looked for another Church. In exchange, I have been able to aid the Church in their transition to a new youth pastor. It has been a bittersweet process but we have somehow managed to keep a family here in North Carolina while acquiring a new one in Virginia. Through these experiences, I learned a couple of truths that may be helpful to anyone exploring the possibility of making a move in THIS economy.

1. Be Transparent. Let your Church know what you are thinking and feeling (assuming this is an environment that is not so toxic that this isn’t a real possibility), and let them know that you are going to begin looking for another ministry, but that for the time you remain committed to this one and will do everything in your power to aid a smooth and graceful transition. (If you are fearing your job may not be around for much longer, knowing you are leaving willingly in a couple of months may save your Church from having to make an abrupt decision).

2. Fish on the other side of the boat!
There’s plenty of youth ministry jobs if you are willing to look beyond your usual spot! I didn’t want to look outside of my denomination but that meant I had to look outside my home state. Maybe you are attached to home but not to a denomination. Decide what you value and don’t get hung up on the rest! I have a Caucasian friend who is at an all African American church. They love him to death (but tease him to no end)! How many of us would overlook an opportunity we thought was for “somebody else”.

3. Distinguish yourself.
If you can make a resume in the form of a comicbook (along with your real “grown up” one), a video resume with youth testimonials, or write an eloquent essay, or whatever your thing is… DO IT! You’ll get an interview.

4. Go the extra mile. My Church in North Carolina still talks about how I drove 8 hours to be present for a job interview when they offered to do it over the phone.

5. Be willing to say, “NO.” Just because a Church is open does not mean it’s where you need to be. I visited a church several months ago where the pastor was really impressed with me. I knew I would have the job if I wanted it. But as he took me around and showed me the facility, he whispered conspiratorially about all the political back and forth in the congregation: who didn’t like the gym and why, how pastor so and so toe the congregation in half, and how they had fired the youth pastor (an older man) but hired him as the janitor (awkward…). Oh, and you’ll be the latest in a line of two year youth pastors dating back to 1992 when St. Awesome left. RED FLAG!!! Driving home, I told my wife, “I know you’re in a hurry to be home, but there were definite signs of dysfunction. I think we’d be miserable there.” The next morning, the Pastor from the Church that eventually hired me called. You don’t want to be moving again in two or three years, so make sure you are moving where God wants you to move.

I hope these thought were helpful to everyone who is in a similar situation of having to pursue God’s will in the midst of a really tough market. In the end, though, this economy isn’t really different than any other economy. God always takes care of those whom He has called and if we pray in humility and follow His direction, He will show us what He has for us. Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and the other stuff will work itself out. But to be on the safe side, my mother would want you to know that you should wear a tie to your interview.

Danny Nettleton
is a youth pastor and blogger who originally wrote an incredible comment on this post that turned into a request for the full guest post you just read.