A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak to four groups of parents during the Apologetics Canada conference (incidentally, if you live in the Long Branch, NJ, area, I’ll be speaking at the No Pat Answers conference on April 9). I ended up speaking with a lot of parents after these talks and heard some variant of one particular question repeatedly:
“I’d love to have deeper conversations about faith with my kids, but how do I get them more interested in sitting down and having those discussions?”
To answer that, I gave several of these parents a snippet of advice from my marketing background.
Every day you probably see or hear some kind of advertisement for buying a new car. If you aren’t currently interested in buying a new car, however, do you notice those ads? Can you even remember the most recent one you saw or heard? Probably not. But let’s say you’re suddenly in the market for a car. Do you pay attention to those ads now? Absolutely. You notice the cars around you on the road, you pay attention to the ads on the radio, and you start keeping an eye out for sales in your mail.
There are some people who just love cars and pay attention to car-related ads all the time. But for most people, car ads become relevant only when they’re in the market for a car. This is called situational relevance.
Similarly, there are some kids who are naturally interested in spiritual matters. But for many, we have to find ways of making faith situationally relevant based on whatever else is going on in their mental life at a given time.
So how do you do that? Here are 10 ideas. Note that not all of these will work for all kids. Situational relevance is all about understanding where your kids are mentally right now and working with that. These are simply thought starters.
1. Before doing anything else, be sure to untangle God-interest from church-interest.
It’s extremely important to keep in mind that increasing your kids’ interest in God is NOT the same as increasing their interest in church. Those are two separate issues. Theoretically, your kids could be very interested in matters of faith but not like going to church for one reason or another. They won’t necessarily have processed that fact themselves, so you need to ask the questions necessary to differentiate the two. You may well find that your kids would enjoy talking about God with YOU even if they fight the trip to church every week.
Alternatively, your kids could love the experience of church but not be all that interested in God. Beware of having a false sense of confidence that your kids are actively developing their faith just because they like church. Atheists have churches now too. The real question is whether or not your kids are interested in engaging with you on the subject of faith at home.
2. If your kids are young, implement a scheduled family spiritual development time ASAP.
I strongly believe every family should be setting aside weekly, if not daily, time to engage together in spiritual development (studying the Bible, having conversations about faith, praying, etc.). That said, if your kids are at a certain age and you haven’t already set the precedent of doing this, it can be difficult to implement immediately. To drive their interest, you’ll probably have to work up to it using one of the other tips in this post.
For those with younger kids who are still happy to sit down with their parents at a given time, however, there’s nothing better you can do to develop their interest in faith from the very beginning; you can effectively create a natural interest by making faith an integral part of their lives from a young age. We’ve been doing this several times per week since our twins were 3. They now expect that discussions of faith are part of our everyday lives, and they (now 7) choose to read the Bible and their own devotionals without any prompting. The more they read, the more it leads to questions and conversations of interest to them. When you start early, you can create a snowball of interest.
3. Ask them what they believe about God, Jesus, and the Bible.
Parents spend a lot of time either telling their kids about Christianity or having other adults (e.g., at church) tell their kids about Christianity. But how often do we stop and flat-out ask our kids what they believe? How often do we take inventory of how they are actually processing all this information? When you find out what they think about God, Jesus, and the Bible, you’ll quickly see what topics they may be most interested in discussing. For example, you might ask, “Do you believe in God? Why?” If they do, press on to ask, “On a scale of 1 to 100, how sure are you that He exists?” If you find that the number isn’t as high as you would have imagined, it’s a perfect opportunity to have relevant discussions in this area. Or, if they don’t have very good reasons for why they believe (even with strong certainty), you can pique their interest in that area.
