Evangelicals better at retaining youth
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
July 16, 2010

Evangelicals better at retaining youth

Evangelicals better at retaining youth
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
July 16, 2010

DURHAM — Evangelical

churches do a better job than mainline churches in keeping their young people

in the faith, probably because they invest more money in youth ministry, says a

Duke University professor who studies characteristics of American


Mark Chaves, a professor of

sociology, religion and divinity and director of the National

Congregations Study, said in a blog post July 8 that research

from the ongoing survey about the basic characteristics of America’s

congregations confirms that religious groups prioritize youth ministry


Among churches that have 50

or more teenagers, Chaves said white evangelical congregations are

substantially more likely than mainline Protestant churches to employ a

full-time youth minister.

Fifty-nine percent of

evangelical churches with 50-99 teens have a full-time youth minister, compared

to only one-third of mainline churches with that many youth. In churches with

more than 100 youth, the gap increases to 87 percent for evangelicals to 55

percent of mainline churches.

Chaves said mainline and

evangelical Protestants do not differ much on overall programming for youth.

Both are equally likely to have youth groups, teen choirs, youth speaking in

worship services and to have sent teenagers to a church camp.

But those ministries “are

inexpensive compared to hiring a full-time youth minister, and having a

full-time youth minister surely enhances the quantity and quality of a church’s

teen programming,” the researcher noted.

Chaves said that both

evangelical and mainline Protestants lose many young people to “the ranks of

the religiously unaffiliated,” but evangelical churches lose fewer than liberal

churches lose.

He speculated that one reason might be that mainline churches

place less value on keeping their teenagers in the faith.

“It is difficult to know for

sure, but evangelicals’ deeper concern to reproduce the faith in their children

probably leads to hiring more full-time youth ministers, which probably leads

to keeping more youth in the church,” he wrote. “Evangelical churches invest

more than mainline churches in youth ministries, and it is difficult to avoid

the conclusion that this investment difference reflects a difference in the

priority placed on keeping young people in the church.”

Chaves cited a book by

University of Washington professor James Wellman, Evangelical vs. Liberal, that

observes how different church cultures view youth ministry in different ways.

“For evangelicals, if

children and youth are not enjoying church, it is the church’s fault and

evangelical parents either find a new church or try to improve their youth

ministry,” Wellman said. “For liberals, the tendency is the reverse; if youth

do not find church interesting it is their problem. Evangelicals are simply

more interested and invested in reproducing the faith in their children and

youth and their churches reflect this priority.”

“Evangelical families

emphasize religion more than mainline families do, and evangelical churches

involve young people in a denser social web of youth groups, church camps, and

church-based socializing, all of which increase the chances that a young person

will remain in the fold as an adult,” Chaves concurred. “This is one reason

that evangelical denominations have not suffered the same membership declines

in recent decades that more liberal, mainline denominations have suffered.”