The line, innocently delivered by a third grader, came like a gut punch. It was a typical Sunday in Wellkids as we sat on the carpet, talking about faith and salvation. Then it happened. “I’m a Christian because my parents are Christians, and like all my ancestors were. So I know I’m going to heaven.” I know it seems harmless, but this is a fear that has literally kept me up at night. The problem is kids, teens, and even some adults have a misguided view of salvation where they think they’re “in the club” because of the faith of their families. In a sentence, it’s borrowed faith.
I did not grow up in a Christian household so when I started my relationship with Jesus in my 20s, it was wholly mine. Now as I raise my two tiny humans, I wrestle with leading them on their own path to a genuine relationship with Jesus in a broken world. And honestly, the statistics are scary. I’ve seen numbers from 40 to 80 percent of kids who grow up in the church eventually walk away before adulthood. Let’s make that personal. Think of the kids in your life, either your own or by relation. You love these kids with all your heart and you desperately want them to have a relationship with Jesus. Now imagine half just walk away.
Personally, I sometimes get “busy” for God looking for big things I should do and forget that my greatest discipleship opportunity is sitting right in front of me, probably wrestling each other over a toy. If you are a parent, the most important investment you can make is into your kid. Period. If you ever see a Wellkids volunteer shirt, it simply says, “So the next generation might know.” Ever wonder where it comes from? In Psalm 78:5-7, it says:
“He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them— even the children not yet born— and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.”
This is why we do what we do every Sunday. This is why we pour into the kids. But as much as we love them, it is parents that have the most influence. Deuteronomy 6 is one of the most commonly referenced chapters when it comes to parenting and in verse 7 it says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This is so important, Moses repeats it in Deuteronomy 11:19. This needs to be a day in, day out, 24 hour type of calling for your kids. It’s up to the people with the most influence, aka parents, to take the lead. Is it always easy? Nothing worth anything ever is. To get us started, here’s some practical ideas.
Pray for your kids, with your kids, and about your kids' “problems.” Years ago, my mother-in-law confided in me that a few months before my husband announced we were dating, she had started praying for his future wife. It truly touched me to know I was being prayed for before I even knew I needed the prayer. I can have an anxious mom heart where the “what ifs” overshadow the right now. If you’re with me in this, write Philipians 4:6 somewhere prominent as a regular reminder. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Commit it to memory.
When it comes to parenting, there are so many things out of our control, but they’re still within God’s control. So pray for your kids when they are rebelling and pray for your kids when things are going well. Pray for your family in crisis and in peace. Cover your house in prayer, then enlist a couple friends to pray along with you. It should always start with prayer.
We have two small kids so we live in the land of “Why?” It can be annoying at times, but I honestly hope to continue to foster this curiosity as they wrestle through the questions of life and faith. Let your kids know that questions are not only allowed, but they are encouraged and expected. Wrestle along with them, telling them your struggles and always be ok to say “I don’t know.” I’ve had my 5 year old drop some deep theological questions that I honestly had no idea what the answer was. Even if the question seems silly, like are there potties in heaven, if your child is serious, show respect towards all questions so as to keep the dialog open. As they get older, you should even bring up the questions they aren’t asking but you know they may have. Prepare them for the fact that the world is out there and will have “answers” that may not align with your values. Let their doubts be voiced openly. Doubt isn’t toxic to our faith, but silent doubt can be lethal.
Be a safe place
I cannot emphasize how important this point is. No matter what your kids throw at you, you should model Jesus and always be a safe place to land. Whether in small ways or large ways, your kids will mess up at some point. It’s not an if, it’s a when. So you need to practice a poker face now. When a kid drops a bomb of a question or a statement, it’s important to be in control of your emotions, which can otherwise cause them to retreat. Each time they confide in you in a big way and you remain calm, you build their trust that they can rely on you to help them through their storm.
Despite my kids being young, I recently had this play out. I was in the living room helping our toddler while our kindergartener, Joshua, sat at the kitchen table practicing his letters. Joshua walked into the room with the look that the weight of the world was on his shoulders and said, “Mom, I need to tell you the truth.” With that one line, my mind went in 8 million directions, but I kept it together and calmly said, “What’s up bud?” Still looking devastated, he replied “I forgot we weren’t supposed to write on the walls.” Instead of losing my temper because my son has never forgotten a thing in his life, I held his hand as we walked over to survey the damage. I told him I appreciated him telling me, we brainstormed how to clean it up and also discussed consequences for his actions. Was my blood pressure through the roof? Absolutely. Did my kid know that? Not at all. Here’s the point of this anecdote. I truly was appreciative he told me because he knew I was a safe place, even when he messed up. Instead of trying to cover up the mistake or lie (“Brother did it!”), he came to me for help. Every time he comes to me, I want to model Jesus’s unshakable forgiveness and love. I’m not saying there aren’t consequences, but with every investment, a stronger trust can be built. No matter how big they mess up, point them back to Jesus. He is bigger than their mistake.
Kids are fantastic observers. There's a reason parents often notice their speech patterns, mannerisms, and facial expressions reflected in their kids. Do you want your kids to live out their faith? If there is a trait you want to see displayed in your child, the best place to start is in yourself. Let them see you read your Bible, an actual paper one so it doesn’t just look like you’re scrolling on your phone (guilty of this). Let them see you pray, in both good times and in bad times. Let them see you serve. Better yet, bring them along on the journey. Have a daily family devotional time. Participate in a CKA as a family. Create Love One Love All opportunities together, bringing them into the conversation. Talk to them about the “why” in all you are modeling, never leaving it as “just a thing we do” or a box to check. Teach them to be participants in the church, not just consumers. Show them how it isn’t just a weekend thing.
Build your tribe
Five. That’s the number of adults it takes on average to have a relationship with your kids so they don’t fall away from the church. These are non-familial adults who know your kids and are actively investing in them. These people need to care enough to be able to tell your kids what they don’t want to hear. They need to be speakers of truth and represent your family values. As the world gets bigger and ever more connected, authentic relationship is getting harder. Find your people who get your kids. Make sure your kids are connected in Wellkids/ Wellyouth, with other adults in your life group, or serve alongside adults that “see” them just as they are.
I heard a quote at a conference recently that really challenged me as a kids leader. “Young people leave the church not because we ask too much but because we ask too little.” Kids leave because their faith is shallow. It is superficial. Instead of living their faith personally and vibrantly, it’s something they do or worse, something they are forced to do. They risk becoming just “church kids.” On a Sunday, when I look around the classrooms and think half may not be there in 15 years, I can let it wreck me or rally me. Weekly, I choose to lean in and get pumped. Parents have a big job. I challenge you to lean in. The tiny disciples are worth it, even as they throw a bowl of applesauce across the room. Rally. It’s worth it “so that the next generation might know.”
Written by Jillian Apa Goodhew,
Well Kids Lead at Wellspring Church