Why are young people leaving the church? Parents ask what to do when your child turns away from God. 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 are leaving the church and walking away from 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 to keep them from walking away from God. 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 and whether or not the choose to walk away from God.
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. I present these as someone who left 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.
7 tips on what to do when your child turns away from 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.