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Will My Child Grow Up to be a Christian?

It's probably the prayer Christian parents pray the most: "Please, God, help my child to grow up to love you." Sure, we want them to get a good job, a good spouse, a good home. But mostly we just want them to follow God.

And yet all too many of my friends and acquaintances spend their evenings checking out their children on Facebook, looking at pictures of drinking binges or statuses that they wouldn't even recognize as their own children, now that those kids have left for college.

These kids who used to go to youth group, and who used to seem so innocent, aren't seeking out a church. They're not finding Christian friends. Intsead, they're letting other kids pull them down.

That's not unusual. In fact, that's par for the course today. Most teens raised in a Christian home will not go on to live as Christians themselves when they're adults. That's the awful truth. I've seen statistics that say only about 18% of churched kids who went to public schools will still love God as an adult.

So what do you do?

I've spent the weekend talking to a couple of moms who are going through just this with their kids (isn't it amazing how Facebook lets us keep track of our kids like that?), and I don't have any real wisdom for them. I don't know what to do when a teen goes off the rails and starts to make poor choices. The only thing I can think of to share is how to lay a good foundation. So whether your kids are 5 or 15, these are good things to start looking at now:

1. Think hard before you let your child go to public high school

I know many of you don't have a choice about schooling because you don't have the money for a Christian/private school, and homeschooling is not an option. But before you absolutely decide this, really pray about it. The rates of kids who stay in the church are much higher for homeschoolers and Christian schooled kids, and it's not just because kids get into trouble in public high school. Most of them don't. It's something far more fundamental: they start choosing their closest peers from outside of the church. And once they do that, church starts to seem irrelevant.

If your child has to go to public high school, that's okay. But think about these next points even more then:

2. Make church a huge priority

Never skip church as a family. Ever. I know that sounds radical, but if you want your child to take God seriously as an adult, you have to model it. If you skip church, you give the impression that it is optional, and if it's optional, your child likely won't go.

I see so many parents of teens that I know only coming to church sporadically, but then they wonder why their kids date non-Christians, or don't seem to want to be involved in the youth group or help in Sunday School. It's because you haven't modeled it as a family! So find a church where your kids can both help out and be ministered to themselves, and then keep going. Don't slack off. Make it a major part of your family's life. Help there yourself! And then your kids will be more likely to stay plugged in.

Now, I also know many families who don't go to church often but who are Christian. They do church "at home". I respect their faith, I really do. But I think this is a mistake. The implication that you're teaching your kids is, "you can be a Christian all on your own in your home". What's to stop them, then, as adults, from saying, "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian. I can sleep in on Sundays and still be fine."

You certainly don't need to go to church to be a Christian, but the repercussions for not going to church are much greater on a young person than they are on someone in their forties who already has his or her devotions established and who has a whole history of walking with God. Make sure your children think of church as an integral part of their lives.

3. Encourage deepest friendships to be Christian

This is probably the most important point, and the reason that so many Christian teens end up leaving the faith when they get to college. Their deepest friendships aren't Christian themselves. Make sure your children are always surrounded by Christian peers first.

That means that you have to be involved in a good youth group, and if that's not an option where you live, start one yourself. If your child doesn't know a lot of Christian teens, invite families in for dinner. Cultivate those friendships. But raise your child so that it's natural that they should look to other Christians for support and friendship first.

That's not to say that they don't have non-Christian friends; we all need to be involved in the world. But too many people use this as an excuse to not have Christian friends. "I'm just witnessing!", they say, but then pretty soon they're hardly hanging out with Christians at all.

If our Christian teens start thinking that they don't need other Christians as friends, then they will fall away from the church. One of the primary reasons we need church is for fellowship. If they don't think they need that fellowship, they won't go. It's that simple.

So don't let your child date anyone who isn't a Christian. If their best friends aren't Christians, switch youth groups and try to find another source of Christian friends for them. And you yourself should model the importance of Christian friends by having them yourself.

Keep in mind that the danger is not just that your child will become involved with non-Christians and thus start drinking or doing things you'd rather they not. I've seen Christian teens become immersed with very upstanding citizens who aren't Christian, and that was part of the problem. They knew so many kids who were "good" who didn't go to church that they started to suspect that you didn't need to go to church to be good. And then church became superfluous.

4. Make Faith Natural

All of this hinges, of course, on making faith natural in your home so that your kids know it's not that you're worried that they won't be "good", it's that you want them to actually believe. Pray over problems. Talk about God. Don't keep God just for Sundays. Many of us aren't comfortable praying out loud, or praying spontaneously, but whenever something comes up in the family, stop and pray. Ask what God would think. Read your Bible together.

If faith is a natural part of your family life, your kids will see it's more than church. And then they're more likely to stick with it.

5. Be Proactive in Finding Christians on Campus

Finally, if your child is going off to a secular college, or moving to another city, help that child find a church or a Christian group on campus. Don't leave it for your child to do. Get on the internet and investigate before they go so that they know how to get plugged in.

A teen who finds the Christian group on campus in the first week is far more likely to make their first friends from that group than a teen who waits a few months. It's important, far more important than what courses they're taking or what college they choose. So don't let this one go.

Those are my thoughts. Right now I'm living with a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old who each do have deep faith, and I'm so grateful. But I still plan on doing all of these things to make sure that faith carries them through. It's my primarily responsibility.

