Blog  /  Parenting, Postmodern Parent  /  Postmodern Parent | The Great Backdoor


One of the greatest issues facing the church today in America is the issue of children leaving the church when they get to age 18. According to a Barna survey, only 20% of teenagers involved in church activity as teenagers remain involved as twentysomethings.

Despite millions of dollars spent by churches on youth programs, the backdoor has never been wider for our kids to leave the church once out of our direct care.

This is not a fact to be taken lightly. Although, the postmodern generation is increasingly spiritually curious, it is being turned off from the church. As a parent, this especially breaks my heart because I know how much I long to have my son follow Christ his whole life.

Postmodernism and Mr. T

One of the most important characteristics of postmodern thought can be summed up by Mr. T: “I Pity the Fool!” The postmodern generation does not suffer fools. It doesn’t tolerate things that are fake, inauthentic, and impractical. I actually think this is a good thing about the upcoming generation.

Unfortunately, this has had a direct effect on how many of our teenagers are leaving the faith. Many of the reasons given by twentysomethings for leaving the faith is because of hypocrisy, a lack of genuine care, and a lack of authenticity in the way church culture operates. Our kids won’t tolerate fools!

David Kinnaman offers this insight into the problem, “Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul – not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school. There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country, but the levels of disengagement among twentysomethings suggest that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation. A new standard for viable youth ministry should be – not the number of attenders, the sophistication of the events, or the ‘cool’ factor of the youth group – but whether teens have the commitment, passion and resources to pursue Christ intentionally and whole- heartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest.”

So What Can Parents Do?

I am both discouraged and encouraged by this issue. I’m discouraged because when people walk away from the church, they usually give up on Christ because of the church’s association with him. However, I’m encouraged because I think this generation is much better positioned to embrace an authentic faith in Christ without the distractions of Gospel-less religion. They may be running from the church, but they are not necessarily running from Christ.

Since we, the parents, are the best bet in keeping our kids from running through the great backdoor when they get to college, I thought I’d share a few tips on how to keep kids from leaving the faith.

  1. Riskily Serve Regularly – As Kinnaman pointed out, we need to be giving our kids the “resources to pursue Christ intentionally and whole- heartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest.” Regularly serving in a way that costs something is the best antidote to spiritual apathy. When we do God’s work for those in need, God works in us. We need to be doing this in our own life and encouraging our kids to do this as well.
  2. Pick Better Churches – If your church youth group is more concerned with it’s size, programming, and “awesomeness”, you might need to pick a better church. Make sure the youth staff at your church measures success by depth, not breadth. Pick a church that expects you to be involved in your kid’s spiritual growth. Any church that tells you, “Don’t worry, we’ll take it from here,” is lying to you.
  3. Allow Doubt – Our children need to be able to voice spiritual doubt to their parents without a negative reaction. If college is the first time they feel safe to question their faith, they run a much greater risk of walking away from it altogether. Faith is not the absence of doubt. In fact, working through doubt is almost always necessary for developing faith. If we walk through that process with our kids, we can gently point them to Christ while sympathizing with their struggle.
  4. Recognize Inevitable Hypocrisy – Nobody is perfect, Christians included. Our kids don’t expect it. However, if we don’t recognize those moments we mess up, and apologize to our children, then our kids will think there is a Christian expectation of perfection and thus assume hypocrisy. The church is only filled with hypocrites if the expectation is perfection. If we own our mistakes and recognize the inevitable hypocrisy of claiming Christ but still sinning, then we as parents can help develop a more realistic and grace-based expectation of Christianity into our kids.

Postmodern Parent. I am a husband, father, pastor, songster, writer, and most importantly, believer in the one true Messiah, Jesus Christ. I write a blog at Shouts from the Wilderness.

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  1. Karis says:

    This is fabulous Cody. I think one of the most powerful suggestions that you gave is that parents need to be serving sacrificially and riskily so that our kids see that our faith means enough to us that we are willing to love others in a way that is costly.

    The question I struggle with, is how does “Church” cultivate this? It seems when the church tries to do anything collectively, it runs the risk of becoming programmed, canned and predictable, just because of the nature of organizing groups of people to do anything. The only answer I can come up with is that is can’t be the church that cultivates this. It has to start in the family. It has to happen organically. What do you think, Cody?

  2. Cody Kimmel says:

    Thanks Karis! As for how a church can do this, I can think of at least two things. The first is to allow grace to permeate it’s culture. A church that leaves no room for struggles, questions, and weirdness is not going to help kids connect to Christ. The second is a church that challenges and equips the parents to be the most significant spiritual influences in their home. Churches need to expect more spiritual involvement and responsibility from their members. The purpose o the church is not to attract people and provide comfortable, “spiritual” daycare, they are called to form disciples and worship Christ.

  3. Jeff Goble says:


    Another great thought provoking piece, thank you!

    First of all I don’t trust Barna or Kinnamen’s research methods. For example, Kinnmen’s first book referenced survey questions he designed that were clearly intended to elicit responses that favored his thesis. It’s just not legitimate or intellectually honest social science research. Barna’s work is all too often of a similar nature. They may be popular in the Christian world but that is because they serve up thesis and analysis that are popular among elements of the church interested in self criticism or more than evolutionary improvements in church function and effect. My advice is to analyze their work deeply before using it to support your arguments.

    Having said that the general thrust of their conclusions is at least directionally correct in this case. In addition to your excellent analysis and recommendations may I suggest that the most important factor is parents living authentic, mature Christian faith in front of their children. No amount of other influences can overcome (in a general sense, there will always be exceptions) the influence of parents to “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk”. Kids are SMART and they see through their parents’ BS.

    Lovig your writing, keep it up!


  4. Cody Kimmel says:

    Jeff, I appreciate the caution for using Barna research in the future. I am not as familiar with their methods as you are and I will make sure to examine a bit deeper before using them. As for your point about authenticity at home, I think you’re right on. Kids are smart and will figure it out. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement!

  5. Totally agree. I’ve written that we parents don’t just need to “talk” about church, bible, etc. Kids need more than Sunday morning and Wed night experiences with God. What they need most is to see a dynamic faith by their parents. They need to see their parents read the bible and pray. They need to see their parents sacrifice and serve others outside the church. They need their parents to connect truth with life.

    See this:

  6. Monica says:

    What a great article! I especially love the part about allowing children to doubt! Coming with the perspective of a former teacher and current blogger on the topic of childhood spirituality I think questions are essential! As a reader, questions are what propel you forward in the story. If you don’t have questions you loose interest and put the book down. I think the same holds true for life. When we don’t have questions we aren’t engaged. Questions are what propel us forward to think deeper, explore our faith, and continue the relationship with God. If we don’t allow space for our children to express doubt, and for them to see us expressing our continuing questions we aren’t fully engaged in our relationship with God. It’s important for kids to know that questions are ok, and that sometimes the questions don’t have answers. But that there is always a safe place to explore those questions together.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Cody Kimmel says:

    Joey, thanks for the kind words and sharing that article! Monica, I think allowing doubt is the hardest of them all and I know I will struggle with it, but if I hadn’t had the space to question my faith in the context of home, I would probably be living a much different story right now. Thanks for your input!