A slow fade is occurring. Christianity is losing its young people. Studies show that 75% of the children who grow up in church leave the church. That is a real problem.
During the past 40 years, the church in America has clearly lost a lot of its strength, stability and overall health. Since 1991, the adult population in the United States has grown by 15%, but the number of adults who don’t attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million – a 92% increase.
According to a 2001 study conducted at the City University of New York, the United States appears to be going through an unprecedented change in religious practice. Large numbers of American adults are disaffiliating themselves from Christianity. Since WWII, this process had been observed in other countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and other European nations. But until recently, America's affiliation with Christianity had been at a high level—about 87% and stable.
Identification with Christianity has suffered a loss of 9.7 percentage points in 10 years—about 1% a year. The decline is identical to that observed in Canada between 1981 and 2001. If this trend continues, by about the year 2042 non-Christians will outnumber Christians in the United States.
What can we do the stem the tide?
What can we do to pass faith on to our kids?
The church must equip parents to become primary spiritual trainers in their own home. As God prepared to give the Promised Land to His people, He said, what I'm about to tell you is the way you can have a strong faith in me, and pass that faith on to your kids and grandkids.
Changes in our society have made it necessary for a shift in our thinking. (Technology, TV, computers, cell phones, working moms, media, schedules, school, sports, and the list goes on.)
Family life has gotten busier and more hectic over the past few decades. Moving from the industrial age to the technological age to the digital age has quickened the pace for most everyone in our culture. Intended or not, we’ve moved away from the home being the primary place where faith is nurtured.
We live in a service economy. We outsource many jobs; laundry, lawns, windows. Some of us have outsourced the spiritual formation for our children. Just as parents take their children to a hitting coach for them to learn how to hit a baseball or to a piano teacher for them to learn to play the piano, they bring their children to church for them to learn faith. This drop-off approach might, at best, keep kids busy in church for a few years, but it usually doesn’t lead to any kind of lasting faith in their adult years.
Peter Benson, director of Search Institute notes “As the family goes so goes the future of the church. Religious life in the home is more influential than the church.” Together, mom and dad are 2-3 times more influential than any program at church.
The problem: Faithful Christ-like living isn’t happening in our homes today. In other words, families of all shapes and sizes are not applying faith to their everyday lives at home. They might come to church on a regular basis or be involved in a church program, but when it comes to talking about faith, praying together, and reading the Bible in the home, it isn’t happening. The result is a crisis that has short-term and long-term consequences. Parents' behavior during the week does not match what children see on Sunday.
Search Institute conducted a nationwide survey of more than 11,000 participants from 561 congregations across six different denominations. Revealing that among the churched teens that were surveyed:
12% have a regular dialog with their mother on faith/life issues.
5% have a regular dialog with their father on faith/life issues.
9% have experienced regular reading from the Bible in their home.
12% have experienced a servanthood event with a parent as an action of faith.
George Barna’s research confirms these results… "We discovered that in a typical week, fewer than 10% of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together, pray together (other than at meal times) or participate in an act of service as a family unit."
It is easy to come to the conclusion that religious life in the home is almost non-existent.
We are losing the primary place of influence for faith development ... the home.
In Family: the Forming Center, Marjorie Thompson writes, “for all their specialized training, church professionals realize that if a child is not receiving basic Christian nurture in the home, even the best teachers and curriculum will have minimal impact. Once a week exposure simply cannot compete with daily experience where personal formation is concerned.”
Since parents are primary Faith Trainers, we must have a clear partnership between church and family with training for parents. It’s not only what we do as parents but what we are. The church should teach parents how to love God and people in front of their children. The church must ask the question of parents: "When have you talked to your children about the story of God in your life?"
We must challenge parents to live out Deuteronomy 6 in their lives.
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:4-9
The College Hills church will enact "Path of Legacy" Mile Markers, which are practical and intentional ways to hand down your faith in God to the next generation of Christ-followers in your family. These mile markers take place:
Milestone #1 - At the Birth of a Baby A commitment for parents to be intentional about raising their children to be the next generation of Christ followers. A seminar and ceremony will be offered for parents who have children between birth and one year of age.
Milestone #2 - Upon Entering Kindergarten Help parents be ready for views that all religions are equal; all lifestyles are acceptable. We want our children to make decisions based on a Biblical world view. A ceremony will take place where the Elders of the church give a new Bible to each child. This is to encourage them to begin their own personal walk with God.
Milestone #3 - At Baptism Parents lead their children toward a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Special classes will be offered to assist parents in the dialogue with their child.
Milestone #4 - Preparing for Adolescence Parents should intentionally prepare their children for the teen years ... help them navigate relevant issues such as physical changes, identity in Christ and sexuality. This should occur between the ages of 9-12, depending on gender and maturity. A special class will be held to help parents plan and prepare their own Preparing for Adolescence experience for their child.
Milestone #5 - Graduation from High School Create an opportunity for parents to offer a blessing to their children within the context of their faith community. Between the ages of 16-18, parents must help their children develop practical and spiritual skills to leave home-preparing for the world outside the nest.
The College Hills church will equip parents with the skills to prepare their children for each mile marker and provide resources to help parents gain competency. These include Faith Talks, God Moments, Blessings, Driven Home, Family Service and the Faith@Home section of the College Hills Bookstore. Sharing in worship each week is an important driver for each of these. The church commits to expect, encourage, equip, and educate our families in nurturing faith in their children.
This important initiative does NOT mean that there won’t be a children’s and youth ministry. It will be quite the opposite. The church will continue to offer vibrant, Biblical and relevant ministries to children and youth. These programs will support and supplement – not replace – what children and teenagers are learning at home.
A healthy family blesses the church. A healthy church blesses the family.