The numbers are truly staggering. Churches, religious organizations, and parents spend countless hours and dollars trying to answer this question, “how can we keep students committed to church after they leave the home?”
I believe this is the wrong question, and in many cases, it’s being asked by the wrong people. What we should ask instead, is “how can we keep students committed to church before they leave the home?” And that issue is not to be presumed primarily upon the church. The issue of your teenager’s commitment to Christ’s church, is primarily up to you, parents. I’m going to suggest a few simple concepts that are certain to tempt your teen to abandon the church.
Teach them to pay close attention to externals.
If you teach your teens to consider everything except the heart and spirit of a person or practice in your church, you might just make a bunch of little Pharisees, instead of a bunch of little Christs. We mustn’t obsess over what’s outside a person, or our standard or opinion on such-and-such and so-and-so. God forbid we rob teenagers of the joy of inward change because they have been programmed to see only what is outward.
Cultivate your teens everywhere except in church.
My son is a great athlete! My daughter is a great pianist! I don’t want them wasting the talent God has given them! Interestingly enough, if your teen’s gift is not being used for service and ministry, you are wasting their talent. I played baseball, and my parents made me see it as a tool for ministry. We just got to enjoy it along the way. My family went to practices, spent money at the batting cages, were taught to give it our all on the field, just like any family committed to sports. So that, we could be the greatest testimony and servant possible on the field. And, in case you are wondering, no, we never missed church for athletics. From our baseball team, we made connections, saw a Buddhist man saved, and his family added to the church. It doesn’t have to be that you either serve the church or be committed to your kid’s gifts, it should be both. Teach them they can have the greatest pleasure while enjoying and utilizing their talents, serving Christ.
Criticize your pastors in front of them.
Your teens probably haven’t mastered the theology of the church and understand what all a pastor is and does. To them, they’re human representatives of this institution. They’re the human leaders. Therefore, anything you dislike, or they dislike, they will attribute to your pastors. It probably doesn’t occur to your teenagers (as it may not to you) that your pastors labor to love and disciple people who may not even realize they need love and change. It probably doesn’t occur to them (as it may not to you) the incredible weight your pastors feel to preach the words of God and minister to God’s sheep, knowing they will give an account to God for how they labored. If you are constantly denigrating the man God appointed to lead your flock, you will teach your teenagers to think negatively of the flock, not just the shepherd.
Settle down, plant your feet, and grow. If you can’t stay in one local body, you will detract from the universal one. If one church doesn’t “meet your needs” or “have everything you want” your teenagers will wonder if any church ever will.
Let your teen dictate when and why you go to church.
My father was a church-planter in the Atlanta area, and I can’t tell you how many times we were told something to the effect of “we would stay if you had more…teenagers…college students…this program…that program.” In that statement, that family actually told us why they went to church. They didn’t go to church because the Word was preached faithfully, or because they could be loved and love there, or because there was a place they could serve, but because they required a certain program in which they would be served. Your teenagers will not choose to commit to church themselves if everything about a church is their choice. It’s a sad day when the family is worshiped with such devotion that church is seen as an obstacle to family time, rather than the climax of family time. Parents are the spiritual thermostats in the home, and when they turn the standard down to the level of what the teen wants, they will teach their teen that church is primarily for self-accommodation, not spirit-filled worship.
Finally, never forget the simple and profound reality that if you love the Body of Christ, your teenagers will assuredly notice. No, you can’t make your kids love Christ and His church, but you can show them every joy of why they should.
So, the question remains, and still points back to us, do we love Christ and His Church?