My husband and I had a spotty record of church attendance in our first few years as a married couple. We wanted to go to church, but none of the churches we attended felt much like a church “home.” We wanted to connect with other people our age, but every church we visited had an older congregation. During that time, an idea started to take root in my head: Young people like me don’t go to church. Maybe I’m supposed to be doing something else.
When we had been married 5 years, we moved to another city. We decided to look at churches again and randomly selected one around the corner to check out. A friendly elderly man greeted us at the coffee table that morning and told us how happy he was to see a couple “like us.” He then asked a question we still laugh about today:
Have you met the other young couple that attends here?
It was funny enough to think that there were only two young couples (including us) in a rather large church. It was funnier yet that when we met the other young couple, they were at least 25 years older.
Funny, but disheartening. The idea that young people don’t “do” church became more firmly planted in my mind.
As a last ditch effort, we tried a local megachurch to see if we could find three or four other young Christian couples (we like to push our limits).
That church – which we’ve now attended for 10 years – changed our whole spiritual trajectory.
We found hundreds of young couples there. For the first time in my adult life, I looked around each Sunday and saw people my own age. These young people were passionate about their beliefs, they looked like they wanted to be at church, and they were people I knew I would relate to. I was exuberant.
Can I tell you something I didn’t realize at the time, and really don’t want to admit today? Please hear me say this in a whisper, because I don’t want to say it out loud:
It was only after I saw thousands of passionate young believers in one place that I felt being a Christian was normal enough and cool enough that I wanted to go “all in” with my faith.
Ugh. I really wish it weren’t true, but it is. It wasn’t until I felt it was socially acceptable to be a Christian that I opened my heart to fully seeking God.
Coolness Should Never Matter…But It Often Does
The totally rational, black-and-white side of me wants to believe that if we are successful in 1) teaching our kids that searching for what is true is all that matters, 2) equipping them with an understanding of the evidence for Christianity, and 3) demonstrating how to live our lives as a response to the Gospel, they’ll likely become Christ-followers.
But what if, in spite of all this, our kids turn away from Christianity because they just don’t think it’s cool?
Regardless of how much I want to shout that coolness should never, ever be a factor in spiritual decision making, I’ve experienced how it can play a role myself. Pastor Matt Rawlings recently wrote on his blog about how college students are often lured to atheism because they want to sit “at the cool kids’ table.” We have to accept that peer influences are strong and do what we can to address them.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest that you somehow work to make Christianity super hip for your kids. We don’t need to make Christianity cooler. But I do believe there are things we can do to help lessen our kids’ concern about coolness:
- Make sure they have Christian friends. No, not just the kids they interact with each Sunday at church. Please don’t assume your kids’ “church friends” are a primary influence just because they rub elbows each week (and don’t assume that church friends are truly Christian friends). Look at who they spend time with on their own. Meaningful peer relationships with other believers make a big difference.
- Give them perspective. By and large, the most well-grounded Christian kids I’ve encountered have been heavily involved in service. When kids have built houses in Mexico, served their local homeless, or come to the aid of disaster victims, they are more likely to have a level-headed perspective on why the perceived “coolness” of their beliefs doesn’t matter. Faith becomes a living, breathing part of their identity.
- Be a family that is comfortable living counter-culturally. In the book Revolutionary Parenting, George Barna analyzed years of research data to determine what common factors exist in the child-rearing efforts of parents whose children remained strong in their faith into their adult years (he calls these kids “spiritual champions”). One major finding was this: “Parents are more likely to raise spiritual champions if they accept the fact that from day one their parenting efforts will stray from the norm and will put them at odds with parents who are pursuing a more conventional approach.” When kids are raised in a home where they become comfortable living differently than the world around them, they are prepared to carry that confidence into adulthood.
- Give them Christian heros and role models. Our kids need to know that the world is filled with amazing people who love the Lord: athletes, scientists, missionaries, actors, writers, government leaders, business owners…the list goes on. Wherever your child’s interests lie, introduce them to Christian role models in that area and the stories of how they’re making a difference for God’s kingdom.
Has your faith or your child’s faith ever been influenced by peer factors? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!