“How do we keep our young people faithful to the church after they leave home?”
Some ministers were asked this question during the final session of the World Religions seminar in which I was a panel member. It was an excellent question and showed a deep concern for the loss of influence the church is having on teens and young adults.
The panel answered the question from the perspective of what churches can do to keep our young people faithful.
When it was my turn to speak to the question, I shared what my friend, the Rev. Owen C. Carr says: “We don’t lose young people from our churches. We lose them when they’re children. (But) they can’t leave until they’re teens.”
Churches should do everything they can to inspire and connect children and teens to Jesus. Churches must change, innovate and become relevant to our children and youth if we want to increase the odds that they will remain faithful as young adults.
But the church is only a small part of the equation, and not even the most important one. The primary factor in a young person’s desire for God, the church and the things of God is not the church.
It is parents.
Ron Lee Davis, in a talk entitled, “Introducing Christ to Your Child,” made this statement: “An elder statesman of a Christian church has devoted himself to a 50-year study of Christian and non-Christian families. He said in American culture today, most young adults following Jesus Christ either come from non-Christian homes where they were converted to Christ in their teenage years through a dynamic youth ministry, or they come from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because Mom and Dad were so in love with Jesus that his love permeated their lives.
“It passed through their pores. Very few believers come from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.
“This is not my idea,” Davis said. “This is the result of this study. It is sobering and thought-provoking to suggest that, in American culture, the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a Christian than for a child growing up in a home that has an indifferent, apathetic commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Parents, if you are concerned about whether your children will remain faithful to Jesus, stay connected to the church and have an eternal home in heaven — make certain you are fully-devoted to Jesus Christ yourself and passionate about your faith.
Warren Mueller writing in Leadership magazine noted this about children and church attendance: “A study once disclosed that if both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 72 percent of their children remain faithful in attendance. If only Dad attends regularly, 55 percent remain faithful. If only Mom attends regularly, 15 percent remain faithful. If neither attend regularly, only 6 percent remain faithful.”
My friend, the Rev. Terry Yancey, superintendent of the Kansas District of the Assemblies of God, when he ministered to teens, would often address them with words like these.
“If you don’t know how to get to heaven,” he would tell them, “I’m going there. Put your eyes on the back of my neck and follow me. Do what I do, watch what I watch, pray like I pray, live for Jesus the way I live for Jesus. Follow me, imitate me, and we’ll get to heaven together.”
Mom, Dad, could you speak words like these to your own children, or are you expecting the church, the pastor, the youth sponsor or the children’s director to be the ones your children are supposed to follow if they want to learn how to get to heaven? Your children will first follow you and then those in the church. As the Rev. John C. Maxwell said, “You teach what you know, you reproduce what you are.”
What are you reproducing in your children in regard to God and the church — apathetic, half-hearted devotion, or vital, living faith? The burden rests primarily not on the church’s shoulders, but on yours.
Let’s partner together to hold on to our children.
The Rev. Rick Glowacki is lead pastor at Columbus First Assembly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.