Today’s churches are struggling to keep the younger generation. Their parents are in church. Their grandparents are in church. But, there are huge gaps. I see it every time I go back to the United States. I sit near the back of the auditorium of a church of around a thousand. I look around me. Probably half of the attendees have white hair. What does that tell me? We’re not keeping our kids. (You see, I have quite a few gray hairs myself, and my kids are grown and married. They are the next generation, so I know what I’m talking about.) There’s a whole generation of teens and young adults who simply aren’t there.
It’s happening in excellent churches with Bible preaching pastors and wonderful people making up the church body. These people care. They have good families. The preaching and singing glorify God.
So, what’s the problem? Why don’t kids—teens and young adults—go to church?
I believe there are two reasons.
- Parental values. They say that values are taught and caught. I believe there’s a lot more to it, but it’s true that children—especially from age eleven upwards—acutely understand what’s going on at home. They have the best antennae in the world. They pick up on lifted eyebrows and nuances. They can hear through walls! Your young child knows more about your real values than you know yourself. He is watching you for leadership. So, what are you doing? Oh yes, you go to church—every time the door is open. You even do one good work. It might be ladies’ meeting or a special prayer effort, a children’s outreach, or a sports night. You do one thing besides services. You’re an active member. Yet, that’s about it. Junior has never seen you open your Bible on your own. You forget to pray before meals. You don’t have family devotions of any kind. You don’t pray together about family matters. You don’t ask God to meet needs. Yet, you go to church every service. Do you know what the antennae pick up? Static. Hypocrisy. Junior isn’t convinced that church attendance actually did you any good. He’s not sure your works are an outpouring of your heart. So, he throws it all away—lock, stock, and barrel. He wants something real.
- Parental involvement. Time is everything. Quality time is everything. You need both in parenting! I believe that a parent who invests his life—sacrificing much of his own “free time” for the good of his children—will reap the rewards. So many parents have their children signed up for lots of worthy activities after school: gymnastics, soccer, music lessons, etc. Kids are whisked from school to the activity, they grab a bite to eat at the nearest fast food and go to the next thing. At ten p.m. they’re trying to finish up their homework—and tomorrow will be the same. Families don’t have family time. They have time in the car. Truthfully, that’s better than nothing. But, they aren’t together as a complete family in non-pressure time. Kids don’t feel connected with Mom and Dad because they’re not together much. Children don’t feel free to discuss things with their parents and confident they’re loved just as they are. They’re not secure.
These children get to their teen years, and they deal with challenges by clamming up at home, and texting and hanging out with friends. They don’t relate to Mom and Dad. Unless these teens are with other church families—doubtful—they quit going to church.
What can Christian parents do?
- Cut down on the extras—even good activities. Children need free time for playing. They need family time and enough sleep. They do better when after-school activities are limited. Be choosy. Less is more.
- Make family time a priority. What I mean is that, unless it’s extremely important and rare (which kids understand), you’ll be home with your kids at least three nights a week. You do something together—all the family—on Saturdays. It can be cleaning the garage or yard work and laundry, but you are together, doing things as a family unit. Hikes, bike rides, or a visit to a neighborhood park are great, refreshing get-aways for everyone. (By the way, all family time should be phone free for everyone.)
- Invest in each child. Doing things along with your child creates fabulous opportunities to talk. It’s not too confrontational, because all the time you’re both doing something. Kids need to be able to express their fears, news, and concerns. They need to know that Mom and Dad are non-judgmental and safe. Moms and dads shouldn’t go around sharing what their teen told them. This builds respect, and believe it or not, these stable relationships between children and their parents contribute to the furtherance of the church.
- Help your child have good, Christian friends. This was difficult for us, because our children were in the “between” age group in our small church. But there was one fine young man our son could befriend, and we tried to get them together often. Our daughter had it harder. We actually found her a friend in another country (about three hours from us), and a wonderful friendship developed. It meant traveling for us and the girl’s family, but it was more than worth the effort. Please understand: our kids had other friends, too, but their closest friends were Christians. In the teen years, these friendships are vital.
- Be faithful to church—and involved in a family ministry. Many church families only warm the pews once a week. When the whole family is faithful and involved, children get the message that church is important. What kind of a ministry can you do together with your kids? Give it some thought and volunteer. If you can’t think of anything, ask your pastor. Most children who were actually active in church all their lives continue to be active in church. When they were involved along with their parents, they usually stay in church.
- Be genuinely godly. Teens know your priorities. They feel genuineness and artificiality, as well. They sniff out hypocrisy better than anyone. The family that has a sweet atmosphere because both parents genuinely love the Lord and each other will help their kids desire to love God and family. The parents who share their own Christian walk in a transparent way help their children understand how to deal biblically with struggles, how to pray, and how to trust God. But, when there’s strife, selfishness, harshness, and contradiction between words and actions, children tend to trash their parents’ “values.” Sadly, that includes the church. When parents can’t forgive nasty people in their church, it’s no wonder kids blame the church for their hurts. Show them how to biblically resolve problems and show faithfulness in spite of hurt.
- Pray for each child. This begins before your baby is born and continues ever afterwards. Even when your children are adults, pray for them. God can turn around the most wayward child and break through to a hardened heart.
- Trust God. Many times, we can’t see what God is doing. Trust Him to do what’s best for your child.
If your grown child isn’t presently in church, pray for him and trust the Lord. God cares.