Lifeway Research director Ed Stetzer is the guru of church statistics, and his recent analysis of the church drop-out rate among young adults is worth paying attention to. While the situation isn’t as dire as some have made it out to be, the truth is that many children and students who were brought up in church leave their religious upbringing as soon as they leave home. You can read the full article here
I’ve been in pastoral ministry a long time, and I’ve seen this scenario play out more times than I want to remember. An active church family watches helplessly as their child—or children—leave not only the church but also the faith once they move out on their own. Few things are as painful for a Christian dad or mom to watch as when their children abandon the faith they were raised in and embrace instead a lifestyle no different than the surrounding culture.
Two of Stetzer’s insights cast new light on kids staying in church. First, his research research uncovered four factors that made the difference. Here’s how the students in the study expressed them:
I wanted the church to help guide my decisions in everyday life (prior to 18).
My parents were still married to each other and both attended church (prior to 18).
The pastor’s sermons were relevant to my life (prior to 18).
At least one adult from church made a significant investment in me personally and spiritually (between 15 and 18).
Second, Stetzer identifies three essentials in keeping our kids connected with their church. He puts it this way:
1. Disciple, disciple, disciple. If your student ministry is a four-year holding tank with pizza, don’t expect young adults to stick around. If, however, they see biblical teaching as relevant and see the church as essential to their decisions, they stay.
2. Have a home with committed Christian parents. According to the USC study I referenced earlier, 74% of married couples who were both evangelicals also had kids who were evangelical. I was raised by a single mom who loved the Lord and I’m so thankful for those who do, but parents (together) make a significant statistical impact.
3. Recognize that it takes a church to raise a committed young adult—involve other adults in the discipleship process. This is where student pastors, volunteers, and other adults being invested in the lives of teenagers can be so important.
As I filter Stetzer’s research through my pastoral ministry, here are the things I believe make the difference in keeping our students in the church—and, more importantly, in the faith. There aren’t any guarantees to this, of course. Our children and students, when they reach adulthood, are free moral agents and make their own decisions. I’ve known many outstanding Christian families who did everything right, yet their kids still abandoned everything they learned at home as soon as they got out on their own. Still, there are a few key traits that I’ve observed that give our kids their best chance of making the right decision.
So here are six ways to keep your kids in church as they grow up:
- We parents must be the same people in our home that we are in church. Nothing so discredits our faith as when we act one way in church and another way at home or at work or out on the town. Kids sense hypocrisy quicker than any other group.
- Realize that your home is the primary location for your child to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Church is crucial (see the next point) but it’s no substitute for what happens in your home. If your home isn’t a place of faith, prayer, Bible and authentic Christian living, you shouldn’t expect the church to be able to somehow compensate. To be sure, God is gracious and many devoted Christians emerge from homes that are a long way from God. But in the great number of cases, children of faith emerge from households of faith.
- Find a church you and your family can identify with and connect with it. Worship there. Go to Sunday School (or small groups) there. Serve there. Involve your children in the ministries there. Give your money there. Invest time and resources in a congregation that you believe in, and you children will benefit from it.
- Give attention to creating a home environment that is distinctively biblical. This will vary from family to family because some families are more sensitive to certain cultural issues than others. Yet, every Christian family should be aware that the culture around us is so opposed to biblical truth that we have to make a concerted effort for our family life to be distinctively Christian—in how we as parents and children relate to each other; in the kinds of entertainment we allow in our home; in the ways we handle finances; in the kind of language we use; and in many other ways. Our homes as believers need to breathe the kind of holiness and love that gives credibility to the Christian teaching we embrace.
- Make wise choices with your family time. In today’s frantic environment, where there are so many demands on the hours of each day, many families lose control of their kids’ schedules. Before you know it your child is involved in so many activities, lessons, sports and organizations that there’s no down time, no margins for just being a family. And weekend sports leagues have proliferated to such a degree that many kids and families spend almost every weekend travelling or otherwise engaged in sports. They have no time for just being a family together. And certainly no time on Sunday to worship together. What kind of message are we sending to our kids when church is last on our to-do list instead of first?
- Realize that your marriage is the heart and soul of your home, not whatever desires your children may have at any given moment. We all love our kids, but when we give them control of our time, resources, attention and commitments, we abdicate not only the biblical authority structure of the home but we also set them up for future struggles because the message we’re sending is that they are the center of the universe.