Why? Because, in our massive efforts to keep them through indoctrination, programs, entertainment and involvement, they cannot escape the fact that they are swimming n a fear-based system.
Who hasn’t heard a young person growing up in an Evangelical church say at some point, “If I was to ever leave the church, mum and dad would ______________”? It seems like the only two things worse than leaving the Church, in the Evangelical’s mind, are coming out as gay or getting an abortion. Truth is, parents are so afraid their kids will leave their family’s traditional spiritual home that they will do almost anything to prevent that from happening. Guilt. Threats. Investing huge amounts and time and money themselves into the Church. Making sure the Church hires the right and fires the wrong people.
What if, after all this investment, they end up leaving anyway?
Then there’s this from the fundamentalist organisation Answers in Genesis:
“In the first scientific study of its kind, the “Beemer Report” reveals startling facts discovered through 20,000 phone calls and detailed surveys of a thousand 20–29 year olds who used to attend evangelical churches on a regular basis, but have since left it behind.
“The results are shocking:
“Those who faithfully attend Sunday School are more likely to leave the church than those who do not. Those who regularly attend Sunday School are more likely to believe that the Bible is less true. Those who regularly attend Sunday School are actually more likely to defend that abortion and gay marriage should be legal. Those who regularly attend Sunday School are actually more likely to defend premarital sex.”
(First reaction: “Hallelujah! These kids are turning away from a close-minded, unChristian dogma and thinking for themselves. They’re probably feeling rather free without all that baggage.” Second reaction: “We need more well-balanced, inclusive and Christ-following churches where the youth are encouraged to question, allowed to doubt and freed to be who they were created to be.”)
The lesson here is that church attendance and force-feeding kids the doctrines and values of an institution on a regular basis has no bearing on their continuance in that tradition. Simply put, It. Doesn’t. Work.
In his book Why Our Children Will be Atheists, Albert Williams shows how the story of the world is evolving and so its understanding of God. He shows how primitive cultures held to many deities which, over time and in one particular people group, became belief in one God above all, and then one and only one God. From this came the scriptures, codes of practice and creeds. The institutional Church then followed, reformed, broke apart, migrated to new areas of influence, and then started on a deconstruction process as people learned more, reasoned more and realised the old traditions and superstitions didn’t hold up to rational thought. Williams’ view is that, within one or two generations, the Church as an institution will be obsolete.
I disagree with his findings in the end because I believe that the Church will always hold some relevance in our world, but only as it seeks to exemplify the love and grace of Christ. Churches that operate out of a place of fear, condemnation and legislated morality will be relegated to history.
With this in mind, perhaps we should be looking at the probability/inevitability of our children leaving the church and, instead of trying frantically to develop a sense of dependence on an institution, we should be instilling in them those values and that strength of character they will need in life–in church or out.
(And don’t trust that the Church will transmit these values because, apart from the few exceptional more progressive examples, churches tend to do what keeps them in business.)
In essence, stop fearing what may happen and plan for what will happen. Your kids will grow up. They will leave home. They will find meaningful work in their community. They will find their own way. They will still be your children but your relationship will change as they become independent and self-reliant individuals. You will no longer be responsible for their decisions and possibly won’t have much influence in their choice of direction.
They may leave your cherished place of worship and, no matter what you may hear from others, THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
You are not responsible to ensure your church’s doors stay open after you’re gone. Nor are your children.
So step back from manipulating their spirituality, controlling their church involvement, guilting them into showing up and warming a seat on Sunday, and, instead, listen to them. Love them. Speak hope and strength into their life. Encourage their giftedness. Allow them to make independent decisions. Give advice when they ask (and they will ask), but don’t be meddlesome. Let them dream their dreams and let them know it’s OK if these dreams don’t fit into your ideal plan (or your church’s ideal plan) for their life. Pray for them. Stop worrying and trust that God will take care of them.
God can and will take care of them, better than you realise, whether they are in or out of the church.
And they will be OK because they will be secure in themselves and in who you brought them up to be.