Beyond Graduation

sharon rykhusMost of us have heard or read the statistics. Somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of young adults raised in evangelical churches are leaving the faith by age 20. Only 30 percent of those who walk away from the Church ever return. Why are we letting this happen? What should we be doing?

I was one of those young adults. I went off to college and walked away from church. I had been a leader in our small senior league at church and was at every youth event. At age 16, I understood what Jesus had truly done for me and He became my personal Savior.

Flash forward several years, married and having children, my husband and I knew that we wanted to raise our boys with a faith in Jesus. We started attending church regularly. I joined a Bible study. Faith became something that I relied on each day. In Deuteronomy 6:5-7, God instructs us as parents: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up” (emphasis mine).

God intended faith to be taught in our homes. People often assume that God intends us to bring our children to Sunday school and confirmation, but God is very clear here when He places the family as the primary source for teaching and training our children in the Christian faith. Parents have the responsibility and the honor of raising their children to understand faith. However, because churches offer a plethora of programs, parents have relied on the Church to pass their faith to their children.

When we hear the statistics, or experience in our own churches the alarming exodus of our young adults, we often turn to our pastors, or youth directors, asking them to change the programs offered at church. Pastors and youth directors do play a huge role. Church worship, Sunday school, and youth groups are an important supplement to the training that the next generation needs to acquire and grow in their faith. But the responsibility of teaching our children should not rest solely on our churches. Studies also show that parents are 60 percent more influential in the lives of our children than anyone else, and that factor alone must encourage us to seek more opportunities to teach our children.

Today’s young adults are hungry for spirituality. And they are seeking it everywhere. If we do not equip the young people in our churches to know what they believe and why they believe it, they will not be prepared to defend the faith that we have passed along to them. Again, churches continue to play a key role in the discipleship of believers. Worship attendance is key. Sunday school and youth groups are important to the building blocks of faith. Young adults who have been instructed in the Word and who know what they believe are far less likely to leave the Church.

But for all the good churches, youth groups, and ministry outreaches can accomplish, our children’s faith development must be a priority in our homes. God also instructs us in I Thessalonians 5:11, “So encourage each other and give each other strength …” When our children participate in sports, we encourage them to train both physically and mentally to be prepared for the competition. We attend their games, and cheer them on. How much more important is the goal of an eternity with Christ, and how much are we cheering them on in this vital area?

What an awesome privilege and responsibility God has placed on our shoulders as parents. We need to be in the Word, studying for ourselves, modeling the Christian faith, walking it out in our daily lives. It’s not too late to draw back those young adults who are walking away. Parents need to invite their adult children to church. If a daily faith was not lived out at home while raising them, parents need to sit down with their young adult children and discuss faith and its importance. Talking about why we believe what we believe is crucial. Equipping our young people with the means to defend the hope they have in Christ is key.

We should ask ourselves: What am I being called to do to encourage young adults to stay involved in our churches? Am I praying for my own children and the youth in our church? Am I including them in the body of Christ? Answering those questions will help us keep our young adults from leaving the Church.

Sharon Rykhus, a member of Abiding Savior Free Lutheran, Sioux Falls, S.D., serves on the AFLC Youth Board.