TEXT: Prov 22:6
"6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Arguably there is nothing more important to the health & survival of the church as an institution than the proper training of Christian children. More important then evangelism. More important than missionary work. Our children are our closest & best resource for the future church. All the more tragic that increasingly, more & more young adults are leaving the church in droves -- upwards of 70%! This hemorrhage has led to the first noticeable drops in church attendance in over a century; the first but unless things change radically, unfortunately not the last.
Check the backgrounds of virtually every prominent atheist today & you will find two things: 1) Freudian difficulties with authority figures (ftnote) & 2) religious teaching in their youth. That's right -- religious teaching in their youth. Rabid atheist Dan Barker was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home & was a preacher with a music ministry before casting God aside. George Smith was a religious youngster in a non-religious home until as a sophomore in high school he began to stray away from Christianity. Even Richard Dawkins was the beneficiary of a church run private school in England. The modern atheist, new ager or cultist usually has some sort of significant church association in their youth. How can this be?
Ken Hamm & Britt Beemer have performed a well documented study of just this issue. Their conclusions are found in their book called Already Gone. In their book, they detail how kids are not being lost in their first years of college where they become victims of evil atheist professors as previously thought. No. The statistics demonstrate that these children are already gone long before they reach college. Their statistics are compiled from a survey of 1,000 young adults who, as youngsters, attended specifically conservative, evangelical Sunday schools & youth groups faithfully. These were not the "holidays only" kids. These were the hard core of children that might be found in any church's youth group or Sunday school today.
The statistics are staggering. More than 60% had left the church by their mid-twenties. Some 40% of those that had left had no interest in ever going back to church. In fact, by the statistical showing, kids that didn't go to Sunday school regularly were more likely to remain Christians than those that did! The main reasons the respondents gave for leaving-- 1) the irrelevancy of the church to their lives & 2) the hypocrisy of the church membership. However, what is most revealing about Ham & Beemer's study is that they dug beneath the surface & found some tragic flaws that made the church seem irrelevant to these people.
Despite sitting in a Sunday school classroom virtually every Sunday of their youth, less than 30-40% of the respondents could agree with the following statements: 1) The stories related in the Bible depict true events; 2) The Bible has no errors; 3) God created the universe; 4) Sex outside of marriage is against God's law; 5) Marriage is meant to be between one man & one woman & most staggeringly 6) Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
The book is well worthwhile to find in a library or to purchase. The study is incredibly revealing. The bottom line is that we are not teaching our children how to defend the core doctrines of Christianity. We tell them week after week after week what to believe but we never seem to get around to telling them why.
Our failure to teach our kids how to defend their/our beliefs is leading to the rapid demise of the traditional church. Combined with the high profile & low profile hypocrisy seen on TV & in the home, our kids are simply walking away from the public body of Christ.
The bright spot in all this? Remember that 40% that had no interest in returning to church? Well, there's the 60% that might consider it. Most of them report that they still believe in God. Most still consider themselves Christians ie members of the Church, the Body of Christ, but obviously have little faith in what it means to be a Christian ie the central doctrines of following Christ. Virtually all report that they are still searching, still on a spiritual quest. The refocusing of church away from entertainment to genuine education, from evangelizing the converted to arming the Christian soldier may yet, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, return the church as an institution from the brink of what promises to be a very, very deep abyss.