How can we counteract the trend of young people falling away from faith?

There is an alarming amount of young people falling away from faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. There seem to be a variety of specific factors that contribute to this. A common cause is a lack of true biblical discipleship during their formative years and beyond. Hosea 4:6 talks about people perishing due to a lack of knowledge. When people are not trained in the ways of Christ and do not truly know Him, they will reject Him.

How can young people be helped to keep the faith? First, they need to have genuine faith to begin with (John 10:28–30; 1 John 2:19). A child's knowledge of God begins at home. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:6–9, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." God's Word and His ways were to be a regular and pervasive part of their daily lives. The same is true for us today.

Following God is not meant just for when we are at church or doing personal devotions. Those who have become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 John 3:1; Ephesians 1:3–14). He transforms them, and they are called to actively participate in that process (Romans 12:1–2; Philippians 2:12–13). Faith is not mere intellectual assent or a "ticket to heaven;" it is a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus results in following Jesus (John 15:1–17; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Ephesians 2:1–10; James 2:26). Such faith transforms every aspect of our lives. Our walk with God has implications for our relationships, behaviors, speech, and thought patterns.

Our walk with God should affect how we parent, both in what we explicitly teach our children and in what we teach them through our example. We should talk about the love, justice, mercy, grace, and holiness of God; we should also model His attributes in how we treat our children and others. We demonstrate our belief in the truth and goodness of God when we focus our lives on Him and allow Him to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Godly parenting does not guarantee godly children. But when parents have genuine love for God, delight in God's Word, obey His commands, and continue to grow in Christ, their children are more likely to know and love God, too (Psalm 112:1–2). At the very least, when parents present the truth of who God is both through word and action, their children will have the opportunity to choose to follow, or reject, the real God.

To be clear, no parent is perfect. And, again, godly parenting does not guarantee godly children. The onus to follow Jesus falls on individuals. When children are old enough to reject the ways their parents have taught them, God allows them to (Ezekiel 18:4–32; Romans 14:12; Hebrews 9:27). It should also be stated that just because someone seemingly falls away from faith as a young adult does not mean they have truly rejected Christ or that they will permanently reject Christ. Parents still have the opportunity to be a godly influence on their children. They can still share the truth about God through their words and actions. This is true whether the parent raised the child in faith or did not. Second Peter 3:9 encourages, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." God loves our children more than we ever could. Though it seems many are falling away, we do not lose hope.

Thus far, we have largely focused on what parents teach their children, how parents model God's love, and how parents exemplify what it looks like to have a relationship with God. But raising children is not solely about our actions and it is not solely about our efforts. Prayer cannot be neglected. Parents should pray for their children and entrust them to the Lord. Every believer's reliance is on God. We recognize this when we come to Him in prayer. We can pray about anything and everything, trusting our Father is faithful (Romans8:14–17, 26–27; Philippians 4:4–8; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18; 1 Peter 5:6–7). Parents can also specifically pray for wisdom in how to best train their children (James 1:5). When parents pray with their children, it can be a powerful example of dependence on God and intimacy of relationship with God (Hebrews 4:14–16).

The body of believers is also meant to help. The church is the family of Christ. Parents are not in an isolated bubble expected to raise their children without support; they need the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:1–31). And the body of Christ needs all its members. Children are a vital part of the church. Hebrews 10:24–25 exhorts, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Parents should be connected to and prioritize participation in the local church. The local church should support parents in training their children in Christ. The local church should be filled with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) and model godly living. Romans 12:9–21, Ephesians 4:1–32, and Colossians 3:1–25 are particularly instructive for what doing life together as believers looks like. Children should see adults striving for these qualities and living them out in their own lives as well as corporately.

As young Christians, and all Christians for that matter, grow in their faith there are bound to be questions. The home and the church should be safe places that are open for people to wrestle with their own doubts (1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Peter 3:15–16; Exodus 13:14–16). Asking questions and genuinely seeking truth will lead us to reject that which is false and to more firmly hold that which is true. When young people are discipled in their faith, they will learn the joy of following Christ (Romans 5:1–5).

Christians are bound to face persecution (2 Timothy 3:12–13). Especially as society becomes more hostile to the truth of God, we need to teach followers of Jesus to expect hardship and know how to handle it. This includes the general trials of life in a fallen world as well as those trials that are a direct result of following Jesus (John 16:33; Romans 8:18–25; 1 Peter 3:13–17). Of course, we also face the realities of our sinful temptations and the need to put our own sin to death (Romans 8:12–13; Colossians 3:5, 12; James 1:12–18). These are not easy things; we need to prepare our children and equip them to respond well. We need to tell our children about the realities of spiritual warfare and how to stand firm in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10–18; 1 Peter 5:6–11).

We do not simply want young people to hold on to a religious view of life, but to know God in a personal and transformative way, and to experience His work in their lives. If they trust in Jesus, they will have the indwelling Holy Spirit who will work in their hearts and minds (Ephesians 1:3–14; Philippians 2:12–13). God will be faithful to complete His good work in them (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29–30).

All believing adults can help disciple children into becoming mature godly adults (1 Corinthians 13:11; 14:20). Spiritual children are susceptible to being "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:14). This is why the apostle Paul exhorts mature believers: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15; see also 1 Corinthians 2:6). When we focus on growing in Christ ourselves, we set an example for our young people. When we pray for them, teach them, and walk alongside them in faith, we help them remain steadfast as well (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Related Truth:

Christian discipleship - What is it?

Making disciples – Why is it important?

What is the importance of personal convictions?

Does godly parenting result in godly children (Proverbs 22:6)?

What is biblical advice for parents struggling with letting go of their adult children?

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