If you haven’t seen the stats, then the following might surprise you.

According to leading Christian pollster George Barna, up to 59% of children raised in Christian homes will leave the church permanently or for an extended period of time.

Instead of dissecting “why” this is happening, we’d like to give you 3 strategies that will help you reverse this disturbing trend.

Strategy 1: Grace, not Guilt

Children hang on every word spoken by their parents.

Even more, they pick up “tone of voice” like a submarine using sonar.

It’s not always the words you say that brings a feeling of guilt to your child’s heart, it’s the way it is said. For example: “I can’t believe you don’t want to go to church!” might be said by you with an underlying thought of, “I thought you loved church as much as me?”

But what your child might have heard is, “You pagan! Why don’t you want to go to church? Are you on drugs?”

Guarding your tone of voice when it comes to matters of faith is critical to helping your child develop a strong and independent view of Christ and the Church on their own. For example, instead of saying, “We have to have family devotions this morning.”, say, “Can you please choose to make family devotions a priority?”

Then they are making the decision to live a devotional life and don’t feel “guilted” into a ritualistic habit.

We need to learn to extend grace to our children.

God has extended Grace to us in the person of Jesus who literally died for our sin. Why can’t we extend Grace to a child who is questioning or pulling away? When we extend Grace instead of guilt, we give our children a path back to the Truth. And when they do come back they will “own” their faith.

Strategy 2: Dialogue, not Debate

When your teen starts to question their (and your) faith, and trust us — they will, your response needs to begin a dialogue, not a debate.

If your child says, “I don’t believe the Bible is true.”, instead of replying, “Yes it is!”, ask a question:

“Can you help me understand why you believe that way?” Then LISTEN to them.

You don’t have to agree with their position to listen to their thoughts.

Jesus was a master at asking questions, and when it comes to raising your kids you should sharpen your question asking skills as well. Listen with empathy because in their (let’s be honest) immature heart and mind they hold a “strong” conviction. Honor that conviction, knowing the maturity level of your child, and the prospect that they will change their perspective with age.

Remember, one of the best byproducts of listening to your children is the ability to ask the same in return.

When they’ve defended their position, simply ask, “May I share my point of view?”

Never tell them they are “wrong” (even though they may be). Share with them your point of view and ask them to think about it. This will give you a reason to start the dialogue again at a future date.

When we open dialogue with our children, it shows them respect and honors them as an adult (even though they might not be of age yet). Furthermore, as your children do mature, dialogue builds a fantastic foundation for developing your relationship as they do move toward adulthood.

Strategy 3: Attitude, not Actions

How many of us drag our kids to church, then over lunch or on the drive home we complain about most aspects of what just occurred?

We know we’ve all been guilty of “roasting” the pastor for lunch, or talking about the music that we don’t like, or the power struggle going on between the elder’s and the finance committee.

Our kids are not ignorant. They pick up on the areas you complain about.

We’ve all heard the expression “Actions speak louder than words”. Well this is one instance where that simply is not true.

Here, the “action” of going to church is far outweighed by the “attitude” of criticism displayed. If this is an ongoing issue in your family then why would a child want to stay involved? I’m sure most of them think, “Why would I want to go to church? All mom and dad do is complain about it”.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” KJV.

We only have our children for a short time. We need to be wise and realize our responsibility to raise them in the way they should go, and then trust the Lord to do His work.

These strategies are not fool proof, but implementing them will give you a fighting chance to keep your kids connected to the church after they leave the nest.