A statistic exists that says that more than 70% of church kids will walk away from their faith by the time they finish college. The majority of children raised by parents who believe in God and profess Christianity to be their creed will hold drastically different convictions from those held by their parents. Why is this happening? What is driving the younger generations away from the church?
Church Kid Syndrome.
I know that not every person is the same, that that factors in individual cases vary, but I cannot help but notice a distinct pattern emerging in my generation and the generation under me, and I have chosen to label that pattern “Church Kid Syndrome.” I was a church kid, and I know from observation and personal experience that the mass exodus of the younger generations of the West from church is not inevitable. A mindset is being subconsciously programmed into the children of the church that is turning their hearts away from the church, and it is not being placed there from the outside. The “world” is not stealing the hearts of our young people; their hearts are being starved from within, not stolen from without. They are suffering from Church Kid Syndrome. We who believe can watch and pray and wait for the “next move of God” to supernaturally convict this generation of lapsed believers, but if we do not learn to stop the problems that create them, our prayers will be in vain.
Problem #1: Church kids are expected to be saved “from the womb.”
Church kids are not allowed to make mistakes. We go to church on Sunday and Wednesday and are taught quasi-spiritual moral code lessons about how to please God. As we get older, we go to youth groups where we are exposed to an emotionally charged and highly spiritual version of the same lesson. Be good and godly, and God will bless you and use you to change the world. Don’t do all of the things you see on TV and in the movies and don’t curse or talk to the opposite gender outside of a group setting and you will avoid sin and be godly.
The only problem with this approach to raising Christian children is that it completely takes away the ability to make mistakes. Nothing is truly learned without the sting of failure. Children learn how to do things by first learning a million different ways of trying that don’t work. In education, no one expects a 2-year-old to have the knowledge of a high school kid, yet in the church, Christians all over are teaching their children to be Christian without allowing them to go through the learning process of how grace works. Sanctification is a process that church kids are expected to have inherited from their parents and to have learned by osmosis from their peers and pastors. This simply does not work. It’s kid of like taking kids to a family reunion: they are expected to act like they know and love all of these relatives, when in actuality, many of them are complete strangers.
The point is, kids have to have their own, unaided conversion experience. They have to be allowed to make the mistakes that lead them to the conclusion that they cannot be good on their own. They have to know that they are sinful and that they need a savior. “Raising them Christian,” does not allow them to bypass the uncomfortable self-discovery phase where they realize they are wretched without Christ. Teaching them to “please God” before or without allowing them to learn who they are instills a “works” mechanism into kids that takes a very long time (and possibly hours of therapy) to undo.
The result of this pseudo-salvation state is a child with a highly developed sense of guilt and no way to remedy it. Christ came to free us from sin and guilt, but the church kid, who was fast-tracked through his spiritual development, only knows that he is supposed to be saved, so he is already supposed to be free. Yet he was never personally freed, because he believes he is not or shouldn’t have been bound, and so the glorious power of God’s grace is denied him and all he has left is works. After years of attempting to live a victorious life without any of the benefit of the victory, this kid will weaken, and eventually fall away because he feel like he is living an impossible life.
This is only one of the problems that contributes to the loss of the Christian youth, but it is major, and if it is remedied now, it could help save the western Christian church from extinction.
Look out for Problem # 2 next week…
*An excellent resource for understanding this dynamic, is the book Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud, specifically the chapters on child development.