Your Kids Will Likely Have No Idea How to Choose Their Own Christian Church as Adults…and That’s a Problem

Your Kids Will Likely Have No Idea How to Choose Their Own Christian Church as Adults…and That’s a Problem

I grew up mostly in non-denominational churches, with a Baptist church or two thrown in. For all intents and purposes, my understanding of the world was that there were two types of churches: Christian and non-Christian.

Easy peasy.

If you gave me a label maker, I could have visited every church in town and promptly placed “Christian” or “non-Christian” on each one based on my simplistic understanding.

The church has the word Bible in it? Christian.

The church has the word Christian in it? Of course Christian.

The church has the name of one of the major denominations in it? Christian.

The church has the name of one of the cults from my mom’s giant Kingdom of the Cults book? Definitely not Christian.

The church has a generic name like “[Town] Community Church” that doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any of the aforementioned cults? Probably Christian.

I’d venture to say that this is the understanding of churches that many, if not most, kids leave home with. And that’s a very dangerous thing.

 

Searching for a “Christian” Church

Like many kids who leave home with a nominal faith, I went off to college and didn’t bother to attend church at all. But after college, my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) and I decided we should find a church to attend together.

For us, picking a church was as arbitrary as picking a marble out of a jar. In retrospect, I think we had just two criteria: close and “Christian.” There was a beautiful old mainline denominational church down the street that seemed to qualify. We went, and eventually became members.

Over the next three years, I noticed a few teachings here and there that didn’t seem to be the same as what was taught in the churches I grew up in. But my husband and I didn’t realize it wasn’t a biblically sound church until the pastor told us one Easter that it didn’t really matter if Jesus was raised from the dead (you can read more about that problem here).

That was my first experience learning that “Christian” doesn’t always mean what I thought it meant. In many churches today, “Christian” means accepting a lowered view of the Bible, dismissing central tenets of the faith, minimizing the gravity of sin, questioning the need for the atonement, and even rejecting the divinity of Jesus.

My mental label maker was revealed to be naïve.

We moved soon after and again found a “close, Christian” church. We eventually realized that this was another church teaching liberal theology.

After a third move, we tried again and visited a church down the street. We only went once because there were no other young families there, but looking at their website today, it’s clear that this church was no different from the other two we attended.

By God’s grace, we then followed a recommendation for a large non-denominational church in our area. This time, the church had biblically sound teaching and it was in that church that our faith really grew. We attended there for 10 years before moving to our current (biblically sound) church closer to home.

Here’s what I want you to take from this story: Without even trying, I landed in three churches in a row that weren’t teaching the historic Christian faith.

This isn’t a warning about the existence of one or two extreme churches out there. This is a warning that there are numerous churches today that veer from the historic Christian faith. And if we don’t raise our kids to have discernment in church selection, they can easily fall into dangerous teachings—some of which can be a matter of salvation.

Here’s what you can do.

 

1. Have a conversation about the importance of thoughtful church selection.

This is basic, but I think it just doesn’t occur to most parents to have a conversation about discernment in choosing a church. This isn’t just for kids ready to move out on their own—kids of all ages should understand the importance of choosing a biblically sound church and how to do so (more on that in the next point). They should know that in today’s world, “Christian” can mean all kinds of things, and we must be vigilant about choosing a place to worship.

 

2. Explain what to look for when selecting a church.

As a fun way to get kids thinking about this, ask them to list as many things as they can that would be important to consider when choosing a church. This will probably include factors like proximity, size of youth group, the pastor, and so on. Then ask them to rank those things in importance. Use that as an opportunity to discuss what matters most and how selecting a church that adheres to biblically sound teaching should always be our first criteria.

If a church isn’t solid in doctrine, none of the other factors matter.

Finish your conversation by looking at a thorough statement of faith online from a trusted church so kids can see what they should consider.

 

3. Teach them about warning signs to watch for when evaluating churches.

A lot could be covered here, but some big red flags include:

 

  • No statement of faith. This isn’t always true, but in my research, churches which veer from the historic Christian faith tend to not have a statement of faith on their website. Biblically sound churches usually have a menu item for “What We Believe” where you can clearly see their doctrine outlined.

