How can I curb the trend of kids leaving the church after high school?

I have heard this question asked over and over again… among all types of churches and all types of congregations. Kids leaving church after high school is an almost universal concern among church leaders. If we use the statistics I get from church leaders, then the number of kids raised in the church who drop out of fellowship and faith between 18-29 years old is about 70%. That’s almost 3 out of every 4 who drop out! 

I think the core issue – the greatest spiritual need kids have – is a genuine connection with Jesus. Just as children need to bond with parents, they also need to bond with God. The methods used to reach one generation may not work for another. What we’ve always done to disciple children isn’t working.

From the Kids Perspective

Look at faith through a child’s eyes. Children need to talk about God. They need the space and opportunity to develop their souls like they need to develop their bodies, emotions, minds, and social skills.

Developing their souls is what we call discipleship and it’s not primarily about knowledge. Rather than teaching children to agree with our perspective, discipleship opens them to their own journey with the living Christ.  For example, when the Lord spoke to young Samuel, Eli recognized a unique way God was communicating with Samuel. God had not communicated this way with Eli.

Discipleship

Our role is to come alongside children and walk with them as the Holy Spirit guides them on their path of spiritual discovery. Deuteronomy 11 describes what Hebrew parents wandering in the desert did to guide their children. They taught them; they talked about God at home, on the road, when they were going to bed and getting up. 

We cannot reverse the numbers if we don’t understand the root cause. In order to curb the trend of kids leaving church after high school I’d suggest we temporarily shift our focus to questions that address the discipleship pathway you have in place: 

  • In what ways can we encourage our kids to personally engage with Jesus?
  • How can I help children begin their spiritual journeys instead of just providing childcare? 
  • As the primary disciplers of their children, how can we better support and resource parents?
  • How can we better help kids take ownership of their own spiritual journeys? 
  • Where and how can we navigate the inclusion of kids into our one-anothering relationships, ensuring that they are a true part of the community? 

Resources

Want some resources to get started? Here are two great ones: 

Child-Centered Spirituality: A short book exploring a new way to help children engage in and take ownership over their own spiritual journeys. Warning: It’s scarier than teaching them what they should think… but infinitely more effective.

Kids&God@home: A practical tool of conversation starters. Use it in the car or at home or anytime you’re waiting around with children. The resulting conversation could take 3-5 minutes – or more. These are some great ways to give children the opportunity to talk about God. Free and downloadable.

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