How To Raise Kids Who Won’t Walk Away From Church

Hardly a day goes by in which we are not reminded by some major news source that “atheist” and unaffiliated” religious categories are growing among Millennials. For those of us trying to raise children who walk in the truth, the odds aren’t in our favor.

According to Barna Group, 70% of kids raised in Christian homes will walk away from the church after high school. So many of our children these days end up becoming like that third seed in Matthew 13, who fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants.

So what’s a parent who loves the Lord supposed to do?

While there’s no recipe or magic formula that will guarantee our kids keep the faith, it’s not a total crap shoot either. There are some environments that are more conducive to growing godly offspring than others.

And though we realize that God is completely sovereign over the results, a decent environment is important for outcome.

Give them reasons to believe outside of themselves

Most teenagers are woefully unprepared for the onslaught of challenges to their faith they’ll receive when they go off to college. They’ve been brought up to love the Lord with all their hearts, without also loving Him with all their minds.

They may have experienced the saving power of the Gospel but cannot actually articulate why they believe, and that lightweight faith is being carried away by the wind of skepticism on college campuses across America.

Our kids need hard answers to why Christianity is not only logical, but also reasonable. A firm foundation of apologetics will help prepare them to give a defense for their faith (1 Peter 3:15), and evaluate claims of other worldviews.

There are a wealth of apologetics resources for children, starting as young as age four. Purchase some and go through them together with your kids.

Waiting until they’re old enough to attend a worldview seminar or camp won’t be nearly as affective.

Include your kids in worship services

Children are usually segregated in modern day churches from their parents and grandparents into their own age- specific programs. As a result, the strength that comes by generational connection and a culture of honor is dissipating and with it, the Church.

Kids are used to having programs tailored to their needs, complete with lots of entertainment and unfortunately very little substance. When they try to reintegrate into services as adults, they find it difficult because they have been disconnected from the larger Body of Christ for the past 18 years.

They also expect the church to serve them, instead of the other way around.

There’s something even more important to the salvation of our children than parental discipleship, and it’s not Sunday School or midweek activities, or even youth programs. It’s the hearing of God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

It’s through the powerful preaching of Scripture that God chooses to work on the hearts of our children. Much of what the pastor says may appear to go right over our kids’ heads, but they will absorb what is learned and seeds will be planted that have long lasting effects.

Children in church also learn to sing to the Lord, share compassion and concern for others, and pray corporately.

Limit worldly influences

Cross-cultural or “third culture” kids are children raised in a culture other than the one they were born into. When they come back to the country of their origin, they do not assimilate into its culture because they are so rooted in their expatriate culture. While they live in one place, they’re really citizens of another.

The truth is that as Christians, we are foreigners and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). Though we live here in this fallen world, our citizenship is in Heaven. Simply put, this world is not our home and we should not live as if it is.

Our children are saturated in pop culture, and it is shaping their thoughts and actions. Greed, sexual immorality, romanticism, vow-breaking, materialism, abortion, entitlement, relativism, etc. are increasingly celebrated rather than fought in popular movies, books, and music.

Instead of letting our kids consume a steady diet of today’s mass culture for the sake of being relatable, we should be creating a counter culture in our homes that promotes the respect of God and centers around His Word.

Obviously, it’s impractical to isolate ourselves completely from the world around us, and our kids need to learn how to exercise self-control. We can, however, help our children evaluate media they watch, read, and listen to by asking questions like:

  • does this encourage the breaking of God’s laws?
  • is this full of sexual content, immodesty, violence, language, or disrespect?
  • does this portray elements of the occult that includes magic, fortune telling, casting spells, and witches or vampires cast as “good”?
  • does it play more on emotions than engage the mind?

Third Culture kids are described as spokespeople, bridge builders and natural change agents. They aren’t only advocates for the ethnicities they’ve become acquainted with, but have developed a unique ability to transfer their cultural intelligence to brand new places.

Likewise, our kids shouldn’t be so assimilated (conformed) to the pop culture that they lose their ability to be ambassadors for Christ.

Provide a Christian education

This is the “elephant in the room” with respect to the lack of a biblical worldview among youth growing up in Christian homes, and why the Church is losing the culture war. An increasingly secularized education system will always produce an increasingly secularized society.

If Christian influence in the culture has dissipated over the last 100 years, it isn’t for lack of Christian evangelism and Christian churches. Each successive generation is discipled in the schools by teachers who were discipled in secularized public or Christian universities.

After spending 10,000 hours in these secular classrooms, of course children will be affected by what they see and hear. Children may love Jesus with their hearts, but they are being trained to think secularly.

What you pour into a child’s mind determines what she thinks, and what she thinks determines how she acts, regardless of her heart-filled faith. The one thing that can overrule a person’s heart is their mind!

Teach your kids in Jesus alone

Like anything else, Satan takes something good and tempts us with a counterfeit. I believe all the people who are “shouting their deconversion” are actually railing against this, but they’re doing it in a faulty way. Instead of realizing and admitting that they never truly trusted Christ and now submitting to Him, they turn to the world for the answers that religiosity didn’t provide.

It’s clear that their hope this whole time was in something other than the saving power and work of Jesus.

We can’t just raise our kids in a culture permeated by Christian music, movies, education, youth groups, lingo, etc. and then expect that that’s going to insulate them from the harsh realities of the world. Or equip them to stand strong in their faith.

What happens when they turn 18 and leave the comfort of that culture? What happens when their friends say they no longer believe?

As Sally Clarkson put it so well: “Christian activities and interests do not make a home Christian. A Christian home is never defined by what the children are doing; it is defined by what the parents are doing.”

We need to be in our Bibles and committed to prayer. We have to guard against moralism posing as Christianity and good works masquerading as the Gospel.

Most of all, we have to teach our kids to put their hope in Christ alone. Read with them the hard stories in Scripture of Job, Daniel, and the apostles in Acts. Read the biographies of missionaries who, while they despaired of life itself at times, continued to put their trust in God.

Don’t divorce pain and hardship from the Christian life. Jesus never promised us a care-free, prosperous experience if we follow Him. It’s more like “take up your cross daily”.

That’s what our kids need to hear. That while this life may be full of disappointments, struggles, and harsh realities, they have a Redeemer and Savior who walks with them through it all until they reach the finish line and enter into glory.

Model authentic faith

There is a saying that more is caught than taught. While it’s important that we teach our kids what the Bible says, it’s crucial that they see our life and our doctrine match up. Otherwise, they may have an appearance of godliness, but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

The Gen2 survey conducted by Generations found that the child who abandoned his faith was almost 600% more likely to refer to his parents’ hypocrisy as a reason. If we give way to idolatry, our children will usually follow in our footsteps with their own choice of idols.

Kids get the message loud and clear as they watch us prioritize other things over their relationship with the Lord. They’ll know whether Christ is merely a spoke on your family’s wheel instead of the hub.

Parents who don’t walk in accordance with their beliefs are communicating that their faith isn’t relevant. Authenticity, humility, confession of sin, and true faith really matter, if the next generation is going to walk with God.

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This post originally appeared at Called to Mothering, published with permission.


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Marisa Boonstra
Marisa is a homeschooling mom of two and author of Bucking The System: Reclaiming Our Children’s Minds For Christ, published in January 2016. She writes to encourage women to find purpose and joy in their God-given calling as mothers, helping them raise children with a biblical worldview. She relies on Jesus and coffee to get her through the day, and loves marveling at the cultural differences between New Jersey where she grew up and Oklahoma where her family has been transplanted! You can find more of her writings over at calledtomothering.com.