Why Post-High School Teens Leave the Church – Repost


It’s August here in America and school has started once again. Everyone has moved up and grade and is excited for the up-and-coming year.

What we might have forgotten is that a whole group of teens have just recently graduated and are in college. It is at this point we find out if their faith they professed in High School is real. For many, the mask comes off and we see the ugliness of sin that has always been there. How does this happen? How can a “good” kid go off to college and then leave the church and the faith? Why do so many students leave the church (and therefore Christianity) after High School?

This is an excellent question and one of which many a youth pastor and parent has had to wrestle with. I believe I answer is simple and biblical: the #1 reason why students leave the church and their confessed “faith” in Jesus is because they were never truly Christians.

Let me remind you what happens when a person is truly saved by God’s grace.

  • They are reconciled to God that gives eternal peace between them & God (2 Cor 5:18-20).
  • They are forever forgiven of all past & future sins (Col 2:13).
  • They have gone from being dead in their sins to being alive to a newness of life (Eph 2:1-10).
  • They were a slave to sin, but now are free from slavery to God (Rom 6).
  • They have become the children of God (John 1:12-13)—that is, sons forever (Gal 3:26-4:7).
  • Sin is no longer a Christian’s master (Col 1:13) and therefore they are not obligated to obey (Rom 6:14-18).
  • They are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5;8:9) to be pleasing to God.
  • They possess every spiritual blessing from God in order to accomplish the work God has started in them, to which God will complete (Eph 1:3;2 Pet 1:3Phil 1:6).

The Bible is absolutely clear: when a person is truly saved, their life is completely different and it will show fruit (John 15:16). There will be a change, a gradual growth because God the Spirit is empowering and working obedience to the Word of God through the believer. Their life becomes increasingly holy which is becoming more and more like their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (John 17:17,192 Cr 3:18; 1 Thess 4:3,45:23). Sin is still very present in a believer’s life, but for the believer it is a daily conflict (Gal 5:16-25Phil 3:12Col 3:9-101 Pet 1:14-161 John 3:5-9). Whereas when they were still dead in their sins, giving into selfish sin was all they knew and loved it (Rom 6:16).

You may reply: “but that student who fell away after high school did show fruit!”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of counterfeit “Christians” whose bearing fruit is nothing more than a pretense, a performance. We can become experts at the routines, the lingo, and “acting Christian,” while experiencing no real power and bearing no eternal fruit. Our hearts remain self-centered, angry, and joyless even while we go through the motions of serving God. When we love, desire, pursue, and fear the same things that the rest of the world does, we are not abiding in Christ, even though our lives may be full with church-related activity. And, often, we don’t realize that we are living fruitless lives (1 John 2:15–17).

And this is the reality of every professing “Christian” teenager who walks out the door of the church after they walk across the stage to receive their diploma. The Apostle John says it best: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

Simply put: those who are genuinely born again endure in faith and fellowship and the truth (Rom 8:31-371 Cor 11:192 Tim 2:12). A permanent departure from the church is a departure from the truth and that is their true self; a true self they had been hiding under the veneer of pleasing parents, or friends, or whoever. In reality, their heart was never converted, they never hated sin, they never loved God or the things of God, and that is why they left. They left because their “people” are not God’s people, the church, and their god was not the one true living God (1 Thess 1:9; cf. Ruth 1:15-16).

This is a sobering reminder that I, as a youth pastor, need to be regularly praying for my students that God would open their blind eyes and break their hard hearts and would respond to the glorious saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that many of them don’t want to be at church or Wednesday night youth group and for many others it is just a show, even to them. But while they are under my pastoral care, I want them to hear the truth of the Gospel, understand its life-changing power, show the love of God in my life, and continue to pray for their conversion. By God’s grace, this is what I am committed to.

Will you do the same with the young people in your church? I hope so.

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About Greg Peterson

Greg received his B.A. from Moody Bible Institute in Bible & Theology and his M. Div and Th. M. from The Master's Seminary. Greg has served in various areas of the church, including youth (10+ years), senior adults, events, and choir. Greg currently serves as the co-pastor at Anchor Bible Church in Nw Arkansas -- a church plant as of July 2020. AR. Greg also is the co-host of the "Local Church Matters" podcast. Greg is married to Michelle.