According to Essential Church? by Thom & Sam Rainer, statistics show that seventy percent of church-going young adults drop out between the ages of 18-22 years. That is two-thirds of young people who were raised in church! A number of reasons are cited by the dropouts but there is one overarching theme: They simply do not see the church as essential to their lives.
While there are several reasons that young people might not find the church to be essential, I believe that there is one major cause of this phenomenon: Too many young people never developed their own faith. There are far too many teens and young adults who attend church simply to appease mom and dad rather than out of a sense of personal faith. Somewhere along the line, parents have failed to teach their children to develop their own faith and have instead assumed that the parents’ faith would be adopted by the teen or young adult.
There was a time when faith did seem to be “passed down” from generation to generation. However, today we live in a society that is taught to question the validity of everything and to learn truth for ourselves. We also live in a society that does not put a high value on Christianity. Let’s face it; we can no longer say that America is a Christian nation. Instead, we are a melting pot of many different religious (and non-religious) beliefs. We live in an age where each person feels a need to establish their own faith and not rely on the beliefs of the family. (By the way, isn’t that a much more biblical model?)
So, how do we help our children to build their own faith? I believe that, first and foremost, children must see their parents’ faith modeled before them. If you want your son or daughter to learn how to wash the dishes, you must first show them how to do it. How can you expect your kids to know how to pray when you have never prayed with them? By the same token, how can you expect your kids to know the importance of reading the Bible on a regular basis if you never pick it up in front of them? Unfortunately, there are far too many Christian parents who do not walk beside their children teaching them how to develop a faith of their own.
It is also amazing how quickly kids pick up on double standards. Have you ever been teaching your child to drive a car and had trouble getting them to stop completely at a stop sign rather than roll through it? If so, what are your normal stopping habits? The same thing applies to the Christian faith. If parents expect a particular behavior from their kids because it is a “Christian” behavior, then the same behavior better be modeled by the parents. Parents cannot expect a young person to enjoy serving others if the parents are constantly grumbling about the same. Nor can we expect children to be excited about going to Bible class when the parents drop them off and then go get a cup of coffee without going to Bible class themselves.
In order to help a young person develop a faith of their own, parents must actively model and teach biblical principles. Children must be encouraged to get involved in the work of the church at a young age. They need to be encouraged to develop their spiritual gifts so that when they leave home they will know that they are needed in the church and that when they are not present, they are missed.
It is possible to decrease the church dropout rate of young adults. It takes extreme parental involvement and encouragement. It’s not a foolproof system but it’s surely more likely to work than the old plan of osmosis.
I believe the proverb writer said it best, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)