Marc Solas gives his top ten reasons 70% of youth abandon their churches when they leave high-school. His astute comments are worth reviewing. Here’s four things that might improve that statistic.
Treat God’s Word Like it’s Actually Essential To Living.
The problem with kids starts with parents. If the Bible really is Word of The True GOD then churches need to insist without apology that people learn the Scripture and learn how to study it accurately.1
Treat Kids Like You Intend To Launch Them Into Life.
The statistics Marc refers to only reflect the retention of kids leaving high-school, but I think their hearts and minds start leaving around age 12, their bodies take a few more years. Part of the reason is that we teach little children baby Bible stories and forget that they grow up.
When I taught a Bible class for seventh grade boys at a Christian school, I taught through the major stories of the Bible, having the boys analyze the stories first by looking at them as serious literature, studying the organization of material focusing on the challenges the characters faced (I didn’t hide the ugly) then they had to invent and perform skits of the stories and finally write an essay that personalized their understanding of the difficult challenges these stories presented. I had them memorize all of Romans 8 over a year instead of a bunch of isolated snippets so they would learn to follow logical flow of thought. At the end of the year, when I asked them what they thought, I’ll never forget the response of a boy acting as the class spokesman. He said that they saw themselves as being in the process of growing up and putting away the trappings of childhood. They came to the class thinking that all those Bible stories they had learned would be set aside with the other trappings. But through the class they had come to realize the Bible deals with serious issues they themselves would have to face someday as adults.
I learned a serious lesson from those boys. Even I had underestimated them. Too often middle-schoolers are treated as little children rather than being respected as people beginning a very difficult transition to adulthood and being given the opportunity to grapple with serious issues instead of more Bible pablum.
Let Kids See You Trust God in Your Crisis
One thing that holds kids back is that adults resist one of the major teachings of Scripture. Western society long ago succumbed to the secular idea that knowledge education is the best way to teach. Knowledge is an important part of learning, but wisdom and character have never been forged in any textbook. It is through adversity and suffering that faith is perfected. Why? Simple. Our tendency is to trust ourselves. This is our basic sin to which God cries “repent!” John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles all began their ministry with that message and never stopped. Too often the adult Christians I meet don’t want to let on they can’t handle things (men especially), so they are not transparent about their lives. As a result kids don’t often see parents and teachers really struggling to trust God. They only hear them say they do. That’s like serving kids meals without ever once letting them in the kitchen, then one day expecting them to start fixing all their own meals! They’ll go for fast food – wouldn’t you?
Connect Kids to Jesus in Their Crisis
I meet too many people who think being a Christian is supposed to make life easier for themselves and for their children. Yet God says that it is when we face temptation, tribulation, trials, and uncertainty that we have an opportunity to find out if He is trustworthy and loving and grow. Growth is hard work. There isn’t another way.
Early in my Christian life I was taught that if I did everything according to the Bible’s rules and principles, my life would work out nicely – according to God’s “Plan A” for my life, but if I resisted and made bad decisions, well, then there was “Plan B” and that would be rough, and too bad. Pure rot. God only has one plan for our lives – to live it with Him. Sure he urges us to make good decisions, but He’s less interested in us having an easy life than in building up our patience, our trust in Him and character. That’s why he allows us to be challenged, why He gives us choices.
James 1:2–5 — Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various temptations, knowing that the proof of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance work to completion, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Look at those words carefully. Teaching little ones the 10 Commandments, memory verses and Bible stories is an essential good start. But Bible study is only the knowledge-preparation for trials. The proof of faith, and the confidence in God that results doesn’t come until we patiently work through temptation by trusting God. One of the transformations God makes through these experiences is to use the truth of God’s Word to change our expectations and challenge our values and inclinations. That’s the way to maturity. The real lessons come in difficulties. Jesus learned obedience through it (Hebrews 5:8) and so did every Apostle and revered saint since creation. And so must a kid or else all they will have is religion, not eternal life.
Even little ones face difficulties that are big to them. Are their parents and teachers connecting them to God in those difficulties? We often don’t because the problems little ones face are too challenging for adults. Yes you read that right. You see their problems are too simple. They need more concrete answers and rather soon. And that challenges our own faith because we fear God won’t respond in a way or in the time a little kid will understand. Will God actually find that lost ring? Will God deal with that bully? We also fear that we won’t have answers if He doesn’t. No wonder the church can’t keep the next generation.
In other words don’t point the way, lead the way.
When was the last time you invited a stranger into your home for dinner? Took the kids to help at a rescue mission or some other project that took you out of your comfort zone? How can your kids turn to God in life’s difficulties when they don’t see their parents and adult leaders show them how it’s done? Jesus said that eternal life was knowing a person, God, not knowing about Him. So we need to introduce kids to God, not religion.
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”2
- This is a BIG problem. People in church do not see the Scripture as being more important than their secular job preparation. So who’s their God? Why aren’t our preachers pounding the pulpit about priorities? Because they’ll loose financial support and the elders will fire them. [↩]
- John 17:3 (NASB95) [↩]