What Christian parent hasn’t felt fear that their child will walk away from the faith? And just about everyone knows of a child who has. Some of us know of adult friends who have turned away from God. And while we can sometimes point to triggers and circumstances, in the end we’re usually just left with theories and guesses about what might have happened. That’s why I was grateful to read a summary and review of Tom Bisset’s book, “Why Christian Kids Leave the Faith,” by Tim Challies. Bisset spent eighteen months interviewing people who had been exposed to faith at an early age and later rejected it. He basically asked them two questions: 1. Why did you leave? 2. Was there anything anyone could have done or said that might have made a difference in your decision? While the responses were varied, he cites four trends that emerged.

  1. People leave because of intellectual reasons: they can’t believe the Bible’s answers to the questions of life. Whether on scientific, historical or moral grounds, they find Christianity’s teachings unreasonable.
  2. People leave because of disillusionment: their faith hasn’t worked for them. They may have been disappointed by the church or other people but ultimately they’re disappointed with Christianity because of the gap between their expectations and their experience.
  3. People leave because of priorities: other things in life are more important than their faith. Whether for friends, sports, school or pleasure, faith moves from central to secondary and it slowly drifts out of sight.
  4. People leave because of ownership: they have never personally taken responsibility for their faith. They conformed to the expectations of everyone around them but never thought through the various decisions of faith for themselves.

While offering up these trends, Bisset never claims that “this is why it always happens.” He recognizes as much diversity in the answers as the people who responded. To the extent that we can learn from the experiences of others, the patterns he points to are helpful. But instead of just diagnosing the problem, Bisset sifts through the hours of interviews, as well as the teachings of the Scriptures, to give encouragement to parents and the church as a whole.

  1. Come alongside your child in study and discussion, engaging the difficult questions of our world and the compelling answers of the Bible.
  2. Express your own vulnerability as a parent and don’t oversell the joys of the Christian life nor deny the suffering that God warns of.
  3. Emphasize the priority of the church in a healthy Christian’s life and both model and explain why Jesus deserves the first place in how we order our lives.
  4. Continually preach the gospel to your children and let them make age-appropriate decisions to act on their faith, never assuming that they believe just because they attend church or prayed a prayer years ago.

I thought these were good encouragements for me as a parent, but also for the entire teaching ministry of our church from our Children’s Learning Centre to our Youth Group to our Adult ministries. Probably the most encouraging statistic that I read was that 85% of children who leave the church eventually return. That was a surprise to me. Jesus is still the Good Shepherd who goes out in search of the lost sheep. Let’s join Him there!

In awe of Him,