Five Ways to Raise an Accidental Atheist

(Part Two of the Five Part Series)

You need only look at the average church to see that we are quickly losing young people raised in the church.  The statistics are staggering – nearly 75% of high school graduates walk away from the church, and only 35% percent ever return. 

Let that soak in for a while.  Now…think about the young people you know.

Just poke your head in your church’s Student Ministry this Sunday and start doing the math as you look around that room. Three fourths of those kids won’t attend ANY CHURCH after graduation, and only about one third of them will ever return.

If you’re a parent, it gets more personal. Ask yourself this: how many of your kids are you willing to watch walk away from church…and their faith…to never return?

As a pastor, I’ve experienced this myself. Over many years in ministry, my kids have witnessed a lot “behind the scenes” at church. To put it bluntly, they’ve “seen how the sausage gets made”. They’ve been on “whipping boy” for church member’s who’ve had a bone to pick with me. They’ve also been told to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” as a spiritual leader’s actions revealed he was much less than the Godly man he claimed to be.

I’ve watched as they took all this in, not always knowing what to say. Some of my kids responded to these spiritual disappointments with surprising maturity, keeping their focus on God and not people. Another took it hard, were damaged personally, and proceeded to wander from the church and God. You can’t imagine how hard it is to feel your ministry is the very thing harming your children’s relationship with God.

Thankfully, the wandering only lasted a couple of years, and now that child is back attending church. When I look back, I don’t know what I could have done differently to prevent it. However, the factors causing most kids to leave the church are reparable, if only parents will pay attention. And unlike my circumstance with one child wandering and returning, most parents are not so lucky.

Through my blog in a local newspaper and weekly meetings with skeptics and seekers (I’ll explain more about those in the next post), I’ve discovered the five main mistakes parents are making which contribute to young people leaving their faith behind after high school.

But if you really want to “raise an accidental atheist”, here are five key things you need to do:

  1. Be unable or unwilling to answer your child’s honest questions about faith (this is by far the #1 response)
  2. Model rule-based religion that delights in punishment more than mercy & grace
  3. Live a lifestyle inconsistent with your stated beliefs (hypocrisy)
  4. Model lukewarm commitment to a casual form of Christianity
  5. Quarantine your child from the world instead of teaching them tools to face it

Each of these deserves a thorough explanation, and I’ll be doing that in my upcoming posts. Until then, please share this article with Christian parents you know and let’s get a healthy discussion started here!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Five Ways to Raise an Accidental Atheist

  1. I need prayers my sister drinks alot she is atheist and keeps to her self she doesn’t talk to any of my family and its breaking my family apart my family hopes she come around one day before it’s to late my family doesn’t deserve this I have not talked to her for over 2 yrs my mom blames her for my sisters actions it’s nobody fault my dad said we did all we could now I am asking for prayers we all worry about her were not sure if she is still married to her husband and my nephew we have not . heard from him either

    • Sounds like you’ve got a lot to pray about. I’m praying for you right now, that God will work in your family and that they all will becoming closer to Him through these trials.

      God bless,

  2. Read some of your stuff on “accidental atheists”. Just wanted to say you should stop putting us atheists in such a negative light. Your christianity might have helped you and many other people, but the vast majority of us with no religion are just fine without it. We are good people with families, friends, and lots of things to get from life. Just because kids are turning away from your belief system, doesn’t mean they are wrong, or need to be changed into christians. Personally, about half my friends are religious and half are not. We all get along fine, are all good people, and none of the christians in our group think that we atheists need to be converted, and vise versa.

    I respect all (non hateful) beliefs, and would never seek to pull christians away from their lifestyle. It would be nice to feel like the christians felt the same way toward us, but it seems like when they see an atheist, they feel the need to try to change them.

    In conclusion, live to your beliefs and tell others about them (if they are willing to listen). But don’t think that because some people don’t share your beliefs that they are wrong and need your god’s help to guide them. Most atheists are doing just fine without any gods.

    • Hi John,

      First, I want to thank you for your general tone. It is refreshing to talk with someone who disagrees but can do it agreeably. So thanks for that!

      Second, I think you misunderstand my motive. Please note that the criticism in my articles was directed nearly 100% at hypocritical Christians, not at atheists. By warning parents about their children falling into atheism, I was not saying this would make them lousy people. Only as a Christian parent, I know I would feel I had failed if my kids went this path.

      Third, please understand that for a true Christian parent, there is nothing more important than helping your kids inherit your faith. My relationship with Christ is the most precious, valuable, and pivotal part of me. If I fail to pass it on, that would be like having buried a treasure but neglecting to leave my kids the treasure map pointing the way to it. This is not like we’re BlueDog Democrats or Braves fans, and our kids have chosen not to be. This is a failure to give out kids the one thing we feel will help them the most in life.

      An admittedly awkward analogy is this…It’s as if Robin Williams were my very best friend in the world. How awesome to know someone who was so full of life and brilliant. But instead of letting my kids get to know Robin themselves, I actually kept them from him. I took them to his films, but with all the best parts cut out. I threatened them when they did wrong, saying “Robin would hate you if he knew you did that!” So I misrepresented this sweet, funny and kind man to them. My kids grow up thinking Robin Williams is boring, because they’ve never seen his best work. I’ve sequestered them from ever meeting him, and I’ve portrayed him as a hateful man who would disapprove of them. What a lousy parent I would be!

      This is what many Christian parents have done to their kids. We’ve taken them to boring church services that make the most brilliant, creative being in the universe seem boring…which is really quite an accomplishment. We’ve never tried to teach them anything specifically about this person who is the most important person in our lives – how selfish! And we have used Him as a threat, making children afraid of Him instead of in awe of Him. When we do these things, we should not be surprised that kids turn away from God. That’s because the only God they know is really a horrible misrepresentation of Him.

      We should be ashamed – not you. So forgive me if anything I wrote gave that impression that this was your fault. It is ours completely.

      Here’s wishing all God’s best to you, whether you choose to credit Him or not! Let me know if I can ever serve you in any way.