Want Your Kids in Heaven? Do this.
It's no secret that a large percentage of young people are leaving the church. To combat this mass exodus, I posted an article a while back about the importance of parents bringing their kids to church. The following article, written by a preacher named Gene Veith, offers yet another important tool for the battle. In short, parents must 1) bring their kids to church regularly, and 2) impress upon their kids early and often the importance of marrying a Christian. Although this article doesn't mention it, I would add a third criterion: parents must live their faith at home consistently and in various ways.
After reading the article, I invite Southern Hills members to comment on our private Facebook page here or on our public page here. The church must have this conversation! I would especially invite comments from parents of grown, faithful children. You have wisdom the rest of us need!
Young adults aged 23 to 38 are either leaving or failing to engage with the church. Forty percent of these say they are religiously unaffiliated. Historically, young adults pull away from church for a while but then come back once they get married and, especially, once they have children. But there is evidence that this pattern is not happening so much with Millennials.
But a closer examination of the data offers encouraging information for parents while making clearer what churches need to do in order to keep their next generations. Briefly, Millennials are leaving the church unless they were brought to church by both parents as children. The problem with Millennials dropping their church affiliation began with their parents, with most drop-outs being seldom taken to church as children.
And, yet, there is another factor that contributes to the dropout rate even among young adults whose parents took them to church: Marrying outside the faith. Young Christians are increasingly marrying spouses who are not religious. There was a time when the religious spouse would influence the non-believer to come to church, often resulting in the non-believer coming to faith. Today, that influence seems to be going the other direction.
From an article by Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, Millennials Are Leaving Religion and Not Coming Back:
"Millennials may be the symbols of a broader societal shift away from religion, but they didn’t start it on their own. Their parents are at least partly responsible for a widening generational gap in religious identity and beliefs; they were more likely than previous generations to raise their children without any connection to organized religion. According to the AEI survey, 17 percent of millennials said that they were not raised in any particular religion compared with only five percent of Baby Boomers. And fewer than one in three (32 percent) millennials say they attended weekly religious services with their family when they were young, compared with about half (49 percent) of Baby Boomers.
"A parent’s religious identity (or lack thereof) can do a lot to shape a child’s religious habits and beliefs later in life. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that regardless of the religion, those raised in households in which both parents shared the same religion still identified with that faith in adulthood. For instance, 84 percent of people raised by Protestant parents are still Protestant as adults. Similarly, people raised without religion are less apt to look for it as they grow older — that same Pew study found that 63 percent of people who grew up with two religiously unaffiliated parents remained nonreligious as adults."
But even religiously-raised Millennials are not going back to church if, as is frequently happening, they are marrying someone who was not raised in the church:
"One finding in the survey signals that even millennials who grew up religious may be increasingly unlikely to return to religion. In the 1970s, most nonreligious Americans had a religious spouse and often, that partner would draw them back into regular religious practice. But now, a growing number of unaffiliated Americans are settling down with someone who isn’t religious — a process that may have been accelerated by the sheer number of secular romantic partners available, and the rise of online dating. Today, 74 percent of unaffiliated millennials have a nonreligious partner or spouse, while only 26 percent have a partner who is religious."
Now I am not giving up the notion that people tend to come back to church when they get older and settled down. Millennials, most of whom eventually get married, are doing so later and later. The study looks at ages 23-38, which is still quite young, and people in their 30s have a lot of soul-impacting life ahead of them. But these findings also show the church what it needs to do. The church must impress upon parents the importance of consistent church attendance with their children. Parents who do this will likely have children who hold onto the faith. It is that simple.
Many Christian parents are doing that. But there is one important thing that needs to happen that parents and churches seem to be neglecting: Teaching children the importance of marrying fellow-Christians. Indeed, if the church and our faith tradition are to continue, it is imperative that we teach our children to marry Christians who are also members of Churches of Christ.
But not just teaching them in the sense of planting this consideration in their minds but finding ways of making it happen. That is, making occasions by which their teenagers can get to know each other and possibly form relationships that can lead to marriage. Youth groups can play this role, as can campus ministries like Longhorns for Christ and Aggies for Christ. Encourage your children to attend Christian colleges like Harding, Abilene Christian, Oklahoma Christian, David Lipscomb, or Pepperdine.
The problem is young adults today have little help in finding someone to marry. They are often reduced to the bar scene and hook-up apps like Tinder, neither of which is designed to lead to strong marriages. There are Christian dating services online which can be helpful.
Parents cannot exert control over their children’s romantic relationships. But there may be things they can do to put their children in a Christian culture in which they can "link up" naturally. And teaching about the importance of marrying within the faith can leave an impression. Traditionally, when someone was contemplating marriage outside the church, the one with the strongest convictions would insist that the potential spouse take the membership class and join up. Many now-devoted church members came into the church that way.
Someone who is intentional about finding a partner who shares his or her faith and makes that a priority for marriage can make that happen. But it’s hard, and I suspect the church can do more to help.
What else can parents do? How can the church help?