The real reason kids abandon faith

Daniel Darling

David Rupert
June 28, 2012

As the father of two young adult children, my heart is broken. From the time they were small, all I wanted for them was a walk with Christ. I didnt care about any success, as long as they loved the Lord with their whole heart. We did it all - church, youth group, summer camp, family devotions, good example.

Today, both in their mid 20s, they are not close to God at all. Not rebellios. Not bad. Just apathetic. Their eyes glaze over when I talk about things of faith

I wonder if its just a tidal wave that they got caught in? I wish I would know the answer, but now I just pray.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
June 28, 2012

Thanks for sharing David.

Theresa Munroe
June 28, 2012

We raised out two kids in faith the best we knew how. Our daughter, until midway through her college career, had wanted to work overseas as a missionary or with programs helping to improve the lives of the impoverished. On her own she even found a great church that she loved until she walked away from the faith. Our son rebelled more overtly, partly blaming it judgmental treatment from peers in youth group. But now both, in their mid-twenties, are solid, kind, hard-working people. We are proud of them.

We raised them in faith and in the way they should go. We're trusting they'll return to God because He promises they will. Each person's spiritual journey is unique. As the article implied, it's hard to know how hot and scary and shameful the fire can be until you've walked there. They are still precious to God, their innocent professions of salvation still hold. We talk openly about where they are spiritually and they have taught us a lot.

But sometimes, like David, I wonder if it's just the cultural thing that swept them away, just as believers we get caught up in the "culture" of Christianity more than the experience of faith and the person of God.

June 28, 2012

There are interesting tensions on this subject in my own Reformed tradition. On one hand we hold to covenantal theology "this promise is for you and your children", on the other hand we hold to a strong belief in total depravity as well as unconditional election. We believe that our transformation is not simply helped along, but requires the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives.

In spite of all of this theology my tradition has also emphasized Christian day school education, catechism training at church, training in the home, and faithful church participation. We imagine that the sum total of all of this activity will be to insure that our children come to faith.

At some point we have to entrust our children to God.

My heart really goes out to David who made the comment here. In my church there are many seniors whose adult children and grand children have remained apathetic or wandering well into their 50s. I have also baptized men in their 70s in our church and the largest group that I have enfolded have been in their 60s, many of whom finally come to Jesus after trying a lot in life and learning that there is no security in the age of decay.

I also ponder the fact that just as I long to see family members come to faith, or come back to faith, so our heavenly father longs for so many of his children to come to him. We share in Christ's sufferings and we share in the Father's longings.

Faith is a resignation, a laying down of our arms (CS Lewis) or a laying down of our worry (Jesus). It is easy to say we trust him with our souls after death, but the real test is whether we trust him with the things in our life that we are anxious about. We are left to rely on his strength and his character that he revealed.

June 28, 2012

My kids are still young but we are trying to raise them in grace. My husband and I are both generational believers who thankfully stayed "on track" with our faith. But we both did have a time in our lives when we had to decide for ourselves if we did believe in this God we had been taught. We were both brought up with a lot of rules and guidelines for a Christian life. It felt at times like grace was secondary. I don't want that for my kids.

I want them to know that in Christ everything is permissible - they don't win or lose salvation on their actions - but that not everything is beneficial. We talk a lot more about the reasons behind our choices than asking them to be obedient just because I said so. God never forces us to obey so I am not sure why some in the church feel the need to demand unquestioning obedience from our kids.

I want my kids to question, think, and decide for themselves each step along the way. And then I pray and pray and pray some more.

June 28, 2012

Exactly, Paul. As God's people under the New Covenant we live in a tension of being called to preach the Gospel always, including to our children, yet also trusting that God is completely in charge of choosing who will respond to that Good News, including our children.


Rachel Ann
June 28, 2012

I rather agree with your "create an authentic experience" notion. People don't 'wander away' from things that enrich their lives, that provide comfort and community, family and fellowship. There are some things that I return to again and again no matter what life throws at me because they satisfy a deep need. My faith is in this category, becoming something I'm always trying to grow.

