Why Do Kids From Good Families Walk Away From the Faith?

Why Do Kids From Good Families Walk Away From the Faith? November 5, 2013

This post originally appeared at Teach 4 the Heart and has been re-posted here with permission by the author.

What causes Christian teens from good churches and good families to leave the faith as an adult? This question plagues parents, teachers, pastors, and youth workers. And I’ll be honest – I don’t know what the answer is.

I do know I’ve seen too many of my friends and classmates either slowly drift away and get out of church or disregard the faith completely. It’s tragic and sad – and it makes me wonder why it happens so often.

Why Do Kids From Good Families Walk Away From the Faith?

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” There is much debate over this verse (is it a promise or just a proverb?) but it seems pretty straightforward to me. The question we then run into, though, is why do kids from good Christian homes turn away from the faith?

Maybe (and as I said, I don’t really know), they were never really trained. Just sending kids to church, praying at the table, and having lots of rules isn’t training. Maybe too many of us aren’t doing all we can to pass on our precious faith to the next generation.

I don’t know why it happens so often, but a few thoughts come to mind.

Reasons Young Christians Might Walk Away

  1. The faith they see isn’t real. Young people have an innate sense to detect hypocrisy, and being fake is the unpardonable sin in their eyes. And rightly so – how can you learn from someone who isn’t being authentic with you? Hypocrisy in the church and home comes in various forms, and I think more of us are part of the problem than we care to realize. When we stick to old rules that have no basis in Scripture and the only explanation we can give our kids for them is a combination of stammering and canned lines, our kids can tell that this aspect of our faith is not real. Or when we put up a good front in an attempt to “be a good example” instead of being authentic about our struggles, this turns kids off. Quickly. And we also lose the opportunity to show them how real and life-changing our faith truly is.
  2. They don’t develop their own relationship with God. The one and only all-encompassing aspect of true Christianity is our relationship with God. It’s not about the rules, it’s not about the worship service, and it’s not even about our outreach. All of these things must come FROM our relationship with God. If that doesn’t come first, all the other aspects seem forced and unnatural – and easy to leave behind. [For more about my experience with this, see my post How to Fall in Love with God.]
  3. They get a distorted view of Christianity. Many churches (or homes or schools) lean too far to one side or the other. Some speak of love and grace so much that they neglect to preach against sin and its consequences. Others take strong stands against unrighteousness but fail to properly demonstrate God’s love and grace. Neither of these one-sided approaches rings true because both grace and truth are integral to the faith. We must teach young people the whole counsel of God – the true amazing paradox of Christianity.
  4. They aren’t properly discipled. I think this one is huge. In order for kids to truly make the faith their own, they need to be intentionally discipled – and that means that the parents (and hopefully also teachers, youth workers, etc.) have a strong relationship with them and talk to them about every aspect of their lives. They must speak to their hearts – truly digging down to the heart issues in every encounter. And when disciplining, yelling or just issuing a punishment doesn’t cut it for a teenager. Yes, they may “learn their lesson,” but their heart won’t be changed. True discipleship takes lots of time and effort, and it’s a daily process. I don’t think this happens in a lot of homes, but I think that if it did, far fewer teens would go astray.
  5. They fall into the trap of the slow fade. Up to this point, I’ve suggested that a lot of the blame belongs to the parents and other influences in their lives. But in reality, each person makes his own decisions. And from what I’ve seen, for many it’s simply a slow fade – one small decision away from church followed by another and another. Each seems insignificant and not that big of a deal, until suddenly they’re far away. Only it wasn’t suddenly – it was a gradual decline – one small step at a time.

I just can’t end on that depressing note. If these are some of the contributing factors (and I think in many cases it’s a combination of them), that’s good news because we can make a huge difference in the next generation by reversing these trends. We can be authentic, give them a true view of Christianity, and help them develop a personal relationship with God. We can take the time every day to disciple them and warn them about the trap of the slow fade. This is one of the highest callings we have as Christians. The Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all nations – and we simply cannot neglect to make true disciples of our own children.

What do you think? Are these factors contributing to the problem? Why do you think young Christians turn aside? What can we do differently to successfully pass on our faith to the next generation? Share your thoughts with a comment below or join the discussion on the original post.

Photo by Barcaw

Linda Kardamis is a teacher and writer who is passionate about helping parents and teachers impact the next generation. She is the author of Create Your Dream Classroom and blogs at Teach 4 the Heart. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.


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  • As someone who was a Christian teen in a “good family,” I can say that the problem was none of the above. Although there were (and continue to be) many examples of Christian hypocrisy, I saw none in my family, my pastors, or in anyone influential in my faith community. I had what I thought was a great relationship with God, a personal investment in my own faith, and an intellectual grasp of the scriptures. My upbringing was conservative, but not restrictive or fundamentalist in a way that felt constraining or limiting of one aspect of the Gospel. I surrounded myself with strong Christian leaders and willingly took on discipleship, far more than I could see my peers doing. And yet I walked away.