Maybe your children aren't that old yet, but many of these things you can put into place now. Pray as a family. Put a priority on church. Make sure they have Christian friends. Do those things, and your kids are more likely to seek out those friends when they're on their own.

UPDATE: As was mentioned in the comments, I left out PRAY! Duh! Of course we need to pray for our kids. I guess the reason that I left it out (if I can offer any kind of an excuse for that) is that for many parents that seems to be the ONLY thing they do. They pray, but then they leave it up to God. They're not proactive in these other areas. So perhaps I should say this: Pray first, but then make sure you DO something within your family, too. Take the responsibility that God has given you!

What do you think? Any advice? Have you gone through this? Do you have a child who can't make Christian friends? Let's talk!

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At 8:58 AM , Blogger Susie said…

Great post Sheila!!! You are right on the mark here.What a great start for a Monday morning. :)

I have a 19 yr. old son and 3 daughters- 17, 15, and 12. My only addition would be PRAY, and pray, and then pray some more. We must be on our knees for our kids. I have seen the the Lord do amazing things in my children's lives- esp. when all I could do is pray.
God is so faithful! If our kids have given their hearts to the Lord when they were young, God is faithful to never let them go and to draw them back.
Your suggestions are about a lifestyle - living out what we believe in a way that surrounds our kids with godly protection.
Thanks for the encouragement. :)


At 1:52 PM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

I'd like to hear the statistics on "homeschool" versus "public school" kids and church attendance? I hadn't hear that it's different at all.


At 5:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I don't think #5 is very realistic. If a child is going away to school, there's only so much a parent can do (that said, I know several people, including my sister, my best friend, and my husband who became active in campus groups with no prompting from parents).

Nurse Bee


At 6:40 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

I don't know, Nurse Bee. I think it's unrealistic to assume that just because you identify the groups they will go, but I don't think it's unrealistic to sit down with them in front of a computer a few weeks before they leave for college and research Christian groups on campus and where they meet, or churches with good college & career groups that offer shuttle service. That's not hard to do, and if you send your child with a list of possible churches and directions for where and when the groups on campus meet, it's far more likely they'll go.

You can't guarantee they will, of course, but you can make it more likely. And I think to assume that your children will seek them out, even with all the peer pressure in that first week of university, is unrealistic. Talk about it with them first, and research it first, and it's more likely they'll go.


At 7:49 AM , Blogger Susie said…

I agree, Sheila. I have one away at college- and it is a Bible College at that! And yet, I still ask him where is he going to church, is he getting involved, who are his friends? - I'm not interrogating him or anything, just interested in his life and asking in a hopefully encouraging way because he and I both know these things- church and friends- will bring encouragement into his life and are really important.
Of course, lots of kids go to christian groups on their own too... but I think the point is that we as parents need to stay involved- even when they have left home. Email and facebook are great for this...and of course, texting.
We can't make these decisions for them anymore, but we can still offer the wisdom. College kids don't always ask for your wisdom, but they do call home when they are lonely, depressed, or just worn out and overwhelmed. All the perfect times to point them back to the Lord and how He is waiting to meet their every need. :)


At 10:28 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

I found the following on the Barna website:

"Just as surprising is the revelation that home school parents are only slightly more likely than other adults to engage in religious activities during the course of a typical week. Home school adults had levels of church attendance, church volunteerism, prayer, Sunday school attendance, and personal devotional times that were statistically indistinguishable from national norms."


At 10:31 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Llama Mama, I think that's a case of comparing apples to oranges. They were looking at all homeschool adults, and didn't focus on Christian ones per se.

If you look at the widest scale studies of Christian homeschoolers in both Canada and the United States, the statistics are upwards of 90% of children who were homeschooled in a Christian environment share their parents' faith. The Fraser Institute in Canada (which is not a religious organization) did a huge study back in 2006 I believe it was which had that statistic, and then Brian Ray did a study in the United States which found virtually the same rates.

It really depends what you're measuring.


At 1:25 PM , OpenID nebby3 said…

I had been thinking about just this sort of thing this weekend. Here is a post I did on it:

The upshot is that we can do our best but the result is in the Lord's hands. And that we need to resit the urge to analyze what went wrong in other families.


At 1:59 PM , Blogger LM said…

As someone who came to church in college and has watched college Christians ever since, I have a different perspective, perhaps. Don't let your children enter a permanent Christian bubble, homeschool then Christian college then working for a church. We are called to minister to the world, how can we do that if we don't ever come in contact with that world? Teach your children the answers to the hard questions and where to find those answers because they will be asked in college. Help them make their faith their own in high school, so they aren't trying to find it in college. Don't rely on Christian colleges, they have problems of their own.


At 4:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I think it would depend on the young adult and the parents. My sister (who is a wonderful girl) would have been very turned off if my parents had sat her down and researched Christian fellowships and had her find a church. Teenagers can be like that sometimes!

Nurse Bee


At 12:50 PM , Anonymous Karen said…

I had a different perspective. While I grew up in a Christian household, I was never really friends with any Christians in high school or even at my church. But when I went off to college (which was a Christian college) I felt for the first time what it felt like to be in a community of believers. It was really powerful, and I think it made me a more confident Christian and affirmed my beliefs. I know that it can be extremely expensive to go to a private college like this, but it was an amazing experience that I would recommend.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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