Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

First Advisor

Tana Hasart

Second Advisor

Laurie Stevahn

Third Advisor

Margit McGuire


The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate how the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) in the United States can successfully attract and retain young adults ages 18–30. Additionally, this research examines the factors that cause young adults to leave or stay in the EOTC and makes recommendations for changes that can improve retention rates.

A significant challenge for the EOTC in the United States is that of youth retention. Young adults often leave the church following graduation from high school. According to a Religious Landscape Study conducted by the Pew Research Center (2015), the decline in the presence and engagement of the young adult population within Christian religious communities is a worldwide issue, not limited to any religious denomination, race, or location.

Studies show that attending church has psychological, educational, and behavioral benefits for young adults. Active church youth are more likely to avoid drug use, delinquency, and early sexual activity (Regnerus, 2000; Agyekum & Newbold, 2016). Due to the absence of young adults, churches close as the membership becomes smaller, risking their essential role to congregants and communities. Several studies indicate that young adults do not feel a sense of belonging, which leads to their leaving or disengagement from the church.

Knowing about the church experiences of young adults from Ethiopian immigrant families in the U.S. can provide leaders in the church with important information on developing meaningful experiences for these youth to support and encourage active participation in the church. Qualitative interviews of eight EOTC church leaders, four active youth members, and four inactive youth members provided information about perceived factors influencing young adult retention in the EOTC. The three strongest factors perceived to cause youth to leave the Church are (a) the EOTC not justifying its relevance for young parishioners; (b) the low engagement of young parishioners in Church communities, events, and services linked to the EOTC’s conservatism, language barriers, and not customizing Church events to meet youth needs and expectations; and (c) exposure of young adherents to external factors that discourage them from staying at the EOTC, such as American values and career aspirations. Results also point to three significant areas for consideration to improve youth retention in the EOTC, including (a) cultivating a sense of belonging; (b) customizing engaging activities and leadership assignments that support youth involvement, empowerment, and learning; and (c) encouraging parental support.