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Why Our Teens Lose Their Faith

Why are so many teens leaving the church? This question has plagued parents and pastors alike for some time. Perhaps as parents we need to look less at the deficits in our churches and take a closer look at our own discipleship.

It’s happening in greater and greater numbers. Some polls and surveys say as high as 50%. Our youth – our kids – are going off to college seemingly grounded in their faith and returning home either disillusioned with the church or worse, having completely abandoned their faith.

This is not just happening at secular colleges but at Christian-affiliated schools as well.

One explanation offered by research at the Christian-based Fuller Youth Institute is that in the past 20 years, more and more parents are abdicating their Biblical mandate to play a central role in the spiritual formation of their children (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 11:19, etc).

Dr. Kara Powell, Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, suggests that as we have “professionalized” youth ministry over the past several decades, more and more parents feel they can “outsource” their child’s spiritual upbringing to the paid staff at their church.

The result? A faith life that is built on dozens of hours at youth group instead of rooted and strengthened by thousands of hours at home.

Being one of those “professionalized” ministry-type people, I don’t disagree with the premise. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard, “that’s what you get paid to do” when it comes to either discipleship or winning people to Christ.

But here’s the thing (and this might hurt a little):

Fathers: How much time do you spend with your son at sporting events? Either practicing, coaching, or attending?

Mothers: How many girls’-day-outs have you had with your daughter? Shopping, manicuring, or eating out?

The honest truth is we make time for what we want to do. We make time to parent in the areas we want to parent. Most often, the hard stuff gets left to “someday soon” that quickly turns into “too late now” as you say goodbye to your child at the threshold of their dorm room.

The good news is that while the statistics may seem disturbing and daunting, the solution is quite simple: We need to make the discipleship of our children not just a priority but THE priority in our parenting. After all, eternity outweighs anything earth can offer.

And more good news: it doesn’t have to be complicated!

Discipleship within our families can take on many different looks. It can be as simple as cracking open the Bible at breakfast, reading through scripture, and discussing what you’ve read. Or, it could be more involved like setting aside a structured time to walk through a family devotional together.

The key is not so much choosing a method as it is choosing the action.

The hard reality is that someone will speak into your child’s spiritual life – and that won’t always be a good thing. By the time s/he leaves for college, it’s either going to be parents, peers, or professors.

Who do you trust most with your son’s or daughter’s spiritual future?



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  1. i don’t mean to be rude but i feel i should give my input as an atheist… i think it has a lot more to do with teens and really people in general having access to tons of free information and exposure to ideas their parents and ingroups might not otherwise expose them too… in the past, you had your parents, your neighbors and your preachers and if you were curious enough you had the library but that was it. now we have more information at our finger tips to base our decisions on.

    1. Hi, Brooke!

      You weren’t rude at all in my opinion, and I would imagine the author(s) here would say the same thing.
      I think you have a good point here in that children can access all sorts of information at a younger and younger age as well as in an incredibly expansive way via the internet. What the point these authors are trying to make is that, as both religious and secular professionals point out, a child’s parents are the most influential people in the child’s life, and even with this brave new world everyone is in, it’s the parents who have the fullest responsibility with guiding their child to see and think of the world in the way they consider the most wise and worthwhile.

      Again, your response is quite respectful even with it being one of disagreement. I just wanted to encourage you in that way since it’s a rare thing to see these days!

    2. Brooke,
      Thanks for stopping by and reading the post. First, we must acknowledge that our starting points on the topic are vastly different. As an atheist, you do not believe God exists. As a Christian, I believe the evidence overwhelming points to God. As a parent, I want my kids to make their faith their own and not merely adopt their parents’ faith. To your point, Christian parents should embrace the “information” that’s out there – especially scientific truths. As Albert Einstein said, “The more I study science, the more I believe in God.” This is exactly why it is critical that Christian parents play a key role in the discipleship of their teens. Truth, without prejudice, will strengthen a teen’s faith, and armed with those truths, they will be less swayed by opinions and perspectives that have no truth. And how strong is this evidence? Strong enough that the world’s most renowned atheist, Richard Dawkins, recently conceded he could no longer be an atheist but was now an agnostic when he said, “I can’t be sure God does not exist.” (The Telegraph, 2/24/12)

  2. I have experience with this from both ends. I was raised Catholic and left the Catholic Church in college and started attending nondenominational churches. Needless to say, my family was very upset. My sister has not attended church is years and refuses to baptize her son or even talk about God with him. I am now married and have a baby. I want to find a good church for my daughter to grow up in and I want to be able to teach her about God at home. My husband is not as supportive. He is a Christian but very laid back. He has never been into attending weekly church or studying the Bible. I do my quiet times and invite him to pray with me but he is not interested. I am concerned that this will send the wrong signals to my daughter. I do not doubt my husbands faith and I do not want to be a helicopter mom, but I am concerned about my daughter getting mixed signals. I already attend church mostly on my own so I would not mind doing it with my daughter when she is older, but am would love for us to go as a family.
    The other issue is my family pushing their Catholic views on us. My parents want the baby to be raised Catholic, which I am completely opposed to. As usual, hubby is ambivalent and says, “you are too uptight, Catholics are Christians too.” Any advice would be appreciated!

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