Outgrowing the Faith?
Discipleship by adults is needed to keep young people in
By Christina Quick
When an online forum for college students asked participants
to explain why they don’t go to church, the responses were both predictable and
A student named Emma, who said she had attended services
faithfully until a few months before, wrote: “If God really loves me as much as
everyone in church says He does, then He should be cool with me focusing on
bettering myself and trying to get the most out of the life He’s given me.
Listen, I think [He will] understand as long as you’re still a good person.”
A student from Florida said, “I used to go to church
regularly. But for the past couple of years I haven’t been, mainly because I
got a job. But also, I’ve had a hard time finding a church here that I feel
like I fit in at. Many churches just don’t feel very
Another student, also a former attendee, wrote: “I lost my
‘faith’ when I started questioning the Bible and God. Now I’m just starting to
believe it’s a lie. This doesn’t mean I automatically became materialistic,
superficial and a rebel in the world. I still have strong morals, and now I
have my own perspective of the world, instead of someone else placing their
ideology on me.”
Even as church attendance enjoys a temporary holiday surge,
these young adults represent a sobering trend. An alarming number of kids
raised in church are growing up and walking away from the fold.
More than two-thirds of those who attend church as youths
drop out between the ages of 18 and 22, according to a 2007 survey by
Nashville, Tenn.-based LifeWay Research. The study found that 34 percent did
not return — even sporadically — by age 30.
“The reality is, we’re failing,” says Wayne Murray, senior
pastor of Grace Assembly of God in New Whiteland, Ind. “We have an 80 percent
failure rate to pass on our faith, which is not acceptable. We have to be more
intentional about reaching our kids.”
Though the physical transition away from church may not take
place until the college years, Murray says the problem should be addressed at
the earliest stages of spiritual development.
“A worldview that children have when they’re 9 is the one
they’re likely going to have when they die,” Murray says. “Kids who don’t have
a solid Christian worldview start walking away from the faith in middle school.
We need to train and disciple them when they are young.”
For that reason, Murray is an enthusiastic supporter of
Junior Bible Quiz, a competitive program that encourages children in first
through sixth grades to memorize 576 questions and answers that teach Bible
verses, facts and doctrines.
Approximately 40 percent of the eligible children who attend
Grace Assembly participate in the program. A team from the church took second
place at this year’s National JBQ Festival. Murray’s son, Braden, was also
among the top three individual quizzers in the nation.
“We make Junior Bible Quiz a huge priority at our church,”
Murray says. “I don’t think JBQ is the only tool that can help. But it’s about
doing things on purpose, intentionally passing on faith to kids rather than
hoping they’ll just pick it up.”
For his degree work at Assemblies of God Theological
Seminary in Springfield, Mo., Murray recently wrote a master’s thesis proposing
that Junior Bible Quiz can help stem the tide of young people leaving church.
Based on data previously collected by others involved in the program, as well
as interviews with coaches, district coordinators and former quizzers, he
concluded that children who remain in JBQ for several years and have parents
who help them study rarely turn from the faith as adults.
“All the responses from former quizzers I interviewed were
overwhelmingly positive,” Murray says. “About 90 percent of them were still
serving the Lord.”
Murray says parental involvement in the discipleship process
is key to guiding children toward a faith that will last.
“It’s not just about rote Bible memorization,” he says. “JBQ
works because it provides a tool for parents to take the lead in discipling
Candy Tolbert, director of Assemblies of God National Girls
Ministries, agrees that spiritual training should begin at home.
“Church can only be an extension of the home,” Tolbert says.
“The most important aspect of discipling any child has to be at home. There has
to be a moment when the child makes a relationship with Christ just that
— a relationship.”
Ideally, Tolbert says, parents and church leaders should
work in partnership over the years to point children toward Christ.
“When my own girls left for college, I knew they could no
longer ride on the coattails of our faith,” Tolbert says. “All those people who
built into their lives along the way were important in helping them form their
own faith. My girls can point to Christian mentors who invested in them when
they were 10, 11 or 12 years old. Those relationships mean so much.”
Doug Marsh, national director of Royal Rangers, says
involvement in church ministries can help reinforce what is taught in the
“When boys in Royal Rangers see people other than their
parents living by the same principles that Mom and Dad espouse, they realize
this is the real deal,” Marsh says. “It’s not just Mom and Dad, but a whole
George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of
God, says reaching young people for Christ is a topic that should concern
everyone in the church.
“The Assemblies of God has 1.1 million of its 2.9 million
adherents in the U.S.A. who are 25 and under,” Wood says. “We must do
everything in our power to successfully pass the torch of the faith to the next
generation. This is one task we dare not fail. We must be purposefully
committed to discipling this new generation, making it at the very top of our
CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal
Evangel staff writer. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly
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