Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lost Sheep

At least half and up to two-thirds of our kids will step away from their faith while attending non-Christian colleges and universities. This is the most startling statistic distributed in recent reports published by Christianity Today based on studies by Dr. Steven Henderson. Dr. George Wood, General Secretary of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, goes on to report this statistic in terms of our sponsoring church when he says, “nine years from now, as many as 189,000 of our 315,000 youth could be drop-outs from the faith.” Dr. Wood’s report has been circulated among our faculty and leadership at Northwest; you can access it here

At our University, we are grateful for the nearly 1,300 students that are in our care this year, but we are also mindful of these 189,000 potential lost sheep.

Reports like these remind us of our stewardship responsibility. The years that students spend at our University are often among their most important years of formation as they become Christian adults. While here at Northwest, students are challenged to think deeply about their faith, employing academic rigor and critical analysis tools in ways that are likely new to their Christian experience. We may challenge them to ask questions they have never asked before. What makes our Faculty members different from their counterparts in secular institutions is that their goal is to drive students toward their faith, not away from their faith. The faithful stewardship of this trust demands that we nurture our students’ faith, building a solid foundation that will stand up against the inevitable attacks they will face throughout the rest of their adult lives.

We are mindful of the lost sheep when we do our work in recruitment. Even though our work shares some of the trappings of marketing campaigns and sales tactics, we know that there is so much more at stake. Our recruiters are motivated by a very real sense that they are dealing with God’s plan and calling in the lives of our prospective students. Recruitment, at least for us, isn’t merely about closing a deal with a student, it is about helping a student answer God’s calling and preparing for a life of service.

Reports like these also increase our burden for fundraising. Cost certainly is not the only barrier that keeps a student from attending our University, but it is one of the toughest barriers to face. Every dollar we can raise that helps keeps our costs low, is a meaningful step toward reaching lost sheep.

This report impacted me as a leader in Christian Higher Education as it reminded me of important principles that have guided my work over the years, but this specific report impacted me even more as a Pastor. For nearly 20 years I have been involved in drawing students to Christian higher education because I know, firsthand, what a difference a place like Northwest University can make in the life of a student. For the last 5 years I have also been involved in sending students to Christian higher education as I have been serving as pastor. As I read the reports from my perspective as a pastor, it occurred to me that this is not merely about the impact of a Christian university on a student, but it is also very much about the way a church like mine disciples students so that they will be apt to choose a Christian university. I need to be more purposeful about leading my church in such a way that the young people under my care are the kinds of young men and women who want to choose a place like Northwest. My church needs to help lead these students to this important choice.

The reports also reminded me how important churches like mine are in supporting Christian higher education with prayer, influence, involvement, and finances. There are all sorts of agenda being advanced at universities across our country by organizations that stand in opposition to the Church. Even our governments advance positions that are contrary to our Christian stance through support of their universities. I need to lead my church in such a way that we are advancing our cause and providing for our church’s future leadership through support of Northwest University.

Beyond the impact on me as a university administrator and pastor, the impact that hit closest home was on me as a dad. My oldest son Alex will be making his choice of a university in just a few short years; his 11 year-old brother Donny will be making his choices soon after. I’m glad that they are already planning on making that choice Northwest, and that I will be able to support them in that choice. A lot can change, of course, as my boys grow up and the crucial time for their decision approaches. As a dad, I know that I will serve my boys best by helping them understand the weight of that choice and providing them with a clear view of the value of choice for a Christian university.


John Vertefeuille said...

How do those stats compare with those who attend the Christian college or university? How many who fall away come back to the faith later? Does the Christian college/university simply postpone the inevitable process of doubt, abandonment, and reclaiming one's faith as one's own? Is that process even necessary for a strong faith?

Neary said...

That compares with 7% at a Christian institution. Also, you can get to Henderson's full study at

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dan, and quite a challenge to all of us.

Anonymous said...

Very well written, Dan. The local churches need to hear this message loud and clear.

Bill Sisk said...

I would surmise that parents want their kids to go to the best schools they can afford. So, if someone’s child is accepted into Stanford and Northwest University, Stanford will probably be the pick. Assuming this is the case, our children need to know why they believe what they believe far in advance of matriculation. Apologetics is a key factor in shrinking these percentages. As a matter of fact, it is probably the top factor at least in the short term. Indeed, there are enough smart people within AG to create a standards based teaching curriculum and accompanying metrics/tests. It would probably only take three years to get such a standard widely adopted at the local level.
Keep in mind that I am speaking of what can be done to have an immediate impact. In regards to long term, I agree with Dr. Wood regarding increased financial support and better recruiting of students to AG and CCCU schools. Furthermore, projects such as The Health and Sciences Center will go a long way in attracting more students—I hope that NU continues to be innovative in this area.

Neary said...

We used this post, as well as an article written by Merlin Quiggle, at