One of the difficult findings about teens and faith in recent years is that a majority of teens who graduate from high school do not attend church the following year. There are several reasons for this, and youth ministry experts are searching for answers to change this downhill trend. However, Richard Ross of Southwestern Baptist Seminary has come up with a very positive insight from a study he did on teens and spirituality. Ross says teens are three times more apt to stay in church after they graduate from high school if there are healthy faith conversations within the home on a regular basis. Faith conversations are discussions and study about God and the Christian life in what feels like a spontaneous conversation. Parents can use media, the news, and discussion around the dinner table to bring up issues that pertain to faith. Faith conversations can also take place in a more formal “family time” setting on a weekly or regular basis.
“It is a good idea for Christians to date non-Christians.” That was how I started out our family’s discussion time one evening. Then I added, “Do you agree, disagree, or are you undecided?” My wife, Cathy, and I were sitting in our hot tub with two of our three daughters. Both were in high school at the time. “Of course it’s OK to date a non-Christian,” Rebecca said. “I wouldn’t want to marry a person who didn’t have my faith, but it’s just dating. And besides, look at Tom and Trish. Trish married Tom when Tom wasn’t a Christian, and now he is a pastor!”
Heidi totally disagreed with her sister. “If you are supposed to marry a Christian, then I think you should only date Christians. Besides that, doesn’t the Bible say someplace that we aren’t supposed to be ‘unequally yoked’?”
After a short sidebar by Dad on the meaning of unequally yoked, the discussion continued. In fact, the conversation between the girls got a little hot (and it wasn’t the jacuzzi). Finally, exasperated, Heidi turned to us. “Help me out here, Mom and Dad!” Rebecca countered, “Are you both so closed-minded to the work of God that you honestly believe what Heidi is saying?”
We hadn’t even told the girls our thoughts yet or looked at the Bible. But we did have smiles on our faces. I remember that conversation being a good family time and a defining moment for the topic.
A commitment to regular family devotions is not going to come from the kids, but if parents will take it seriously and develop family times together, it really can make a difference. As our girls were growing up, we found that they did better when it was a short, non-lecture format. We have found that the families that seem to do best keep these times fairly light and bring in another aspect of family fun time, whether it’s fun food or a Wii bowling contest after the devotional time. The best faith conversations come when the kids see their parents as fellow learners, as opposed to the teacher-to-student role.
Don’t feel pressure to come up with ideas for your family’s faith conversations. There are plenty of good resources out there to use and adapt. If you feel a bit lost, just ask your local youth worker or children’s worker for ideas. The practical side of developing faith conversations at home is you can integrate a greater desire to study God’s Word together, search practical topics from a biblical worldview, and spend time in prayer together.
After several decades of excellent research and study, we can now see that there are very positive outcomes with young people who have a positive spiritual experience in their teen years. From an academic study, Christian Smith found benefits in the areas of morals and values, healthy role models, spiritual empowerment, community and leadership, coping skills, choosing healthy relationships, and social and organizational skills. This, of course, comes from academic research, but the true test is that when young people have a healthy spiritual life, they make better decisions about their friendships, school, sexuality, and obedience to authority, and they tend to experience much fewer at-risk behaviors. For this reason alone, do what you can to engage your kids on a spiritual level and stay engaged through even the later teen years.