4. Consider what is of interest to them right now.
One parent I spoke with at the conference told me how her teenage daughter lost all interest in her faith after something terrible happened to a friend of hers. She was wondering what she could do to get her daughter interested again. I asked if her daughter still believed in God, and she said yes, but that she’s mad at how His world works. The obvious subject of interest for this girl right now (the one most situationally relevant) is the problem of evil and suffering. It wouldn’t make sense to try to get her interested in some random study on the fruits of the Spirit at this particular time. Meet her where she is. Sit and listen to her talk about the questions this event raised for her. Express your own sadness and questions. Tell her you’d like to learn more about it too. Then get a book on the subject to read together, or read one on your own and use your knowledge to facilitate relevant conversations.
5. Find a quote from a favorite actor or musician about faith and discuss.
If your kids have a favorite actor or musician, it’s a situationally relevant opportunity to talk about that celebrity’s views on religion. You can Google the person’s name with the word “religion” to find quotes to discuss. If the celebrity you’re looking for doesn’t happen to have said something interesting about faith, Google “atheist celebrity quotes” or “atheist celebrity memes” and click on the image results. You’ll find many of them from people older kids will know and it can make for great discussion. Once you’ve opened some discussion that they find interesting, you can follow up with similar conversations.
Incidentally, here’s a great one from Natalie Portman (discuss what determines the best way to live).
6. Print out and discuss song lyrics from your kids’ favorite artists.
Most kids give the lyrics of songs they listen to no thought. Yet, those lyrics can offer all kinds of opportunities for relevant discussion, given that so many conflict with a Christian worldview. It shouldn’t be a time to preach at them about how bad the stuff is that they’re listening to (if that is indeed a problem). If you do that, you’ll be closing future doors of conversation with older kids. But it can be a time to objectively look at the lyrics and talk about the worldview presented.
7. Pretend to be an atheist and have your kids try to convince you that Christianity is true.
If you really want get your kids thinking, ask them if they want to take the “atheist challenge.” Tell them you’re going to pretend to be an atheist and they’ll have to try to convince you that Christianity is true. The novelty of seeing parents take an opposing viewpoint can naturally drive interest in further discussion. Alternatively, the parents can take the “atheist challenge” and the kids can pretend to not believe in God. You then have to convince your kids Christianity is true. You can bring up all kinds of interesting points they’ve never thought about (see how sneaky/brilliant that is?). (My book has 40 different subjects you could bring up in this context, with all kinds of quotes and examples from atheists!)
8. Play “What would you say if…”.
Certain personality types love intellectual challenges. My daughter, for example, loves open-ended questions that she can try to answer in the best way possible. If you have a child like that, you can facilitate conversations in a game format by asking “What would you say if…” Here are a few examples:
What would you say if your friend’s mom said God doesn’t exist? What would you say if someone told you the Bible is 2,000 years old, so it’s not relevant for our lives today? What would you say if someone told you Christians are hypocrites so they never want to be a Christian? What would you say if someone told you they believe in science, not God? What would you say if someone said they believe in God because their parents do? What would you say if someone said they don’t believe Jesus came back to life because we know that dead people stay dead?
9. Watch a video on space or biology from both atheist and Christian perspectives.
Older teens who are encountering issues of faith and science will appreciate your willingness to watch two different perspectives, particularly if they are struggling with faith doubts. They may not otherwise be willing to talk about faith matters, but would be interested to see your take when you watch an opposing viewpoint. That can then open the door for further discussion that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
A great science DVD series from a Christian perspective is The Intelligent Design Collection – Darwin’s Dilemma, The Privileged Planet, Unlocking the Mystery of Life.
10. Visit a church of another religion.
Kids are very experientially-oriented. While they may be bored to tears if you try to talk them through the differences between Buddhism and Christianity, many would take interest in learning about Buddhism after actually visiting a Buddhist temple. Take them to see one and you can bet there will be a lot of questions to talk about. If they develop an interest in learning more about other religions, it’s a perfect opportunity to point the conversations toward understanding how we know Christianity is true.
Need help finding discussion topics that will be relevant to your kids? Check out my book with 40 conversations that will help them build a lasting faith!