Christian Kids Are Leaving the Faith. What Can We Do About It?
- Catherine Segars Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 24 Mar
An astronomical number of Christian young people are leaving the faith after they leave the nest. A recent New LifeWay Research survey shows that two-thirds of Christian youth stop attending church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.
A study from the Assemblies of God shows that “at least half and possibly over two-thirds of Christian young people will step away from the faith while attending a non-Christian college or university.” A similar study from the Southern Baptist Convention “indicates that they are currently losing 70-88% of their youth after their freshman year in college.”
In her recent book, Mama Bear Apologetics, Hillary Morgan Ferrer offers a somber reality when it comes to our Christian teens and twenty-somethings: “Most studies indicate between 45%-48% of youth leave the church after their freshman year in college and never return.” (pg. 27)
If the massive youth exodus we are experiencing in the church doesn’t concern us as parents, it should.
Why Are Kids Growing Up and Leaving the Faith?
One of the primary reasons cited for this youth exodus by Tom Bisset in his book Why Christian Kid’s Leave the Faith is surprisingly simple: “They left because they never personally owned their faith.”
In other words, their faith was an offshoot of their parent’s spiritual journey. Like Esau, who didn’t value the birthright his father wanted to bestow, these kids never found a personal faith. They never wrestled with God like Jacob did. They never contended with the ideas of men and women. They never learned how to overcome. And when faced with worldly ideals backed by popular secular ideology, the faith of these young people couldn’t stand.
My new podcast, Christian Parent/Crazy World, explores this massive youth exodus from the church. Each episode offers practical guidance and answers to critical questions that will help solidify the faith of our children. In episode 3, I examine in greater detail the steps outlined in this article. It is vital that the faith we pass on to our kids becomes their own.
Here are seven steps we can take as parents to help our kids own their faith:
1. Let your kids see you wrestle with your faith.
I have this hideous pillow-chair in my bedroom that has seen better years. I wrote a blog about it recently. I’ve had it for over two decades. About 10 years ago, my husband offered to replace it and my reaction was a visceral “NO!”
I will never get rid of that pillow.
You see, one day I was beside my bed crying out to God about something, and I pulled that cushion in front of me. And suddenly… this mound of thread, stuffing, and tattered cloth became something much more than a pillow. It became an altar.
After several decades of pounding it with sweaty fists and bathing it with tears, this is one bruised, broken, busted-up altar. That is why my husband wanted to replace it. But I won’t let him. That ridiculous pillow-chair bears the gut-wrenching milestones of so many journeys.
When my kids come into my room and they see me hovering over that stained and stitched-up altar, they know that mama is wrestling. They know that I struggle as I walk out my faith. They know that everything isn’t perfect in my life. They know that I am grappling with God down on my knees. And they know that I overcome.
Sometimes we are tempted to put on a good show for the kiddos, to stand strong in the faith with our stalwart Sunday morning faces. We don’t let our kids see our confusion, our fears, or our frustrations. But our kids need to see us fight for our faith and overcome. When they see us wrestle with God like Jacob, when they see us fight and find victory, they will have the proper expectation of the Christian journey.
2. Invite your children to wrestle with you.
There are certain struggles that we don’t want to pass on to our kids. We don’t need to tell them about our marital difficulties. We don’t need to tell them that we might lose a job or the house. But there are some struggles we have as parents that we can invite our kids to wrestle through with us.
I had a miscarriage when I was 44. That wasn’t a typo. I was 44. I believed God had promised us another child, a baby girl, and then I lost a little one in utero. I was devastated. We didn’t tell the kids, but in our quiet times, both my husband and I believed that this promise was still possible if we persisted in prayer. It was a crazy idea, but we believed.
So, we prayed. A lot. I assembled four pages of Scriptures that we prayed over my body every day. You can find those faith-building Bible verses as a free resource on my website. (This guide is helpful for many prayer vigils, not just the journey to have another child.)
About six months into this prayer journey, the Lord prompted me to tell the kids and to invite them to pray with us for their sister to come. My initial thought was, “Ehhh…. Not a good idea.” After all, they could be disappointed or discouraged if the answer wasn’t what we hoped it would be.
You would think after half a year of daily prayer for this one promise, I would have acquired a little more faith. I imagine God was doing a major face-plant in response to my lack of faith, but He didn’t let on. Instead, He patiently helped me realize that while I was on the field playing the game, my kids were in the stands. They were spectators. And I was missing a prime opportunity to build their faith. When we received our miracle, I wanted them to know it was a miracle for them, not just me and my husband. God encouraged me to get my kids on the field and let them play the game.
So, we told them. And they prayed with us. Every day. And a few months later—when we received the blessed news that I was pregnant with our baby girl—they were part of the miracle. It was their victory too.
