The secret to faith after high school? Parents!

A Feature by Joe Iovino

Many youth in the U.S. who regularly attend worship, go on summer mission trips, sing in the youth choir, and actively participate in the youth ministry of their United Methodist congregations, drop out of church after high school graduation. In 2006, the Barna group reported that only 1-in-5 maintains a similar level of church participation in their 20s.

The Rev. Daniel Dennison, Wesley Campus Minister at the University of Oklahoma, has noticed the difference a maturing faith makes in the lives of high school graduates.

“The students who come to us that have been discipled and taught how to have a growing relationship with Christ while on their own, generally thrive in college,” he said. “They [appear to] do better in school; they are more well-adjusted and become stronger leaders in our ministry.”

Many others “fall away from the church altogether,” he added. “Some continue to stay involved, but it’s nominally and surface level.”

This is distressing news to pastors, youth leaders, and parents who long to keep young people engaged in their faith.

Parents’ faith is key

The National Study on Youth and Religion recently found a factor that is “nearly deterministic” in turning this around. Eight out of ten (82%) young adults ages 24-29 who were still participating in their faith after being active in high school, had one thing in common.

The secret? Their parents.

Seth Martin passionately equips parents for the role of discipling their teenage children. Photo courtesy of Seth Martin.

Seth Martin passionately equips parents for the role of discipling their teenage children. Photo courtesy of Seth Martin.

Youth leaders agree. “Parents are the critical discipler, period,” said Seth Martin, Lead Student Pastor at Faithbridge United Methodist Church in Spring, Texas. “Student ministries aren’t (or shouldn’t be, rather) the primary spiritual mentors of students, but should instead subsidize the discipleship already taking place in the home.”

Many youth ministers are encouraging parents in their critical role in the spiritual development of their teenage children.

“Every chance I get to talk to parents,” said Stephen Ingram, Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, “I remind them of the stats.”

But not all parents feel prepared to spiritually mentor their kids. That’s why, Ingram said, “the best youth ministries work in partnership with parents.”

United Methodist Communications spoke with several youth ministry leaders about what they are sharing with parents.

To read the rest of Joe Iovino’s article, click HERE.


  1. George Foster says

    When we have faith as a peripheral attachment to our life it will not seem so important to our sons and daughters. When our faith is obviously essential and at the heart of our life it will be important to our kids. In addition, we must provide meaningful answers to the tough question they will face in college, They will be prepared to stand up for their faith rather than cower back in fear. We also must show them the value of a pure life that will arm them with such respect for others that they will not want to become sexually involved outside the bounds of marriage. I think the church would do well do sponsor one semester college prep classes to arm our young people for the attacks they will face.

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