Three point two percent. According to a study authored by a Baylor University professor, those are the odds of an adolescent who attends church less than once a month becoming a weekly church attender in young adulthood.
The data was included in a larger study in which the authors were using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to examine how often young adults who were involved in institutional religion as adolescents return to religion—measured by religious service attendance and religious affiliation—after leaving in emerging adulthood, and how this return is patterned by family structure in young adulthood. They found that the majority of young adults who regularly attended religious services as adolescents don’t return to regular religious service attendance, regardless of their family structure.
As someone who spends the majority of his work life with teens and their families, I suspect many church leaders fail to appreciate the extent to which traditional Christian teaching regarding marriage. sexuality and the sanctity of life is antithetical to the worldview commonly held by the generation that is entering the work world and starting families. If the majority of teens raised in the church aren’t returning, what chance do we have with teens who lack such a foundation? What should we do?
We need to become very intentional about doing everything we can to get families of children and teens into weekend worship services as often as possible. Our focus as an organization is in helping churches to welcome and include families of kids with disabilities, with an emphasis upon families of kids with “hidden disabilities” – mental illness, trauma and difficulties with social communication, but this is a larger issue for the church than simply disability inclusion. If I were serving on a church leadership team, I’d devote as many resources as possible to reaching as many families with children and teens in my surrounding community as we could.
We have to get far more serious about spiritual formation among the families who do attend church regularly. We can’t dilute our message or our teaching to be more “seeker-sensitive” or we’ll end up with attendees with faith a mile wide and an inch deep. I’m reminded of Jesus’ commentary from Matthew 13 on the Parable of the Sower…
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
I worry that the kids of this generation are going to face challenges to their faith that my generation hasn’t had to face to this point. It does little good to get kids and families to church if nothing transformative of life-changing at church. We need to get serious about about preparing our kids to practice their faith in the midst of an increasingly hostile culture.
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I believe it is much more than just attending church. Children, from their first Sunday in the nursery and on through need to receive intentional discipling from adults in the church. I believe it is the responsibility of every member of the church to be involved at one level or another in the discipleship of the children. Deuteronomy 6 – note it says O Israel not O Parents – everyone was expected to be involved in the discipling of the children.
30 + years ago I was told of a study that had been done on children raised in the church who walk away from God in early adulthood. Why It Takes A Church to Raise a Child http://www.kidtrek-sundayplus.org/child-discipleship-why-it-takes-a-church-to-raise-a-child/
I have seen it work. It does demands the support of the Senior Pastor. Although I have recently seen a Children’s Pastor who is chipping away by connecting with one dad after another – convincing the dad’s of what must happen if they want their children to walk into eternity with the Triune God. This in the midst of opposition from the Senior Pastor.