    Why? It’s because the missing reason above, the missing #6, is that for many Christian teens, “They learn that Christianity isn’t necessarily the best answer.” I studied the scriptures regularly, and I began to notice the inconsistencies, the verses that aren’t taught from the pulpit and certainly not in Sunday School. I began comparing the Christian scriptures with other sacred texts, and the inescapable conclusion for me (as well as dozens of my peers) is that it is at best a human work, fallible and flawed, containing great goodness and great evil, both wisdom and banality. As long as Christians aren’t willing to admit that one of the reasons that the youth are abandoning the faith is that the faith isn’t good enough, they will never fully understand the phenomenon of apostasy.

    • Really studying the scriptures was what got me, too.

  • ahermit

    What you describe as a “slow decline” was, for me, a gradual process of growth and maturity.

  • With my kids I’ve seen it as the rising floodwaters from the world and they just were overwhelmed.

  • Daniel Lee Fee

    Of course, my admission (historically true as it is, nonetheless) will immediately enroll me among the ‘minority.’ My first big stumbling block – a terrible barrier that went unnamed for four or five decades? – was that, while everybody in our extended family network (mostly very very religious/Christian) and our network of rural ‘holiness plus Pentecostal-ish churches, talked ‘God’s love’ to absurdly repetitive extremes; in behavior/daily reality, it was obvious that almost everybody most of the time acted/lived out being afraid/fearing God’s wrath rather than acting as if God really, truly did ‘love’ anybody (except Jesus, of course, and anybody in the OT or NT who has long since been dead and so ‘canonized’). The lived lesson/witness couldn’t help but eventually outweigh the official talked lesson/witness.
    Has any believer who claims to have a ‘personal’ relationship w God ever read Oskar Pfister’s book, Christianity and Fear? Looking back, one wonders.
    While all that slow moving train wreck was in play, it also became impossible and intolerable for me as a queer kid in the rural Bible Belt USA (I knew what was up since at least age four years old when I fell head over heels for another four year old in my neighborhood – still just spontaneously mistyped ‘head over hells’ …. I guess that says it all, even today?) to live in the only two ‘Christian’ official grooves preached to be okay if you just have to end up admitting you’re the gay kid in a religious family/town/county/state?
    That is, I found the following main paths to be so cruel/so barren I could not live as real/alive in either of the following recognized ‘walks w God’ :
    A) submit to God so that I could be ‘healed’ into being properly heterosexual, or, as even my secular therapist used to talk up, coming to the point that I could juggle some sort of lifelong heterosexual ‘adjustment’ ….. or …..
    B) acknowledge that I felt what I really felt, so deeply/enduringly embodied that to say, ‘ I felt what I was,’ is a kind of shallow shorthand …. (age four years old, remember? ten to twelve years of that feels like an eternity when you are four years old to fourteen to sixteen?) …. with absolutely no other beloved person in my young adult to adult to old adult life who would ever touch me intimately in care, love, support, encouragement, or joy? …. yeah just a total cruelty as I contemplated it as the rest of my life ….
    which of course curves back upon the first train wreck that believers are actually more deeply afraid of God’s wrath than anybody for real feels ‘loved’ ….
    Finally, I must echo the gap emptiness/ I know nothing but Christ crucified … mode …. that other posters seem to be listing. Faith that responds to new science, innovations, otherwise possibly meritorious shifts or changes …. predominantly by saying and living out: Nopers. Grappling only to maintain its traditions/legacies/pat understandings? …. is as doomed to inadequacy as the hidden, covert lessons of the other two life lessons.
    It’s been a tearing life, on the whole, and I’m not sure it could have been otherwise given the people, places, churches, and decades involved. drdanfee

  • Aaron Hawryluk

    Well, the reason I left the church as a teen was: I had a non-religious epiphany. I suddenly realized it was all twaddle – praying accomplished nothing, the “Gospels” were a load of random crap scribbled down by primitive humans; for all their professing of morality, Christians were just as prone to be immoral as anyone else. Absolutely nothing anyone had to say in church had anything to do with reality – it was all made-up, imaginary stuff they told each other so that they could feel comforted and not quite so alone. The more the others in church told me my decision came from Satan, the more I laughed. “Really? That’s all you’ve got? Rationality comes from the Devil? The overwhelming evidence that you’re wrong is just someone putting ideas in my head?”
    Since I left the church I’ve tried every sort of spirituality, and they are all just as nonsensical and ineffectual as Christianity. There is no spirit, no soul, no afterlife – they’re just comforting fables. The idea of spirituality is itself a con game and an appeal to superstition in order to make money, nothing more. If faith has no real-world effect, then It’s. Simply. Not. Real.

  • Sven2547

    Two primary reasons: science and critical thinking.

    First: science.
    Throughout my childhood, I sorted the things I learned into three categories: fact, fiction, and the-stuff-they-taught-me-in-Sunday-School, which reads like fiction, but they told me it was fact. Genesis was incompatible with everything I learned about prehistorical Earth, and the more I learned, the more evident it was that large portions of the Bible simply could not be taken seriously as a historical document. But still, I respected the teachings of Jesus and I was fearful of Hell, so I remained nominally Christian, just skeptical.