 

  • A statement of faith that doesn’t clearly identify Jesus as part of the Trinity. Many liberal churches skirt around identifying Jesus as God. They may not come out and say they don’t believe in the Trinity, but if the language doesn’t clearly state as much, there is a good chance they don’t. For example, one church says, “We believe that God’s will and way were revealed in Jesus of Nazareth” and then goes on to explain how they live as followers today. But there’s nothing about his deity, and it’s clear from the rest of the site that this is a church which has abandoned biblical teaching.

 

  • A statement of faith that implies a lowered view of the Bible. One church, for example, says, “We believe that the Bible is a collection of books, letters, poetry, and other writings written by human beings in order to share their experience of God.” Yes, the Bible was written by humans, but if all a church can say about the Bible is that these writings shared people’s experience of God, they probably have a lowered view of the Bible’s divine inspiration (this is certainly true of this particular church).

 

  • A list of “core values” that could be found in any organization—religious or secular. In lieu of a statement of faith, one church we attended features a “core values” list on their website that includes things like dedication to a nurturing community, accepting diversity, and service to others. If a church doesn’t explicitly tie their core values to who Jesus was, what the Bible says, and how we should live accordingly, it’s likely a bad sign.

 

  • Any verbiage that indicates a belief such as, “The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God, but it’s not the only way.” I took that wording directly from the statement of faith on one church’s website (a church with a very traditional sounding name). This is full blown religious pluralism—the idea that all roads lead to God—and is not consistent with biblical teaching.

 

The churches our kids attend as adults will have a major impact on their faith. If we’re not intentional in guiding them in this area, there’s a very real possibility they’ll end up a church that can actually harm their faith.

I know how easy it is…it happened to me three times.

14 Comments

  1. Rachel Schmoyer on May 31, 2018 at 7:53 AM

    Thank you for this post! What a great idea. As a pastor’s wife, I haven’t really thought about teaching my kids how to pick a church since all they know is we just go where Daddy is the pastor. I think like many choices in life, you will make the right one when you have a Biblical worldview and know how to discern when you hear something that is not biblical. I am going to talk to my kids about this.



  2. Kim on May 31, 2018 at 8:24 AM

    Thank you for this. We will soon be having these conversations with our children because it’s time to move on. We are in the midst of seeing our church shy away from being discerning and prayerfully considering the next pastor. Biblical concerns were raised and yet a majority of people are blindly following leadership for the sake of getting a new pastor hired. I’m realizing that because we are all sinful, broken people (of course no church will be perfect) it will be a difficult journey to find our next church home that is biblically sound, especially in today’s changing culture. In the end this will be a positive experience and our children will hopefully be equipped to see the importance in choosing a church and will be able to do so as an adult.



  3. Alex Lasco on May 31, 2018 at 10:30 AM

    Thank you Natasha for these thoughts. One of the apologists stated something like this “the church is not to be afraid of the atheist/skeptic and their arguments because the church has provided solid answers to these over the last 2000 years. The church’s big attack comes from the liberal church, which undermines the deity of Jesus and lowers the God-breathed inerrant Word of God.” I agree with this observation.
    What do you think? Perhaps you could write a post about it and a bigger audience could appreciate it.
    God bless you richly.



  4. Tiffany on May 31, 2018 at 1:51 PM

    Thanks so much for this, as we are in the middle of trying to find a new church with 4 children in tow after 34 years at the same one. We’ve discussed with them that their Daddy and I are trying to follow God’s leading, but not specifically how to find a Biblically sound church. We will definitely begin now!



  5. Jayne on May 31, 2018 at 3:28 PM

    Hi,
    I enjoyed your article.
    I would add to your list: look out for churches that are preaching more about “psychology” than “theology.”
    Great tip for parents. I’ll remember to express to my children why we attend the Episcopal Church; because of the root in traditional Christianity, celebration of the liturgy, acknowledgement of the Holy Trinity and Christ as savior.



  6. Philip on May 31, 2018 at 4:40 PM

    Thank you for writing about this! I haven’t been a follower of your blog, but one of my friends shared this on Facebook and I can confirm that it’s a huge issue: Many mainline Christian denominations (Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, etc.) have split in two over this stuff, and usually when you move to a new town you can find one of each if you know what to look for (one liberal Lutheran church and one conservative Lutheran church, one liberal Presbyterian church and one conservative Presbyterian church, etc.). It’s not quite this way with the Baptist churches and Baptist-like nondenominational churches; some will teach one thing and some another.

