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Will Your Teens Lose Their Faith If They Go to College? Ryan Burge on What The Data Shows

Credit: Nicole Fields Photography. Courtesy of Dr. Ryan Burge

Despite the portrayal of academia in the 2014 movie, “God’s Not Dead,” sending your kids to college does not increase the likelihood that they will lose their faith, says political scientist Dr. Ryan Burge. In fact, data shows that the more educated people are, the more religious they tend to be. 

“Sending your kids away to college is not a guarantee they’ll leave religion behind,” Burge said on a recent episode of the “The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast.” “Actually, the opposite is true.”

“The people who are the most likely to go to church this Sunday are people with a postgraduate degree,” Burge explained. “People who are least likely are those without a high school diploma.”

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Ryan Burge Addresses Misconceptions About Religion 

Dr. Ryan Burge is an assistant professor of political science and the graduate coordinator at Eastern Illinois University, as well as a pastor. He contributed research to the recent book, “The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?,” by Michael Graham and Jim Davis. 

Graham and Davis joined “The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast” in June to discuss the implications of their findings for church leaders, and Burge joined the podcast in October to share a variety of insights into what the data shows about the state of Christianity in the U.S.

“The data does not back up that idea that your philosophy professor is going to turn your kids away from Jesus,” said Burge. “That just does not happen [as a general rule].”

However, Burge said that for college students to remain strong in their faith, it is essential that they regularly attend church and are part of a Christian ministry on campus. “If those two things happen,” he said, “that young person is much more likely to stay evangelical at 25 years old than someone who doesn’t do either of those two things.”

The data also contradicts the idea that religion is a crutch people turn to out of ignorance or a lack of education, said Burge, alluding to Karl Marx’s famous quote that religion is the “opium of the people.” 

“The biggest misconception that people have about religion is that it’s full of uneducated, lower-income folks,” Burge said. “If you look at the data, it’s actually the exact opposite of what the perception is…The person most likely to go to church today has a four-year college degree, makes between $60,000 and $100,000 a year, and is married with children.”

While parents can be encouraged that attending university is not a guarantee that their children will lose their faith, there are plenty of sobering findings in the data. The demographic of older Millennials or younger Generation X is “ground zero” for people who are leaving church, Burge said, and—despite the common idea that having children brings people back to church—those in this age group are not returning once they have families. 

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