    Next: critical thinking.
    As I grew, and learned more about worldly matters, I learned about foreign cultures and religions, new and old. I had Jewish and Hindu friends. One classmate was a Sikh. Each believed in their respective faiths at least as much as I believed in mine. So I exercised some critical thinking: what makes mine right? For several years, I searched for the answer. I immersed myself in scripture and history and prayer. During this period, I was diagnosed with depression, and I began having weekly sessions talking to a psychologist who worked for the Christian Counseling Service. Talking about my private thoughts with someone, just saying them out loud and bouncing off a responsive person (unlike the stark silence that responds to prayer), helped me to be honest with myself and admit to myself what, deep down, I had suspected for some time: I don’t really believe it. In an odd twist of irony, the Christian Counseling Service was the last step I needed to self-actualize as a non-believer. Perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not), I am no longer diagnosed with depression.

    I shake my head when believers tell me: ‘you are an atheist because you refuse to look. If you seek out God, you will find Him’. I earnestly searched, and what I found is a universe that is utterly indistinguishable from a godless universe, and a “God” that is indistinguishable from nothingness.

  • Guest

    I’m sorry that you arrived at the conclusion that the Christian faith wasn’t valid. Many of you referenced that it didn’t ring true to you or that you weren’t given good answers to your questions. This, I believe, is exactly the problem. True Christianity is alive and powerful and doesn’t mind dividing into the hard questions. But too many churches and homes aren’t willing to go there. Or their faith is superficial and they haven’t delved into deep waters themselves.

    I pray that one day God will reveal Himself to you and you will find a truer, deeper faith than you experienced as a teen.

  • I’m sorry that you arrived at
    the conclusion that the Christian faith isn’t valid. Many of you
    referenced that it didn’t ring true to you or that you weren’t given
    good answers to your questions. This, I believe, is exactly the problem.
    True Christianity is alive and powerful and doesn’t mind delving into
    the hard questions. But too many churches and homes aren’t willing to go
    there. Or their faith is superficial and they haven’t gone into deep
    waters themselves.

    I pray that one day God will reveal Himself to you and you will find a truer, deeper faith than you experienced as a teen.

  • Teh BuG

    6: they realize that Organized Religion is hogwash to them.

    can the article be edited to include the above line in the list? Seriously folks. you choose to believe. thats fine and i respect that. however, you should give the same respect to your children. if they choose to believe, great! if they dont, love them anyways, and dont try to force them to believe. did you ever do anything willingly when you were a child if you were forced?

  • Free The Drones

    The problem with this is that the youth is going away cause we are starting to think for ourselves. And starting to see how useful we as a human race are and how “Christianity” is making us feel like nothing . In the Christian schools we are being brainwashed to think what ever is not in the bible is wrong. But what if God is wanting us to actually start with the bible and also telling us that there is more he wants us to discover? Sadly every one that was growing in a religious environment does not think that because they think only what the bible way is correct. GOD never intended us to only read the bible and say that that’s all we need to know in life. He wanted us to advance. –
    Indigo Child

  • Max Malcolm

    The problem is simply the same reason ANYONE stops following God: the reasons against outnumber the reasons for. Being recently out of this hole I can say that a number of things have challenged and will continue to challenge my faith.
    1. lack of support: We go through real and painful life events in our young lives. In today’s world to be young is to be poor, and the message from the pulpit is often “God will make it better.” A continued problem is the lack of backing up that statement. It is all too easy to make a half hearted promise, it is something else entirely to let God work through you in a young person’s life.
    2. the stuff does not work the way we were told: Young people are told constantly about the practices of faith. Some of us attempt to put them into practice in a simple equation of the ends justifying the means. Through Christ we are promised the very desires of our hearts, in exchange all we are told we have to do is submit our will to him. Yet it is not so simple. Arriving at where we had hoped Christ would lead us may by months if not years down the track, if it arrives at all. which leads directly to point 3.
    3. We are still under attack. Young Christians are under attack not just for the witness we live in our present lives but for the witness and path that God has set out for us in the future. Bad if not awful things continue to attack us. Sometimes it’s as little as barely having enough to survive, other times it’s as sophisticated as feeling our dreams may never be reached. All of this puts a horrible strain on our relationship with the one who loves us most. We are forced to ask uncomfortable questions about the nature of this love, questions that go unanswered. We are left alone with a pit, a God who provides more trials and tests than deliverance and ourselves asking the question “why am I here?”

    If you can find answers to those issues you certainly have God with you because I have not. I have found no one who has come up with any better answer than “it gets better”. Does it? Does it really? And tell me how does it getting better help me when you cannot substantiate that claim with a timeframe, or back up that promise with data and work. You cannot sell a car without giving the new owner safety data and gas mileage, yet you think you can sell a way of life without providing something more than just claims. Challenging question, and here is a challenging answer in return.