Why They Stay? Preparing a generation to love Jesus.

Jason Smith   -  

Why they Stay: Helping Parents and Church Leaders Make Investments that Keep Children and Teens Connected to the Church for a Lifetime, authored by Dr. Steve Parr and Dr. Tom Crites..

The book is the summary and insight gleaned from a study involving individuals between 26 and 39 years old. Dr. Parr and Dr. Crites desired “to understand if there were significant relationships in the backgrounds and habits of young adults that may have impacted their commitments to stay in the church.”

As I read this book, my heart stirred. If we are able to identify key things that make a difference in the next generation and those things are supported by scripture, we must engage in those things as a families and as a church family.

James 4:17 (NASB95) — 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Below is a summary gleaned from the book of the things that seem to matter most. 

What Matters Most 

  • It is vital that young people emerge from their teenage years with a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The key word is relationship and this is linked to personal experiences of God at work in their lives through their childhood and youth years.
  • A high view of the Word of God is critical. In contrast, those with a low view of scripture are 25 times more likely to leave the faith.

    Four views from lowest to highest:

    • a. The Bible is nothing more than literature, fables, and some history.
    • b. The Bible is the word of God but has been corrupted through translations, has some errors, and is not to be taken literally.
    • c. The Bible is the inspired word of God and the stories contained therein are true.
    • d. The Bible is the inspired word of God and applies to my life every day.
  • Parental faith matters: “If parents model a close relationship to the Lord, it seems to be the most influential thing they can do to encourage their child to stay in the church.”  The “family model of spirituality” is the “top cumulative effect on remaining active in church.”
  • As an extension of parental faith life, family worship attendance matters:  those who do not attend church regularly as children and youth are unlikely to become regular attenders themselves as adults.
  • Parental involvement in being on mission and serving as part of the church is significant. “My mom and dad served in church when I was growing up” was a common response of those still serving Christ. Connecting parents and children serving together only increases this impact. The implications of a child serving with their parents on a mission trip or in the church are huge! We want you to serve together. I love our little ushers that serve with the parents, that pray in our service, that greet, and so much more. We long to see you serve together and desire to make that happen any way we can.
  • For those who grew up attending church, a good relationship with both parents is a very strong indicator of future church involvement. The importance of your marriage cannot be overstated. It effects the likelihood that your kids will be in church as adults when they see how a relationship with the Lord effects the relationship you have as husband and wife.I also recognize that some reading this may have experienced divorce. My heart is not to highlight a tough situation and you can’t change the past. The relationship that you continue to have with your ex has been seen to have impact as well. No matter what situation you are in, seek to honor God for the best interest of your children and remember you are not alone in this journey. 
  • The style of discipline used by parents is of significance: those whose parents have a more “balanced” disciplinary style (involving instruction and correction in a spirit of love) are more likely to stay plugged into the church. HAVE FUN and HAVE BOUNDARIES. Bonding and boundaries are both important. In reality we all want the same thing, for them to be disciplined and live a self-disciplined life, but not until they are ready.
  • Involvement in cross-generational worship matters:This does not say that kids church  is not important and good, but points to having intentional limits to the age level that a child worships apart from parents on a Sunday Morning, or for churches to have intentional ways for them to worship together regularly. It is so important for kids to see and learn to worship from their parents.
  • Although having a youth worker does not correlate with whether one stays connected as an adult, having sufficient activities for young people while growing up does matter.  We are blessed to have staff that are investing in children and youth, but they are the equippers of an army that is committed to see them know Christ. As Parr and Crites express, “find a way, no matter what size church your attend, to minister to youth.”
  • Within the range of child and youth ministry activities provided by a church, camps matter: attending church camps as a teen has a positive correlation with a person being in church as an adult. I have seen this greatly in my own daughter’s life and thank God for the investment of our church in the next generation.
  • The likability of the church pastor matters – pastors need to portray a sense of concern and interest in the children and young people of their churches. Help me make these connections. I love to play and love on kids and am a big kid at heart. It is a joy to spend time with your kids.
  • There is value in consistency and longevity of ministry to children and young people.  “Rotating youth pastors in and out every couple of years is worse for the students than having no youth pastor at all.”

As I process it all, I am reminded that it starts at home. It is critical that we live like Christians, that we are authentic followers of Jesus and live it. The life of a Jesus follower is all about relationships… for the next generation…  With God, with parents, youth leaders, pastors, and a church family.  It is “Christ being seen through His people” that seems to make the most difference …

Being disciples who model discipleship to our children and young people in such a way that they know him, grow in relationship with him, and experience the joy of serving him.

Another Survey with interesting results from Lifeway Research can be found here: Young Adult Dropout Report – Lifeway