Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Young people leaving the church: What's a parent to do?

If I were to ask Christian parents if they want their children to continue to follow the Lord as adults, of course the answer would be "yes."  But are we doing what we can to make sure that happens?
In the fall of '09, I started taking classes towards a Master's in Children's and Family Ministry.  I stumbled upon the book by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer called Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it.  I chose to do a research paper on this topic, and therefore was completely immersed for months with information about why young people are leaving the church today in record numbers.  The research is bleak.

What is going on with our kids?
Already Gone quotes a study done by the prestigious Barna Institute in which 22,000 adults and over 2,000 teenagers were interviewed.  The results show that a shocking 60% of young adults who were
involved in an evangelical Christian church during their teen years no longer attend (pg.23).  LifeWay Research estimates the number closer to 70%.

This means that if you look around your child's Sunday School class, only 3 or 4 out of every 10 children will still be serving God after they leave home.  Does that make you shudder like it does me?

Why are they leaving?
Well, that's the problem: we don't really know.  There's not some easy fix or church program that can turn these numbers around.  It's going to take a paradigm shift.

I did find a few things in my research that point to the problem.  Basically kids see their life as compartmentalized with "church stuff" being relegated to Sunday morning and the occasional midweek activity.  They go to school to learn the "real stuff" and church is where they learn moral lessons that don't really connect to the rest of the world.  They are not taught that the Bible is historically accurate, and they learn that science contradicts claims made in the Bible (which is not true, by the way, but that's a whole different conversation).  Eventually, they come to the conclusion that the Bible is just a nice collection of fairy tales that have no bearing on their actual lives, and that church as a social pastime is a waste.

What can we do?
Children need to be taught that the Bible is true, historically and scientifically accurate, and useful for every aspect of their lives.  They must learn how to articulate what they believe, and how to defend their faith before they are in a situation where their beliefs are tested.  "Because that's what my parents told me," is not a valid argument for free-thinking young adults fresh from the nest.  If they have not internalized their faith, they can easily be swayed toward any of the numerous false teachings that abound in our society.

Isn't that what the church workers are for?
Ummmmm, no.  At least, not according to Deuteronomy 6 (5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.).  Parents are instructed to teach our children diligently.  It's time for parents to reclaim their God-given role in training children instead of relying on church professionals to do that for them.  Children's pastors and youth pastors have a wonderful and important job in discipling children, but their main ministry focus should be those children who do not live in a Christian home.  For the rest of us, the pastors should simply be reinforcing what we've already taught at home.  Even in the most faithful families, the children are only in church a few hours a week.  That is just not enough time to teach them properly.

Where do we start?
First of all, you have to know what you believe.  If you can't articulate your beliefs, you won't be able to teach them to your children.  Ask God to reveal Himself to you.  Study the Bible.  Learn how to defend your faith.  Equip.org is a great site to check out if you need guidance in this area.

Now that you know what you know you know, teach what you know to your kids?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Study the events of scripture in their historical context. Here is a great article about how to do that:
Unlocking the Truth of Scripture
I will often google whatever story I'm studying to find out what was going on in the world at that time.  This helps everyone, especially children, see the people in the Bible as real, living, breathing human beings who actually existed and who reacted to their situations much like we would. 
2.  Study the Bible together as a family.  This will take time but it will be time well spent.
3.  Find other resources to help you train your children to be godly girls and boys.  Work on their character.  Every.  Day.  Character, character, character.  Doorposts has some excellent resources to help you do that.
4.  Find out what they are learning in school and check it against the Bible.  Do this with your child so they will learn how to evaluate everything they hear based on the one true standard of God's word.  They need to understand that theories and opinions are not facts, and if they go against the Bible, they should be discarded.  Yes, this may involve quite a bit of "deprogramming" but you have to do what you have to do.

Final thought
Our children are only home with us for a short period of time.  We have so much to teach them before they leave the house that we don't have any time to waste.  I can't think of a single thing that is more important.


  1. love this,very good
    stopping by from the hhh

  2. I think knowing what we believe and making it a part of our everyday lives is so important. Church can't just be a place to go, but rather should be a part of who we are.


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