Why are young people leaving the church? If I had a dollar for every time I heard this question, I would have a lot of dollars. And I get it. The rate at which young people are leaving the church is alarming. Everyone has experienced a young person throwing aside their faith, either directly or indirectly. It’s devastating.
So, how does the church need to change? While this question needs to be addressed, I don’t think it provides an answer to the problem.
Stick with me, I am going somewhere.
You see, I believe parents are the primary link between young people and God. Not the church. In his book Soul Searching, Christian Smith says this:
The most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.
In an interview with Drs. Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Smith goes even further:
When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.
Whoa. That’s real.
Here’s the deal. Parents, you are painting a portrait of God for your children every day. Every word, action and conversation is a brushstroke. And when your children prepare to leave home, they are staring at a portrait of God. A portrait that shapes their actions and decisions about faith moving forward.
Are there exceptions? Absolutely. As a youth minister, I witnessed young people leave Jesus, even though the faith of their parents was rock solid. I also saw young people continue into college on fire for God, even though their parents had shaky, fickle faith. So, this isn’t a black and white issue. Few issues are.
But will you, as a parent, play an enormous role in shaping the faith of your children? No doubt.
With that being said, I want to point out some things young people need from their parents. I present these as someone who left God for a season in college, someone who ministers to young people every day and someone who is passionate about reaching the next generation.
Here are seven things youth need from their parents so they won’t abandon God.
1) They need you to stop handing their faith off to youth leaders.
In the first few months, I noticed something alarming. It appeared as though parents looked to me as the primary person responsible for the spiritual growth of their kids. Why is this alarming? The Bible makes no mention of this model.
Unfortunately, most churches have created this mess. And reinforced it. Calendars are filled with events, and a cultural pressure is placed on young people to get a gold star for perfect attendance. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against youth ministry. I think it is a great tool for building faith in young people.
But there is a problem when youth ministry becomes THE tool.
Parents, you have the primary responsibility of building faith in your children. Youth leaders exist to equip you and supplement the work you are doing in the home. They don’t exist to replace you.
2) They need you to care as much about their struggles as you do about their salvation.
Growing up, I remember numerous conversations with my parents about baptism. My fellowship holds baptism in very high regard. Too high. That’s how I felt, at least. I grew to hate the word “baptism,” and with every conversation about why I needed to be baptized, I took one step further away from God.
Maybe that’s not fair. But that’s where I was. As strange as this sounds, I needed someone to care as much about my struggles as they did about my salvation.
And I struggled mightily in high school. I searched everywhere for my identity. I struggled with lust and pornography. I traveled down dark roads searching for direction.
It was as if my salvation was the only thing that mattered. Eventually, I started to see God this way. He didn’t have much to say about my present struggles. He just wanted me to be “saved.” And I didn’t care much for a God who didn’t inform my current situation. So, I left.
Here’s what I learned from that season. While everyone who talked to me was sincere, I believe they were trying to manufacture my salvation. Humans don’t have the power to save someone. That is God’s job.
You can’t manufacture salvation. But you can show people God’s love.
Parents, what you can do is show the love of God to your children. This starts by helping them see their present struggles as God’s concern. Sit down with your children. Talk to them. Show them grace.
As you do this, the gospel will come to life. Because the gospel doesn’t just inform salvation. It informs everything. Addictions. Temptations. Identity issues. And once your children see that God walks with them through their struggles, they will have a stronger desire to give their lives to him.
3) They need you to answer the questions they are asking.
Today’s culture is extremely complicated and complex. Young people see everything. Information (good and bad) is available on-demand. And as young people battle with difficult questions about sexuality and social issues, among many other things, the world is forming their perspective. Every article. Every conversation. Every video.
It is more important than ever that parents open up space to discuss difficult topics. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to the questions prevalent in the lives of your kids. Naivety is not an excuse. Awkwardness and tension won’t work as excuses either.
I never had a conversation (at least not one I remember) with any adult about sex growing up. Nothing about lust. Nothing about God’s design for purity. Nothing about masturbation. I never had a conversation about alcohol. I was battling these questions, but Christians weren’t there to give me answers. So, I tried to figure it out myself. You can only imagine how that worked out for me.
Yes, these conversations are awkward. Yes, they create tension. But your children are asking them. Unless you create space for the hard questions, they will turn to other sources for answers. And that usually doesn’t end well.