    One thing I would do if I really wanted to know where a church stood on these issues, and they didn’t have a statement of faith on the website (or didn’t even have a website, as many small churches don’t), would be just to ask them, “What do you believe about the inerrancy of Scripture?” and listen to see whether they gave me a simple, unqualified yes or a convoluted, apologetic yes-like answer that wasn’t really clear.



  7. Dilip on June 2, 2018 at 3:36 PM

    Thank you for sharing this. This is a helpful write-up.



  8. Perry Shields on June 3, 2018 at 12:13 PM

    It is important to know that “inerrant” and “inspired” are two different things.

    It is OK to call yourself a Christian and not believe in an inerrant Bible, yet still believe it is inspired. You can hold both thoughts in your head at the same time. Beethoven’s music is inspired, yet I doubt even he would consider it inerrant.

    Same is true for the Rapture, and the belief that we are in the “End Times.” One can be a Christian and not believe in those things.

    I believe a big reason children from Christian backgrounds (particularly Evangelical or Fundamentalist) leave the faith when they get to college is that they are taught the equivalent of “flat earth” history, and when confronted with scientific theories with a much better degree of evidence, they see the light.

    Our Sunday Schools are emphasizing and teaching the wrong things.



  9. Glenn E Miller on June 5, 2018 at 12:37 PM

    I would suggest not giving up your search for the “right” church until you are sure. Praying for guidance would be a good start. As a 70-something I have found that many churches get some things right. We have been disappointed for much of the last 30 years in how our churches fell short of what they could have been. I’m not suggesting they didn’t believe in salvation through faith in Christ alone. Our previous church was excellent at preaching salvation but had no follow-up for discipleship. The one we now attend (we moved to a different state) is the answer to our prayers and they simply follow and apply the scriptures to daily living. How refreshing is that?



  10. […] It is important to know that “inerrant” and “inspired” are two different things. It is OK to call yourself a Christian and not believe in an inerrant Bible, yet still believe it is inspired. You can hold both thoughts in your head at the same time. Beethoven’s music is inspired, yet I doubt even he would consider it inerrant. Same is true for the Rapture, and the belief that we are in the “End Times.” One can be a Christian and not believe in those things. I believe a big reason children from Christian backgrounds (particularly Evangelical or Fundamentalist) leave the faith when they get to college is that they are taught the equivalent of “flat earth” history, and when confronted with scientific theories with a much better degree of evidence, they see the light. Our Sunday Schools are emphasizing and teaching the wrong things. To read the rest, click here! […]



  11. […] I would suggest not giving up your search for the “right” church until you are sure. Praying for guidance would be a good start. As a 70-something I have found that many churches get some things right. We have been disappointed for much of the last 30 years in how our churches fell short of what they could have been. I’m not suggesting they didn’t believe in salvation through faith in Christ alone. Our previous church was excellent at preaching salvation but had no follow-up for discipleship. The one we now attend (we moved to a different state) is the answer to our prayers and they simply follow and apply the scriptures to daily living. How refreshing is that? To read the rest, click here! […]



  12. Ilana on June 30, 2018 at 8:05 AM

    I’m so glad to find others talking about this. I personally had no idea how widespread or serious the problem of liberal, or “progressive” Christianity has become until I discovered that my own church had very subtly and slowly gone down that path. We need to be alert and on guard, both for our own faith, and to watch out for our fellow brothers and sisters who may not recognize the danger. Thank you for being open about this!



  13. Jeanie on August 6, 2018 at 11:39 AM

    I understand the importance of finding a Bible teaching church with sound doctrine. I have been blessed to be a part of one for most of my life. But sometimes these churches need to improve the teaching techniques for the children (and even the adults), to help them understand not only what they believe, but why. Our church set about to make changes. The children were hearing a compilation of different Bible stories with no rhyme or reason. We looked and looked but did not find anything to use to teach the Bible where the children could understand that it all fit together with a purpose. The Biblical Path of Life (http://biblicalpath.com/) was our solution. It is a three year through the Bible program from the beginning to the end. Not only does it teach the Bible, but shows Jesus throughout, comparing Scripture to Scripture. It shows God’s plan of redemption of man from the beginning. After our children went through this, the parents asked if they could also use this study. This allowed the parents and children to study the same Scriptures each week with the ability to discuss it at home. We are now in the process of going through the Bible for the fifth time. And we always learn something new!
    Thanks for bringing attention to some of the deficits that churches (and people) need to correct or improve!



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