However - I wandered away from organized Christianity in my late teens, because there was nothing beneath the shallow lip-service-to-the-Lord worship that surrounded me. I wasn't a completely stupid child. I could tell when someone believed themselves when they spoke of their faith versus when the words, rituals and socialization were the point in and of themselves. I didn't want church for the sake of church. That's what a lot of those 'Act Now! Save your Church!' sound like. In an ideal world, I'd go to church for the sake of nourishing a deeper faith.

James Gilmore
June 28, 2012

Knowing many people who walked away from the church—and having myself left the church tradition I grew up in (evangelicalism) for a different one (Episcopalianism)—I've observed a few factors:

First, educated young adults in particular tend not to live where they grew up. That means that the community that was part of their lives growing up—and often the only Christianity they've ever really known—isn't part of their lives where they are. I think that's particularly acute for people who grew up in a single church their whole lives; if that level of "family" is what they're used to in church, then any other church community, where it would take years to build that level of community, isn't going to feel the same.

Second, and this may just be a reflection of my own circles, there's a *lot* of disgust with the right-wing politics of evangelicalism, particularly regarding LGBT people... as young adults have LGBT friends and coworkers, they feel uneasy about a church that they perceive as hating people they care about. One of the reasons I've abandoned evangelicalism is because I couldn't look my LGBT friends in the eye if I were materially supporting a church that saw them as unequal in any way to hetero/cis people.

There are a few other factors that come to mind too, but I think I'd want to collect my thoughts before expounding further on those.

June 29, 2012

Hopefully when they are older they will not depart.

As parents we do all we can and they we have to leave it up to all the seed planting and the hope that God will give the increase.

I have a 12 year old that I'm grateful loves Christian music and is wanting to go to youth group without us making him. I'm hoping that it stays this way. Already I have been trying to get him to look at the hard questions about society and I'm trying to show him that there are answers to the questions that are posed.

But, as you have found out, there is only so much you can do. Then we have to be faithful ourselves and allow God to do the rest.

I hope and pray that God pulls the slack out of your children and brings them home.

Daniel Darling
June 29, 2012

Great comments. Thank you for sharing your stories. I want to respond to David and Theresa. I have seen and known kids who walked away from the faith for a very long time, but came back. I'm not saying its a guarantee, but if I can give you some encouragement, know that you did your job in depositing truth into the next generation. It is the Spirit's job to convict and woo them to repentance.

My brother walked away from the Lord for seven years. I prayed, cried, wrestled, doubted during that time. But eventually he came back to the faith.

Fortunately, we have a Father who is fathering your wayward children and loves them even more than you do.

July 1, 2012

I grew up in the church though my family was not particularly religious. We attended church regularly and said scripted grace at holiday meals but we never really talked about God or Jesus or faith in general. I went to youth group but was just a juvenile delinquent. I never knew God. I knew liturgy, I knew God didn't want us to sin and I felt Iike I was failing. I thought it was about a score card. I never knew or understood the power of Grace. I stopped going to church around 17 and got into drugs and sex. I got more selfish, lost my ability (or hid from it) for empathay. As I got older my world became smaller and smaller and I got more isolated and my heart got stonier. I basically had to explode my life and suffer in silence before I was ready to know God. Some people have too learn through experience and failure before their hearts are ready to receive the Gospels. I never imagined that at 40 years old I would become a believer, that my daily life would always have Christ in it. Now that I am here when I look back on my previous life I see that God was everywhere...protecting me, wooing me. I am now married to the most amazing Christian woman and my life couldn't anymore different than it was just 6 years ago. Parents, some kids just need to find their own way to Christ. It may not be the way you want it to happen or in the timeframe you'd choose. God never gives up on us. His Peace.

July 2, 2012

I think that among educated young people, who have grown up in the faith, it’s our open (Western) society that has caused them to open their eyes to what they perceive as a broader perspective. In the university of today young people are exposed to a broadness of religious perspectives. And we are becoming more and more a mixture of differing ethnic, cultural and religious viewpoints in our society. Perhaps the created world, with its intricacies and wonders, testifies to a creator God, that all can see. But the myriad of religions today all vie to reveal that God further, as well as how he relates to human kind. There is not only Christianity, but Islam, Mormon, Hindu, Jewish and on and on with a variety of religions. They all claim to reveal the true God of heaven and earth and have their special god-inspired revelations that reveal this God of creation. They all claim that their own revelation (Bibles) are the true word of God and that outside of their own faith there is no salvation.

