By Joseph Backholm
Home is where the cradle of belief begins
The decline of religion in the United States is now well documented. According to a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of Americans now identify as having no religion up from 17 percent in 2010 and 8 percent in 1990 . The religiously unaffiliated population is now one of the largest religious groups in the United States, surpassing white mainline Protestants.
In a new book called The Great Dechurching, the authors share that while most people who leave religion officially do so as adults, the departure from faith begins much earlier. It turns out having Christian parents isn’t enough for children to grow up to be Christians. A specific kind of Christian parent is required. According to the Institute for Family Studies, “Millennials are one of the largest birth cohorts in recent history or since, and their parents were uniquely unsuccessful at passing on their faith to their children.” Why?
A recent survey from George Barna may help answer this question. The survey identified seven Cornerstones of a biblical worldview that, if embraced, all but assure a child will maintain a biblical worldview and strong Christian faith into adulthood. According to Barna’s research, those who believe the following are very likely to live a faithful, Christian life:
God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, just, merciful, reliable creator who is also our companion and unerring guide for life.
- All human beings are sinful by nature; every choice we make has moral contours and consequences.
- Jesus Christ is the sole means to individual salvation, accomplished through our acknowledgment and confession of our sins and complete reliance on His grace for the forgiveness of those sins.
- The entire Bible is true, reliable and relevant, making it the best moral guide for every person, in all situations.
- Absolute moral truth exists—and those truths are defined by God, described in the Bible, and are unchanging across time and cultures.
- The ultimate purpose of human life is to know, love, and serve God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.
- Success on earth is best understood as consistent obedience to God—in thoughts, words, and actions.
The secular evangelists whom parents once feared would reach their children in college are now reaching children in their own bedrooms while mom and dad make dinner in the kitchen.
According to Barna, fewer than half of regular church attenders believe these basic doctrines. If the adults don’t believe Christian fundamentals, we shouldn’t expect the children to. And if the children never adopt a foundation of Christian beliefs, we shouldn’t be surprised when they stop claiming to be Christians.
One reason for this failure to transmit the fundamentals of the faith from one generation to the next could be that parents are waiting too long to try. Research for The Great Dechurching found that children begin the process of departing from the faith much earlier than many parents may realize. While only 7 percent of parents claim to raise their children with no religion, by age 13, 12 percent of kids are non-religions and by age 17, 17 percent were nonreligious. This is consistent with similar research from Barna that found a child’s worldview is formed by the age of 13.
The story of children going off to college to lose their faith is an old one. For generations, Christian parents have discussed the need to get their children ready to survive university culture and educators who are secular evangelists. But this may have been too little too late. Hostility to the Christian faith is reaching children far before college. The secular evangelists whom parents once feared would reach their children in college are now reaching children in their own bedrooms while mom and dad make dinner in the kitchen. The evidence suggests if parents haven’t built the cornerstones of their child’s worldview before seventh grade, it may already be too late.
The decline in religiosity in America is real. Still, while parents have recently shown a lot of concern over what their children are being taught in school, the greater problem may involve what is not being taught at home.
Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on September 21, 2023.