Save the Children

What are the chances that your children and grandchildren will remain faithful in the church? Not that good.

It’s a disturbing reality, but the facts are hard to deny. Academic studies on denominational churches show that about 70% of all young people will quit attending church within 2 years of leaving the home. In the churches of Christ, it might take a little longer and the percent loss might be a little better, but the facts are nonetheless alarming. Take a moment to consider the faithfulness of children raised in your congregation. In the congregations with which I am most familiar, about 50% of children leave the church soon after leaving the home.

What’s going wrong?

There’s no need to distribute blame, except to acknowledge that the responsibility of raising faithful children belongs to parents. Not the schools. Not the community. Not even the church.

The church should support the work of the parents, enable parents, educate and encourage parents. However, the church should not and cannot replace the work that God gives parents to do. This idea is evident in Malachi 2:15: “But did He not make them one [in marriage], Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one [in marriage]? He seeks godly offspring.” Procreating and raising godly children is the work of parents. We live in a world which would have you believe that raising children is everyone’s job. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village.” Certainly, I appreciate the idea that everyone can make meaningful contributions to the development of children, but the village can’t take the place of parents.

The church and the community can support the work of parents but they cannot assume the responsibility of parents and cannot absolve the parents of accountability when something goes awry. An example is Nehemiah 13:23-26:

“In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves…”

Who was ultimately responsible for this failure? Nehemiah didn’t blame the priests. He didn’t call out the community leaders. It wasn’t a failure of the government. The task of teaching children to serve the Lord was the responsibility of the parents. It was the parents who failed to teach them the Hebrew language and the laws of their God. The Jewish leaders deserved some blame, but still the parents were accountable.

So what should we do?

First, we must acknowledge the root of the problem. In a survey of college students who dropped out of church, about 50% said they did so because of “lack of belief.” Essentially, children leave the church because they aren’t fully persuaded in the first place. They spend 18 years in their parent’s home attending their parent’s church, but their parent’s faith never really becomes their faith.

This lack of faith manifests itself in various ways – like decreased church attendance, marrying outside of the church, and substance abuse – but the end result is the same. The child leaves the church for an alternate religious experience or just leaves religion altogether.

This is a well-defined problem and fortunately it has a biblical solution: teaching.

As a father of one young child, I’m no expert on the subtleties of successful parenting, but anyone can see the message for parents in the Bible. Raising a faithful child starts with biblical teaching in the home. Love and discipline are also essential, but teaching must be at the core. Deuteronomy 6:5-8 is a familiar passage on this topic:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Spiritual topics should be a constant conversation in your home. Help your children to understand that everything in life relates back to God. When you’re eating, talk about how God created the foods that they’re enjoying. When your child notices the trees changing colors in the fall, talk about how God made them that way just so we’d remember to think about him. Teach them that God made the child in a mother’s womb. Teach them that God put the stars in the sky. Teach them God loves them, and that he’s listening to them when they pray. As a child gets older, your spiritual conversations should mature with them. Talk with them about temptation and sin. Talk with them about love, forgiveness, and God’s plan of salvation. Talk with them about how they can glorify Jesus around their friends. Talk with them about who they should marry and where they should go to church. Talk with them about who you want them to be when you’re dead and gone.

If it doesn’t come naturally, then make plans for it. Write down questions you’ll ask your child. Plan time to read the Bible. When a child has spiritual questions, give them your undivided attention. Nothing you might be doing in life could be more important than helping them to learn about God. Whatever you do, keep on teaching.