By Jack Wilkie

When was the last time you took a look around your congregation on a Sunday morning and noticed how many 18-25 year olds were in attendance? If your church is like many in America, that number is probably rather low. While it’s difficult to come up with a precise number, the most conservative estimates say we’re losing nearly half of all those raised as Christians by the time they reach college, with others saying the number is much higher than 50%.

Regardless of what percentage we’re losing, the fact of the matter is that we’re doing a terrible job of helping those reared in the church make the transition into being faithful adult members. When I think of those I grew up with, I know a number of them are still attending the Lord’s church somewhere, but I also know that there is a pretty good number who are no longer connected to the body in any way.  Many of these were regulars in Bible class and in youth activities, but those weren’t enough to keep them long-term. It’s not as if they reached high school graduation and made a choice to leave their Christianity behind, though. On the other side of that coin, faithfulness isn’t determined at that point either. In most cases, that determination is made over the course of a number of years long before they reach college. So, between the ages of two and twenty, what are we doing wrong in training the next generation?

The greatest reason that my generation is unfaithful is because they were not reared to be committed to God above all else. Really, it all comes down to priorities. When we prioritize something in our lives, it cannot just be pushed aside on a whim. In many (probably most) cases, those who fall away were likely shown that on occasion, something else is more important than God. The best way to see what’s going wrong is to look at the issue from two angles––first, ask what God expects from us and, second, measure what we’re doing by that standard. When it comes to faithfulness, He doesn’t want to be ranked as one of a number of top priorities. In Deuteronomy 6, His blueprint for obedience in the Old Testament, the command was given to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4, NASB). Jesus named this as the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37. Certainly no one would claim that those who turn away from the faith love God in this way. So, the first step that must be taken in order to pass on a faith that lasts is to practice this devotion to God in your own life. One of the reasons many give for leaving the church is the hypocrisy of Christians. While it’s not a sufficient reason, on a certain level it makes sense that they would have a problem with being expected to follow commands that their parents won’t. So, developing a daily commitment to love God with everything you have is absolutely essential in rearing a faithful child.

Of course, setting a proper example is an enormous part of the battle, but it’s not everything. At some point, children need to be actively taught. What actions are necessary to train children to put God first and love Him in the way He commands? God follows up the first command we looked at in Deuteronomy 6 with another that answers this specific question: “You shall teach them (God’s commands) to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Simply put, God’s Word must be present in every part of your life and you must actively teach it to your children in all situations. Sadly, this isn’t as common as it should be among Christian families, and it is for this reason that we are suffering such huge losses when it comes to young souls. If you’ve prioritized God and His teachings, you will love Him in the way He deserves and your children will see it. You will then pass those teachings on as you teach your children to handle the various challenges that life presents. In doing this, you will demonstrate that God comes first, whatever happens. In both word and deed, parents must show that God is first, family is second, and everything else comes after.

Those are the commands given by God. We must now examine what are we doing differently outside of those commands to lead so many away from the church. Many have seemingly forgotten that prioritizing God means we must do so in every area of life. Sometimes it is easy to forget to include God in some of life’s daily activities, and when I think of my peers who have left the church, it is clear that they all either stopped prioritizing God in certain key areas or were not trained to do so, and I know the same is true of most who are no longer faithful. In what ways did they neglect God?

Some decide not to put God first with regards to their time. This manifests itself in various ways, with sports being perhaps the most discussed. When parents decide to allow their children to participate in some activity (whether athletic, academic, or otherwise) that conflicts with worship or Bible study times, they are sending a clear message about what is more important. When time is found to watch television, attend sporting events, participate in hobbies, or engage in any other trivial activity, but no time is set aside for family Bible time, we shouldn’t be surprised when the kids don’t have time for spiritual activities when they grow older. We know that an hour or two each week is not enough Bible study time, so if parents aren’t actively teaching their children the Truth and how to defend it while at home, there’s a good chance those children will see no good reason to do it on their own. God is a jealous God, and He has no intention of sharing first place in anyone’s life. What priorities are you passing on to your children?

Others decide not to put God first in their goals. While there are some good qualities to the “American Dream” (such as ambition, work ethic, and equality), the pursuit of it has derailed the faith of countless men and women as they worked to climb the corporate ladder instead of stepping toward Heaven. While achievement and hard work are desirable qualities (and Biblical ones, as even the slaves were commanded to do their work heartily for the Lord in Colossians 3:23), their end must be considered. If the path to goals set before children takes them through schools that will endanger their faith, the goal isn’t worth it. If the goal in itself is more money, bigger houses, and nicer cars, God will not come first in such a life. See, we define success by good grades, wealth, athletic achievement, and other worldly standards, when the only success that matters is Heaven. As God’s people we should strive for excellence in everything we do, but we must also realize that excellence is unattainable without Him coming first in the equation. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Are your goals and hopes for your children in accordance with what is best for their souls?

Finally, others decide not to put God first in choosing their influences. Proverbs 13:20 says that the companion of fools will suffer harm. Do you know what kind of people your kids spend their time around? What is their school environment like with regards to their peers and teachers? If it is hostile to God or Biblical teaching, they must not be subjected to such influences. What about their entertainment choices? Do their favorite television shows push anti-Biblical agendas (as many these days do)? Do their favorite songs glorify sinful behavior? Satan’s influence must be kept out of the home if the next generation is going to be faithful. Are you taking an active role in filtering the people and things that have an impact on how your children think and act?

We can’t keep hoping for the church to “survive.” Our goal should be for the Lord’s body to thrive and grow. The quickest way to make this happen is to stop the stream of young people who are hanging up their Christianity and putting on the ways of the world. In Proverbs 22:6 God promised that when you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it as he grows old. We need to raise the bar and stop simply hoping that the children will stay faithful. We should expect them to be warriors prepared for battle and ready to lead the church on into the future for as long as the Lord gives us until His return. If we train up souls who put God above all else and love Him with every fiber of their being, this will turn from dream into reality, just as God intended it. It’s all about priorities. “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…”