Top 5 Reasons Most College Students Give Up their Christian Faith

(Adapted from a 2007 article by John Stonestreet and Chuck Edwards)

We talk a lot about young people walking away from the church, abandoning their Christian beliefs. The research is scary – studies show that as many as 70% of Christian students leave the church during college. Here are the top five reasons we believe (from talking with hundreds of parents, pastors, and youth workers) most students give up their Christian identity in college.

  1. No Grounding — At best, many young believers don’t know why they believe what they believe. Often, those who think they do have never had their foundation of faith seriously challenged. Worst, many 18- to 25-year-olds have no hold on what Christianity actually teaches at all. In fact, The Barna Group’s research on the matter concludes that “less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation — i.e., those aged 18 to 23 — have a biblical worldview.”
  2. Sexualization of the University — Here, the statistics are just as disheartening. The stories of broken lives that come from casual sexual encounters discourage even the most optimistic of us. Derek Rishmawy writes at Patheos about the issue saying, “The Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more ‘doubtful’ for some [Millennials] once they’d had sex.”
  3. Anti-Christian Bias at the University — Public high schools are no breeding ground for discipleship but they are often far better than what is found at most secular universities. University of North Texas sociology professor George Yancey authored Christianophobia and spoke pointedly about the anti-Christian bias in the academy on Summit’s podcast. It should be no surprise that ungrounded, untested Christian students are bolting from a commitment to Christian ideas. They’re simply believing what they are being taught in class.
  4. Christianity Was Made Irrelevant — Many students who grew up in the church have either hurtful experiences with their church or no truly relevant experiences with their church at all. The once-a-week, every Wednesday night attendance didn’t translate into commitment. An hour or two each week wasn’t enough to overcome the thousands of other attractive but counterfeit opportunities that fulfilled students’ deep needs and created feelings of belonging, worth, and identity.
  5. No Community — For those that have made it through the gauntlet of the first four pitfalls, they get to campus and find no support. My colleagues working in the Summit Alumni Network and friends at InterVarsity, Navigators, and Young Life would counter that this is their own fault — and who could argue? For whatever reason a student chooses not to engage in Christian community on campus, that student is like the lone gazelle on the African plains: an easy target.

So what do we do?

Here are a number of resources to get you started on the journey to strengthening faith — your own or the faith of a student you know.