Introduction to a Growing Concern: Children Leaving the Faith

I just saw one of those alarming surveys about children leaving the church. It was revealed in a tweet by a prominent Christian apologist who asked, “why are Millennials leaving the church?” [Source] The answers were many: “Teach the Bible.” “Live your faith.” “Ground them in apologetics.” “Establish good theology.” All of these are good and foundational, but I found myself thinking a couple of thoughts: For the most part, these approaches are already being implemented in conservative churches and they still seem to be ineffective.

The Missing Theme in Faith Formation

I am far from being an expert in this area. I can only hope and pray I did some things right as a parent. But as I looked at these answers given on this post, I found a theme missing. It was not about theology and biblical interpretation. It is more of a mood that needs to be fostered. Ultimately, it is expressed in my response in the post, “Give them an opportunity not to believe so that they may truly believe.” Let me break this down into five areas of encouragement to parents and traditions.

Five Mood Setters for Spiritual Growth

1. Encouraging Independent Thought: Parents and churches, listen up! From the get-go, it’s on us to guide our kids into learning how to believe, not just what to believe. Don’t just give them a family (or church) catechism of answers. Encourage them to question and explore. They need to reach the conclusions on their own. There is risk here, yes. There’s a chance they might end up with beliefs different from ours. But there is a greater risk that they just echo your words without truly understanding them.

2. Fostering Open Exploration: Keep the front door open. Let them know that they are not at a “belief lock-in.” Discipleship isn’t just about filling heads with information; it’s about transforming hearts. Any faith tradition or institution that tries to keep a tight leash on our ability to believe or disbelieve is missing the point. We’ve got to keep the doors open, letting people question and explore freely. Then when and if they choose to stay, it’s for real. Again, there is risk that they will leave. But when they are under lock and key, there is a greater risk they will escape.

3. Acknowledging Our Fallibility: Be up front about your own fallibility. No system – religious, scientific, or educational – has all the answers. That’s why self-discovery is so crucial. It allows us to adapt, improve, and embrace new ideas. It’s about evolution, not stagnation. Make sure to communicate that, unlike God, we are fallible.

4. Respecting New Ideas: Respect new ideas. Next time you hear a new idea, don’t scoff at it. Being dismissive only shows our own insecurities. Great ideas often start out as ‘crazy’ thoughts.

5. Celebrating Life’s Mysteries: Celebrate the mystery. And finally, never forget – the world is full of mysteries. There’s so much more beneath the surface than what meets the eye. Let’s bask in the wonder of it all and let it transform us. That’s where true understanding and belief lie.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, there is no guarantee. Our kids are way more God’s than they are ours. Our role in their lives is brief and, despite our best efforts, may include some regrets. Training up a child in the way they should go is a process. It shapes us in profound ways, ensuring our beliefs and knowledge are deeply rooted and genuinely our own. Teach them the Bible, theology, and apologetics. But also create a mood of freedom and risk. It is the least risky option.

Don’t miss the first post in this series.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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