How Do Our Kids Stay Christian?

I have a new article up on Mere Orthodoxy on how kids stay Christian. Much has been made of the great dechurching and how to evangelize people who left Christianity, but the real scandal is the volume of people who we failed to retain. This article is a summary of how I’ve tried to deal with this in our own church, based scripture and the best sociological data. Here’s the start of the article,

How do our kids stay Christian? Some version of this question has animated both scholarly and pastoral discussion over the last several years, especially as the great dechurching marches on unabated. This is not merely an academic question, but one that has kept younger parents anxious as they watch more and more of their peers turn away from the faith.

Of course, it is the Holy Spirit sovereignly acting as he wills that keeps people abiding in Christ. And of course, God who ordains the salvation of his children has also ordained the regular means of bringing about that salvation, specifically the word, sacraments, and prayer. But how should the church approach those gifts in regards to the discipleship of its children? And what steps can the church take to maintain its children’s faithfulness as they grow into adulthood?

Several recent works have provided invaluable insight into this dilemma, the most important of which is Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion to the Next Generation (2021) by Amy Adamczyk and Christian Smith. Adamczyk and Smith looked at the religious landscape of North America over the last few decades and came to a simple conclusion: the communities that were most effective at handing down their religion were those that prioritized faith in the family home.

That might not sound earth-shattering, but it corroborated decades of sociological research showing that things like Sunday School, youth group, VBS, Christian camps, confirmation, and youth conferences are either minimally consequential to the maintenance of a child’s faith or in some cases actually counterproductive. Sociologists of religion have known for some time that these programs, while they feel nice, are led by earnest people, and have some anecdotal success stories, are ineffective for passing along the Christian faith…

Click through to read the rest.