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:
- Be unable or unwilling to answer your child’s honest questions about faith (this is by far the #1 response)
- Model rule-based religion that delights in punishment more than mercy & grace
- Live a lifestyle inconsistent with your stated beliefs (hypocrisy)
- Model lukewarm commitment to a casual form of Christianity
- 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!