Studies conducted in the North American church have revealed that 85% of people who receive Christ do so before the age of 18, yet over 70% of the children who grow up in the church have not embraced the Christian faith as their own by the time they reach that age.
Some of the conclusions of a study conducted by the Barna Research Organization can give us insight into why we are losing our children. Among teens, only 9% of born-again teens believe in moral absolutes versus 4% of the non-born-again teens. George Barna noted that substantial numbers of Christians believe that activities such as abortion, gay sex, sexual fantasies, cohabitation, drunkenness and viewing pornography are morally acceptable. “The result is a mentality that esteems pluralism, relativism, tolerance, and diversity without critical reflection of the implications of particular views and actions.” He adds, “Just 1 out of 10 American born-again teens believe in absolute moral truth—nearly identical to non born-again teens” (Barna.org 2/12).
Our children are growing up in the church without learning what a Christian believes and why. And it’s no wonder—if we taught math and science to our children in the haphazard way that we teach them about their Christian faith, none of them would ever graduate.
The Bible teaches that one of the necessary elements needed for Christian growth is that we grow in the knowledge of our faith (Ephesians 4:13; Titus 1:1). Our children are leaving the church because they are not being intentionally and progressively taught; they therefore don’t mature in their faith and learn to see things through a Christian worldview, and they instead are influenced by the world and adopt a secular worldview.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)
The Bible teaches us that we are to make disciples for Christ, not just converts. Christian discipleship and growth is an ongoing process and it involves three basic elements:
1. Growing in the knowledge of our Faith—knowledge of God’s truth causes us to grow to maturity because we act out of what we believe.
2. Growing in our relationship with God—Jesus died for our sins in order to restore our relationship with God. We need to seek and grow closer to him.
3. Growing in living out our lives God’s way—our Christian Faith is not just about what we believe, but allowing God to change who we are and how we behave.
We change by learning God’s truth and drawing close to God, allowing him to help us grow and change according to the truth we’ve learned. All three elements must be present in discipleship in order for us to grow because they all work together.
When Peter began preaching and welcomed in the latest converts on the day of Pentecost, he made it clear that children were included in Christ’s charge to go and make disciples.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39 NIV, emphases added)
The discipleship of children requires the same three basic elements listed above. The only difference is that the discipleship of children is primarily the responsibility of the parents, with the aid of the church.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 NIV, emphases added)
Nowhere in the Bible is the task of disciplining children given to the church—parents are the ones who are clearly given this task. It’s evident why when you look at what discipleship involves. You can’t help a child grow daily in their relationship with God and help them learn to live out their Faith 24/7 when you only see them one to four hours a week. Yet the vast majority of parents are not equipped to do the job, so the church continues to try.
Recently, many in leadership roles in the Body of Christ concluded that the current “church centered/home supported” model for discipling children is not biblical and have begun to move towards a “home centered/church supported” model. However, these efforts have met with only a modicum of success because they’ve been taken directly to the parents and have mostly ignored the church. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11, 12 that it is the church’s job to prepare God’s people for works of service so that each one can strengthen and build the Body.
He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:10-13 NIV, emphases added)
Since the Bible states that Christian parents are to disciple their children, it is the church’s responsibility to prepare them for this work of service, not to do it for them.
Having churches continue to try and disciple children on Sunday morning (an impossible task), and leaving the parents thinking that the church is responsible for the task, is not biblical. Also, telling unequipped parents it’s their job and then leaving them to figure it all out or walk through it on their own, is also not biblical. If we follow either of these models, we will continue to lose our children. Churches must come alongside their parents in a church-centered and home-centered partnership, encouraging, training and helping them in their task.
No other organization can effectively do this and turn these horrible statistics around except the local church. Not only is it God’s plan and way, but also the local church already has the army of Christian family ministers and workers with the connections and relationships necessary to get the job done.
We are losing our children to the world because we are not following God’s model for the discipleship of children, and until we start doing it God’s way, we’ll continue to get the same result.
Lightwave is committed to helping the local church in this task by developing resources and programs that help churches and parents work together—and according to God’s model—to disciple their children. We want all of our children—not just 20–30%—to grow up walking with God.