Look for opportunities to build your kids’ faith by wrestling for something big… together.
3. Encourage your kids to wrestle through the Scriptures.
Don’t skim over the tough parts of Scripture. Believe me, your kids will find them. They may get to college and a professor will claim that the Bible is misogynistic, racist, bigoted, or homophobic. They may meet someone who claims the Bible is just a book written by some ancient dead guys.
Look at those claims as an open door to solidify your kid’s faith. Have challenging conversations with your kids about those tough topics in the light of Scripture.
That task may seem daunting, but check out the Christian Parent/Crazy World podcast where we will answer many of these critical questions together. Wrestle through the Word with your kids. Show them how to dig into the Scriptures with you, so that one day they can do it on their own.
4. Encourage your kids to wrestle with our culture.
When you encounter secular ideology in our culture, hit the pause button and have a conversation with your kids. We have hit the pause button more times than I can count with Hallmark Films. Once known as a bastion for family-friendly entertainment, Hallmark has now entered the field of agenda-driven television.
Don’t engage with media mindlessly, no matter how innocent it may seem. Talk about what you are watching.
How does this look when you are out and about?
One time, my kids and I witnessed a woman trying to get a free buffet meal for her child, who was clearly over the age limit. So, I hit the pause button, discreetly, and asked my kids if their integrity was on sale for the price of a kid’s buffet. We had a deep conversation about the importance of honesty and how integrity will cost us in life—but the price is always worth it.
We are going to encounter the world’s ways. We can’t escape it. As followers of Christ, we must recognize the wide path and make sure our kids know where it leads.
Encourage your kids to wrestle with our culture through the lens of their faith. Ask your kids… what does our culture say about the family? Sexuality? Gender? Attraction? Marriage? Morality? Human Nature?
Now… what does Scripture say?
Challenge your kids. Be the devil’s advocate in your home because the world is the devil’s advocate, and the world isn’t playing a game. It’s playing for keeps.
Make sure your kids know that as Believers, our faith will be confronted by our culture. Frequently. Sometimes viciously. We must expect opposition from the world, and we must prepare our kids to meet it with courage, dignity, and grace.
5. Join your kids as they wrestle for their faith.
Just as you have invited your kids to wrestle through issues that affect your family, join your kids in the places where they are wrestling individually.
Last year, my oldest son, Bennett, needed to get braces. We went to an orthodontist for a consultation and the doctor said, “Mmm… He has a very significant overbite. An appliance won’t work for him. If you want to correct it, we will have to do a surgery where we break his jaw, move it forward and wire it shut.”
I was shocked. That was not what I was expecting to hear. I looked over at Bennet, poor kid, and his eyes were as wide as saucers. That doctor scared the living daylights out of my son.
So, we went for a consultation with another orthodontist. She examined Bennett and said, “I’m not going to lie, he has a pretty significant overbite. But I really think we can get a good result from an appliance.”
We went with that orthodontist.
And I told her that we were going to get a really good result because I was going to pray over Bennett’s jaw every day and tell it where to go. Mark 11:23 says that we can speak to mountains and tell them where to go. If I can tell a mountain where to go, I can tell my son’s jaw where to go.
So, before my son goes to bed at night, I put my hands on his jaw and tell it where to go in the Name of Jesus. And he does NOT have the words of Dr. “I want to break your jaw” going through his head. He has my words going through his head. Bennett and I are wrestling together with God and with His Word. We are applying His promises to this situation in his life.
Look for those situations in your kids’ lives where you can join them in wrestling with God and with the Scriptures for what they need. It is going to put some muscles on their faith when they see God move in their lives. And believe me, God wants to move in their lives. He wants to show up. So give Him the opportunity.
6. Wrestle for your kids in prayer.
We’ve got to pray for truth and revelation to saturate our kids' minds. We’ve got to pray that they become discerning of the enemy's lies. Pray for opportunities to encourage your children and to partner with them on their journey.
If you have a child who is out of the nest and they are not following the Lord, do not fear. It’s not too late. Remember this truth: God gives you authority over what you have authored. You have a unique spiritual authority over your kids. Use that authority in prayer.
7. Tune in to the Christian Parent/Crazy World podcast.
This step isn’t hard. Check out my new podcast where we will wrestle through all of these issues together, so you can prepare your kids to fly in their faith.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, podcaster, blogger, and motherhood apologist. This homeschooling mama of five is the host of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD, a Life Audio podcast about raising godly kids in an ungodly world, and she is matron of the Mere Mother website, which delves into critical cultural issues that affect families and marginalize mothers. Catherine helps parents navigate through dangerous secular landmines to establish a sound Biblical foundation for their kids. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.