Why are young people leaving the church? If I had a dollar for every time I heard this question, I would have a lot of dollars. And I get it. The rate at which young people abandon God is alarming. Everyone has experienced a young person throwing aside their faith, either directly or indirectly. It’s devastating.
So, how does the church need to change? While this question needs to be addressed, I don’t think it provides an answer to the problem.
Stick with me, I am going somewhere.
You see, I believe parents are the primary link between young people and God. Not the church. In his book “Soul Searching,” Christian Smith says this:
The most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.
In an interview with Drs. Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Smith goes even further:
When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.
Whoa. That’s real.
Here’s the deal. Parents, you are painting a portrait of God for your children every day. Every word, action, and conversation is a brushstroke. And when your children prepare to leave home, they are staring at a portrait of God. A portrait that shapes their actions and decisions about faith moving forward.
Are there exceptions? Absolutely. As a youth minister, I witnessed young people leave Jesus, even though the faith of their parents was rock solid. I also saw young people continue into college on fire for God, even though their parents had shaky, fickle faith. So, this isn’t a black and white, issue. Few issues are.
But will you, as a parent, play an enormous role in shaping the faith of your children? No doubt.
With that being said, I want to point out some things young people need from their parents. To those who have abandon God for a season in college, someone who ministers to young people every day, and someone who is passionate about reaching about the next generation.
Here are 7 things youth need from their parents so they won’t abandon God.
1. They need you to stop handing their faith off to youth leaders.
I grew up in church. But I was never part of a youth group. I didn’t receive formal training in youth ministry. So, when I jumped into youth ministry, the whole thing was new to me.
In the first few months, I noticed something alarming. It appeared as though parents looked to me as the primary person responsible for the spiritual growth of their kids. Why is this alarming? The Bible makes no mention of this model.
Unfortunately, most churches have created this mess. And reinforced it. Calendars are filled with events, and a cultural pressure is placed on young people to get a gold star for perfect attendance. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against youth ministry. I think it is a great tool for building faith in young people.
But there is a problem when youth ministry becomes THE tool.
Parents, you have the primary responsibility for building faith in your children. Youth leaders exist to equip you and supplement the work you are doing in the home. They don’t exist to replace you.
2. They need you to care as much about their struggles as you do about their salvation.
Growing up, I remember numerous conversations with my parents about baptism. My fellowship holds baptism in very high regard. Too high. That’s how I felt, at least. I grew to hate the word “baptism,” and with every conversation about why I needed to be baptized, I took one step further away from God.
Maybe that’s not fair. But that’s where I was. As strange as this sounds, I needed someone to care as much about my struggles as they did about my salvation.
And I struggled mightily in high school. I searched everywhere for my identity. I struggled with lust and pornography. I traveled down dark roads searching for direction.
It was as if my salvation was the only thing that mattered. Eventually, I started to see God this way. He didn’t have much to say about my present struggles. He just wanted me to be “saved.” And I didn’t care much for a God who didn’t inform my current situation. So, I left.
Here’s what I learned from that season. While everyone who talked to me was sincere, I believe they were trying to manufacture my salvation. Humans don’t have the power to save someone. That is God’s job.