3 Reasons College Students Walk Away from Faith

This is a guest post by Corey Harrison, one of the apprentices in the campus ministry I lead.

“I’m not a Christian anymore.” For many in today’s church, these are more than just words. They conjure up painful memories, faces and names of people who once held vibrant faiths, but who now want little or nothing to do with church. 

courtesy pexels.com

courtesy pexels.com

Across all denominations, the number of young adults who have discarded Christianity for atheism, agnosticism, or “nothing in particular” has risen sharply, and continues to climb.

I asked a few of the students in our ministry to comment on this trend. I hope you’ll find their perspectives insightful and challenging. Here are the top three reasons why college students walk away from faith as told by college students.

1. Doubt

Churches have a difficult time responding to doubt. For some, even the simplest questions are dangerous. Young adults who come out of such environments often find themselves unable to cope with new ideas. 

They go to college unprepared to wrestle with the complexities of questions like… 

  • “Why does God allow suffering?” 
  • “Do people from other religions go to hell?” 
  • “What about evolution?” 
  • “What’s the purpose of my life?” 

When churches can no longer provide meaningful answers to these difficult questions, students look elsewhere. 

The challenge for campus ministries and churches is to help students turn this time of doubting into a season of growth. Doubting one’s faith can be an isolating experience. Many students simply need a safe place to express their doubts.

2. Mistaken Priorities

College is an exciting time. Students get to experience life in a brand new place full of brand new opportunities. For many, college is the first time they feel truly free—free to be exactly who they want to be, uninhibited by anyone. 

But the reality is, many college students are not looking to grow in their faith. 

Even if faith is an important part of their lives, this may not translate into strong church involvement during college. 

Matthew says it this way: “It’s difficult enough to get freshmen to go to their classes, and for many, asking them to seek out a new church may be too much.”

Dillon agrees. Students, he says, often drift away from faith because, for most, “Church is something that has been prioritized for them.”

According to John, “A lot of people go into college without the intention to find God. Media has portrayed college as a time to experiment, and so people get sidetracked with things like boyfriends or girlfriends, classes, clubs, and so on.” 

In the midst of all the noise, church loses its importance.

This has some unfortunate side-effects. During college, students are deciding who they will be for the rest of their lives. As church is increasingly sidelined in favor of other activities, many decide to give it up altogether. 

More than at any other point in their lives, young adults need mentors. Yet many college students live their lives “in the absence of older adults.”

This vacuum gives adult Christians an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people. By investing in relationships with students, adults can help them navigate the most pivotal season of their lives. 

It’s challenging, but absolutely worth it!

3. No Sense of Mission

In her book Almost Christian, Kenda Dean examines the findings of the landmark National Study of Youth and Religion. According to Dean, the young people in the study who remained actively involved in church into adulthood understood faith “as a way of life, not just a system of beliefs” (p. 66).

These students were able to clearly articulate the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for their own lives.

Unfortunately, many students never reach this point. According to Dillon… 

“Many have never been introduced to God’s mission to redeem and restore the world through his people. It’s unrealistic to expect students to actively join God in his mission if they have never been introduced to it.”

Without a sense of mission, students will have no foundation for lifelong faith.

It is imperative that ministries and churches engage college students with the full breadth and depth of the Gospel…

  • That God desires a relationship with them. 
  • That through Jesus they too can have a relationship with God.
  • That God invites them to take part in the grand mission of reconciling all people to him.

Churches and ministries who take seriously the call of Jesus to make disciples, who take time to listen, invest, and share with students, will see college become a time of incredible growth for their students.

What reasons have you heard from students? Chime in by leaving a comment below.

  1 comment for “3 Reasons College Students Walk Away from Faith

  1. John K. Wood
    November 10, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Good article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get my FREE eBook 5 Discipleship Principles I Live By (Hint: Anyone Can Do These).
There's only one way to get it, by subscribing to my free email newsletter. You'll get an email when I post new content.
I promise to keep your email address safe.