Each day in America, it’s getting a little less normal to be a Christian family.
Study after study shows the trend of fewer people identifying as Christians, and more people identifying as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” Frankly, I don’t think most of us even need the studies to find that out. It’s blatantly obvious in the media, in the government, in schools, and online.
America is indeed changing, and that fact has many implications for Christian parents. In this post, I’m going to look at six of those implications.
Before we jump in, however, I’d like to make something clear: This is not a doomsday post. I’m not shouting from the internet roof tops to prepare for cultural disaster and that Christians have suddenly become a tiny, persecuted minority. Not at all.
This post, however, is an acknowledgment that our culture is steadily changing, and the direction of that change is away from Christianity. The more we understand about the nature of these changes and how they may impact our kids’ faith development, the more effective we can be in our role as Christian parents.
So what will it mean for Christian parents if there are fewer Christians in America? Here are six major implications.
1. Parents will need to intentionally make their kids less comfortable in their faith.
Perhaps that sounds like a bad thing. Don’t we want our kids to rest comfortably in their beliefs? Yes and no. If by “comfortably” you mean that they’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly examine their faith and, as a result, they have a strong conviction that Christianity is true, then yes.
But if by “comfortably” you mean that they are passively riding whatever faith train their parents put them on, then no. Kids who haven’t thoroughly examined their beliefs will be too unequipped to confidently engage in this increasingly challenging culture.
We need to help our kids handle their faith like a kaleidoscope: They should hold it up to the light, spin it around, and examine it from many different angles to fully understand what it’s all about.
If you need help with that, here’s how to get your kids to ask more questions about their faith, and my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, will walk you through 40 of the most important conversations you need to have with your kids today.
2. Many parents will need to relearn the difference between good values and Christianity.
Christian values have always been more popular in our culture than the Christian gospel itself. Unfortunately, for many people—both professing Christians and nonbelievers—Christian values have become synonymous with Christianity. As a result, many parents are raising their kids as Christians simply because they see it as a means to an end of desired moral behavior.
The world, however, doesn’t need Christianity in order to have well-behaved citizens. The world needs Christianity because it’s the truth of where we came from, our sinful nature, the problem of separation from God, and the good news of reconciliation through Jesus.
Now that the world is increasingly throwing out Christian values, those who call themselves Christians will be forced to make an explicit decision and parent accordingly: Either get serious about the real gospel, or abandon Christianity along with the values held synonymous with it for so long.
3. Parents will have to stop ignoring the tough parts of the Bible.
A critical part of making sure your kids understand the real gospel (and not a value-based proxy) is studying the Bible with them.
But that doesn’t just mean retelling the same handful of stories found in any standard children’s Bible. It also means going out of your way to learn about and discuss all the tough biblical stuff that your kids will increasingly hear about in secular discussions: Old Testament slavery and rape laws, questions of the Canaanite “genocide,” issues of human and animal sacrifice, ancient Near Eastern laws, and all kinds of other things you can read about at evilbible.com.
This isn’t what kids learn about in Sunday school, but it is what they’ll learn about from skeptics…with a very hostile spin. The gap must be bridged, and parents are the ones who will have to do it (while likely grappling with the answers for the first time themselves).
4. Parents will need to answer tough questions about Christianity and other beliefs starting at a much earlier age.
Because there are more secular adults today, there are now more secular kids…kids who, from a young age, are already aware that there is a general divide between a naturalistic and theistic worldview. For example, I regularly hear stories from parents whose elementary-age kids are being challenged by young classmates saying God doesn’t exist or that they believe “in science, not fairy tales.”
That’s quickly going to become the new norm, and it simply won’t be optional for parents to wait until they think their kids are “old enough” to talk about deeper issues of faith.
If your kids are in school, they’re old enough.
5. Parents will need to give their kids good reason to have thick skin about their beliefs.
In an increasingly secular world, kids will see and hear the media mocking their beliefs. They’ll experience their friends’ jokes about faith. They’ll be challenged by unbelieving teachers and professors who claim the authority of knowing that religion is just wish-fulfillment and a by-product of evolution.
No one continues to hold lukewarm beliefs in the face of such challenges. Shame will soon set in and it’s as easy as saying “I no longer believe” to remedy the perceived problem.
But shame isn’t a necessary outcome of holding contrarian beliefs. When kids have confidence that what they believe is really true, they can stand firmly against hostility and be a witness for the Kingdom. That confidence comes from an understanding of the strong evidence for the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible, as well as from the internal witness of the Holy Spirit as they grow in their relationship with Jesus.
6. Parents will need to more explicitly help their kids ask the right question about competing worldviews.
As America becomes less Christian in general, kids will encounter a greater diversity of claims about the nature of reality. Some people will say there is no God; some will say there’s no way to know if there’s a God; some will say there’s a God but any religion can lead you to Him; some will make generic claims about being spiritual but not religious; some will mysteriously say they have their own beliefs; some will say there’s only one way to God, but that it’s a way other than Christianity.
What will your kids do with all of that?
Will they decide their worldview based on what they like best? Based on what makes the most subjective sense to them? Based on what’s easiest? Based on what works best for the life they want to live? Based on what simply makes them happiest?
Your kids may end up using any one of these faulty consumer-oriented heuristics…unless you explicitly gift them with the understanding that the right question to ask is this: What reasons are there for believing a given worldview is actually true—an accurate picture of reality?
Make sure that question is firmly planted in your kids’ hearts and minds.
How else do you think our changing culture affects Christian parenting?