Proverbs 22:6 advises parents:
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Christian parents should take this advice seriously in the hope that their children will follow Christ as well. Unfortunately, a recent article from Pew Research indicated that, within the last decade, there has been a large decline in American adults who would describe themselves as Christian. Furthermore, it appears that the number of millennials who describe religion as important to their lives has fallen to 38%.
The fact is that young people are leaving the church. This is alarming because, according to reports from Barna Research Group, a majority of individuals who become Christian do so when they are very young—before 13 years of age. The window in which parents can effectively impart their faith is very small!
Show them the way they should go
While it would be tempting to blame secular culture for this decline, to do so would sidestep the responsibility of Christian parents to care for their children’s spiritual needs. According to another study, 43% of Christian parents admit that they “seldom/never” participate in prayer, scripture study or religious education groups. If they are neglecting their own spiritual life, how much more neglected must be the lives of their children?
An article on Cold Case Christianity’s website includes this convicting quotation regarding Christianity among teenagers from author Kenda Dean: “If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation.”
As many teenagers from Christian families can tell you, there is a large portion of youth who are raised “Christian” but react with rebellion in their teenage years to hypocritical dogmatism and hostility from Christian adults. A survey conducted among young people who had left the church reached a similar conclusion. Aside from moving to college, the majority of them left because church members seemed “judgmental or hypocritical.”
Ephesians 6:4 furthers the advice of Proverbs saying:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
If Christians are to answer the question of why young people leave the church, they should look at themselves. The early Church survived greater persecution than what is faced in modern America. If the American church is dying it is because it is killing itself. Children are not being brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord because their parents rarely improve upon their own spiritual life and because the example children see is one of hypocrisy.
One commentator offers a definitive solution: “Parents who prioritize church as a central part of their family life, who teach their children to take Christianity seriously, and who encourage them to marry fellow believers, have the best chance of seeing not only their children but also their grandchildren in the pews beside them.”