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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.