Dropping Out of Church

The major entry point into the life of the church is in childhood. Most people who attend church today began their attendance as young children, under the influence of their families. However, as has always been the case, many children cease to attend, some before they reach the end of primary school, others in secondary school, and others after their years of schooling. A few return to church when they have their own children. Others return when they feel a personal need for what the church can provide. Many never return. From the perspective of keeping the involvement of people in the life of the church, the most important time is through the teenage years. The following article provides some further data on drop-out rates.

About two-thirds of all Australians aged 50 and over have a memory of attending church frequently when they were 11 or 12 years old. Most of those who did not attend every week went to church occasionally. This would suggest that up to about 1970, two-thirds of Australian children were attending Sunday School or church, at least for a short period in their lives. The big changes occurred in the 1970s when it became less common for children to attend a church. There has always been a significant ‘drop-out’ rate. Indeed, many older Australians remember that they were taken to Sunday School by their parents, but their parents did not go to church themselves. There was an expectation that the children would pick up Christian values in the Sunday School, but they did not need to continue to attend church.

There are many factors which influence the decisions of children and young people to attend or not attend church. Among the most important are the influences of family and friends. In the background are cultural factors: the general sense among young people that this is something about which they can make choices, the awareness that other people do or do not go to church. In many non-Anglo communities which have a strong communal culture, young people continue to attend church. Many of these factors are beyond the control of the church.

However, there are some factors over which churches may have control. The extent to which they encourage the development of groups in which children have a place is important. Young people who find friends at church are more likely to continue to attend than those who do not develop circles of friends at church. In the long-term, young people continue to attend because they find something meaningful within the life of the church, something that contributes to their sense of what life is about.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 19-20

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