Young people today, who are exposed to this broadness of thought, have come to believe that all these religions or any religion (including Christianity) is only a human endeavor to explain this amazing creator God. It’s either a matter of accepting any one of these gods revealed in differing religions, or rejecting them all. And some will assume there is a common thread of truth in them all.

Most religions today are unreasonable (to our young people), because they all ask you to believe teachings that do not stack up to reason (miracles, incarnations, etc.). Our young people will tell you that Christianity makes no more sense than any other religion, because it is no more believable than any other religion, because they all make similar miraculous religious claims. They are all unreasonable to our young people because they all require a leap of faith to get on the inside.

Perhaps what has kept our children and young people steadfast in the faith in the past, was to shelter them from outside thought. Bring them up in a sheltered family, with Christian schooling from elementary school through college. But that is becoming increasingly more difficult in our more open society of today. But perhaps this is the way the Holy Spirit has worked in the past, through imposing a sheltered life on our children and young people. Don’t give them so many options or things to consider. Maybe that is the means by which God chooses his own for eternity.

July 6, 2012

I know that many people in the Christian Reformed Church are talking about this topic, struggling to understand why so many young adults have left the church.

The CRC recently hosted a Young Adult conference and I was asked to make a film exploring this topic for the conference. My husband and I are professional filmmakers, and we created a 30-minute film looking at different perspectives on why young adults are leaving the church (and the Christian Reformed Church specifically).

Many young adults who saw it says it 'hits the nail on the head' and that every church needs to see it.

If you're interested in looking at it, you can see a trailer and get more info here:


The film was created to be a resource for churches, pastors, young adults, small groups, etc, who want to talk about this issue. Maybe it could help start the conversation in your church?

July 7, 2012

"Hand crafted faith." Daniel has come up with a beautiful term for what I'm seeing. I know more young people who abandon church or specific theology than who abandon faith altogether. They have questions about the Bible that defy Sunday School answers. They have friends they feel are not welcome in church so refuse to go themselves. Many see themselves as world citizens and reject standard western Christianity as too narrow. Many of these kids still love Jesus but haven't figured out how that love translates into a "hand-crafted faith," or how a faith community should look.

August 22, 2012

Why do some "generational believers" leave the faith as they grow older?

I think the youth ministries of today don't address the core issues. They focus a lot of trying to adhere to culture. In other words, they emulate culture to try to speak into the kids. In my personal experience as a sound tech for high school ministry at the mini-mega-church I work at, it is clear that this type of attempt is quickly leading the High School ministry into embracing a high level of paganism. Kids are seeing shows about aliens, vampires, werewolves, witches, etc etc etc. The world is basically an indoctrination into the occult. It's time churches begin to give deep thinking answers to those concepts.

How should the church respond?

In the same way the church responded to militant atheism in the last century, I think it's time we start looking at the supernatural elements of God and His Word.

The Bible is viewed as "boring" but if we take a look at things like the accounts of Genesis 6 and the Nephilim, the Rephaim, the giants, the hybrid tribes etc etc etc, it should undoubtedly fascinate the youth. And it's all in the Bible.

That and teach kids how to defend their faith. Most of em leave because they don't have any reason to believe what they believe.

Gabi Gaenicke
September 25, 2012

that is sad! My faith is what got me THROUGH my 20s!

Gabi Gaenicke
September 25, 2012

Possible Reasons: Peers, frustration w/current life status, feelings of suffocation/extreme judgement/lack of grace, too much conformity, doesn't fit in, discovering something OTHER than the Evangelical faith, much less Christianity..

Our 20s are a great period of transition: good and bad. they will make u or break us.. ;)

Hopefully, this is some food for thought.

Gabi Gaenicke
September 25, 2012

Very true!

Logan Glt
October 3, 2014

I had this experience with my oldest son, which started almost 8 years ago when he was a young adult. I was crushed and heart broken when he declared his atheism. He was supposed to be our forerunner and example for his 4 younger siblings. It started quite a journey for me, that I ended up writing as a blog series. http://lifeafter40.net/2014/04/20/my-son-told-me-hes-an-atheist/

Add your comment to join the discussion!