3 Kinds of Students That Leave Christianity After High School

The words that no Christian parent or youth leader ever wants to hear

I just don’t believe what you believe anymore….These are words that no Christian parent or youth leader ever wants to hear. After this bombshell hits and the shockwaves subside, we wonder if something could have been different. What happened to this student who was so active in church growing up? After all, they never missed youth group. Sadly, this scenario is not the exception. Approximately 50 percent of students will disengage from their faith after they leave home.


While students have to ultimately choose whom they will follow, I think there is a lot we can do to reverse this trend. First, we need to better understand the students who leave their faith behind after graduation. As I’ve worked with high school and college students over the years and studied the research, there are three basic kinds of students that leave Christianity after high school.

The Christian Relativist

To understand this first type, meet Jennifer. Jennifer grew up in a Christian home and regularly attends church. Over time, she observes a lot of her friends and older Christians in her life saying one thing, but living another. The takeaway? Christianity is important to people for two hours on a Sunday morning, then it fades into the background the rest of the week.

As time passes, Jennifer comes to believe Christianity is just true for her because this is just what she personally believes and how she was raised. Faith kind of gets quiet in her life as she gets older. Jennifer doesn’t want to be judgmental or intolerant of what others sincerely believe. Picking up on the social cues around her, faith becomes comfortable and private. However, the moment this happens, Christianity loses its power and vitality because true Christianity, at its core, is a public faith. She doesn’t risk relationships to tell friends about Jesus or swim against the moral current with her everyday choices. Why rock the boat?

On the inside, the Christian relativist leaves real Christianity behind along the way without visibly casting off the label of being Christian. After all, faith is meant to be private anyway.

The Drifter

To understand the Drifter, meet Steven. Steven also grew up in a Christian home and regularly attended church. But over time, he began to have questions and doubts about his faith:

-Is God real?
-Doesn’t science and evolution put God out of a job?
-How is it rational for me to believe someone can come back from the dead when that goes against all of my experience?
-How do I know God really loves me?
-People are flawed and make mistakes, so how can God write a perfect Bible?
-If God were really good and powerful, then he would not allow this much evil and suffering in the world.
-I have friends who are gay; does God not love them?
-Does everyone who does not believe the way I believe go to Hell forever?

Searching YouTube and Google didn’t help, so he began asking the Christians in his life. Unfortunately, he quickly learned that “spiritual” Christians don’t ask such questions in church. Questions and doubts mean you have a lack of faith. So Steven learned to swallow his questions, doubts, and insecurities and came to a place where he really didn’t believe anymore. “This can’t be true,” he thinks. “It doesn’t make sense anymore.” He pretends to believe to make his family and youth pastor happy.

Steven never wanted this. He just outgrew his childhood faith. It was not big enough for him to take into the next stage of life. He needed more than just coloring pages and Bible stories. The drift continues on past high school, and only then, becomes visible to everyone else when he’s in a new community with newfound freedoms. Feeling a mixture of relief and loss, he doesn’t have to pretend anymore.

The Unconvinced

Meet Joey. Like Jennifer and Steven, Joey…. (Read the rest of the article at Crosswalk here)

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