May 24, 2005

Why Students Walk away from Christ and What Can be Done about It

Decline in Student Spirituality

When it comes to the spiritual life of college students, the statistics are not very encouraging. According to a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., after three years in college, the number of students who frequently attend religious services drops by 23 percent.[1] The study also confirms that 36 percent rated their spirituality lower after three years in college.

Another study, the “College Student Survey,” asked students to indicate their current religious commitment. Comparing the responses of freshmen who checked the “born again” category with the answers they gave four years later, we find that up to 59 percent no longer describe themselves as “born again.”[2] That’s a 60 percent fallout rate!

The numbers of students who no longer claim to be “born again” actually vary depending on the type of school they attend. For example, students atpublic universities drop out of the “born again” designation at the rate of 27 percent.Protestant colleges show 31 percent fewer “born agains” by their senior year! Those attendingprivate (secular) universities indicate a 45 percent decline. And interestingly,Catholic colleges have the highest percentage, where 59 percent no longer call themselves “born again.”

Even on colleges associated with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, 7 percent of “born again” freshmen renounce that description by their senior year! However you factor it, these are significant numbers!

Increase in Liberal Professors

These statistics validate that many students fall prey to the anti-Christian rhetoric of their professors. That most professors disdain Christianity is affirmed in the March, 2005 issue of theWashington Post. Quoting from a recent survey of college faculty, the article notes that 72 percent of professors and instructors in colleges across the U.S. are liberal.[3] That’s a marked increase from just 20 years ago, when those who identified themselves as liberal was only 39 percent. This, also, is in sharp contrast to a Harris poll which found that only 19 percent of the general public describe themselves as liberal.[4]

The Post article goes on to report that 51 percent of college faculty rarely or never attend church or synagogue, 84 percent are in favor of abortion, 67 percent accept homosexuality, and 65 percent want the government to ensure full employment! No wonder students are bolting from a commitment to Christian ideas; they simply believe what they are being taught.

Reversing the Trend

There is one bit of encouraging news coming out of the UCLA survey: after three years in college, 20 percent of students rated their spiritualityhigher. This indicates that at least some students are being helped through campus ministries, the remnant of Christian faculty, and organizations like Summit Ministries.[5]

What can we do as parents, educators, and church leaders to keep our young people from dropping out of church or converting to the “no longer born again” category?

First, we must understand that the battle is for the hearts and minds of students. For too long many churches have been content to focus on the emotions, shying away from a serious discipleship of the mind. Yet, Jesus said that loving God involves both heart and head (Matthew 12:29–30). And Paul, in Romans 12:1–2, insisted that serving God involves renewing the mind.

Second, our teaching should revolve around the fact that Christianity is a robust faith, and when it comes to life’s most pressing issues, we have answers that are superior to all other philosophies. As the Apostle Paul put it, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.”“[6]

And third, we must teach students that Christianity is a comprehensive world and life view. This means explaining the reality of God’s truth in every area: from philosophy and science, ethics and economics, to psychology, sociology, law and, yes, even politics. In this way, no matter what course a student takes, he or she will be able to discern when the professor is presenting an anti-biblical bias.

With biblically-based convictions firmly etched in their minds, Christian students will be prepared to stand firm against the deceptive worldviews of our day. With this kind of preparation, the downward spiral of spirituality can be reversed, and when future surveys are taken, more students will respond on the positive side of the spiritual ledger.

  1. Quoted in the report, Preliminary Findings on Spiritual Development and the College Experience: A Longitudinal Analysis (2000–2003).
  2. Taken from the “College Student Survey.” Cooperative Institutional Research Program, U.C.L.A.
  3. “College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds,” By Howard Kurtz,Washington Post, Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page C01.
  4. THE HARRIS POLL® #8, February 13, 2002, Party Identification: Democrats Still Lead, But Their Lead (5 Points) Is As Low As It Has Ever Been. Online article:
  5. For information on Summit’s Student Worldview Conferences, click here.
  6. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV).

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