Why do young people walk away from the church after years of faithful attendance and involvement? The main reason may be that the curriculum used in most Sunday schools is simply telling Bible stories and not teaching how to defend the truths of Scripture.

A leader in his youth group, Andrew faithfully attended Sunday school every week. He was awarded a scholarship at a well-known university, but by the end of his first year in college, Andrew had renounced his faith.

Sadly, Andrew’s heartbreaking story is not unique. It is repeated in thousands of Christian homes every year.

In August 2006, Answers in Genesis–USA commissioned Britt Beemer from America’s Research Group1 to find out why young people were leaving the church.2 Respondents indicated that Sunday school materials were shallow and “irrelevant.”3 Of those polled, 86% had begun to question the Bible by their high school years.

Of those who said they did not believe all the accounts in the Bible are true, 82% cited doubts about the Bible’s authority or its trustworthiness. What caused these people to doubt the Bible?

Where Have We Gone Wrong?

Basically, we have failed to teach our children to think biblically. In order to survive as believers in our culture, we must all recognize that God rules and speaks about every area of life (e.g., science, philosophy, ethics, history, government, sociology, and education), and not merely about an isolated area designated “religion.”

With fewer than 9% of evangelical Christian adults actually having a biblical worldview, the need for sound biblical teaching is critical.

According to a Barna poll, 80–90% of students from church homes in the U.S. attend public schools (this figure is probably greater in other Western nations). After 30 hours in government schools and another 30 hours in front of the TV each week, young people receive only about one hour per week of “reprogramming” at church (most parents leave the “spiritual” training to the church). Which system of teaching is likely to influence these students in the long run—45 minutes of Sunday schools and youth groups, or 30 hours in public schools?

While the church teaches about Jesus and salvation, the education system has indoctrinated students to doubt the underlying credibility of the Bible. Worse yet, church leaders are often afraid to teach about origins or to confront the divisive issues of the culture, such as abortion, homosexual behavior, and evolution.

Most church curricula feature simplistic stories that fail to connect the dots of redemptive history. Few attempt to teach Bible study skills. Most units on creation or Genesis only present the fact that God created, without addressing the “facts” of evolution that bombard students every day of the week.

Rarely do any lessons deal with foundational questions about the age of things or human evolution. Equally rare is any statement about absolute truth and the inerrancy of Scripture.

By the time a child has reached middle school, he thinks he knows everything the Bible has to offer, and his interest in Sunday school vanishes. However, he will probably continue to participate during his teen years because of the “herd mentality” and social activities of most youth groups.

Why, then, should we be surprised when young Christians desert the church once their social needs are met in other ways? With fewer than 9% of evangelical Christian adults actually having a biblical worldview,4 the need for sound biblical teaching is critical.

What can be done to change this bleak situation?

A family reads the Answers in Genesis Zoo Guide

Teach Doctrine to Children

Changing curriculum, although a simplistic answer to a much bigger problem, is a place to start.

As you evaluate what and how your children are being taught in your church, you may find it helpful to consider the following five principles.

Don’t just tell children and teens they must believe the earth is young; rather, help them see it from Scripture.

Principle 1:

Check the content.

A content-rich curriculum presents the biblical big picture (Creation, Fall, Redemption) and explains the context for all the individual details taught. Consider how it handles Genesis. The way this foundational book is treated sets the stage for how the curriculum provides answers to key questions of life: “Who is God?” “How did the world get here?” “Who am I?” “Do I have a purpose?” “Where does evil come from?”

This is one reason that I wrote the It All Begins with Genesis program for middle school. But training needs to begin earlier. For example, with AiG’s Answers for Kids series, you can begin teaching early elementary students the biblical view of history and how to answer many of the questions they face in school.

Principle 2:

Study as Families Whenever Possible.

When I wrote It All Begins with Genesis about five years ago, I had middle school children in mind. However, three years ago I began asking parents to attend the course with their sixth-grade children. They responded with enthusiasm. Now whole families eagerly attend, with children ranging from third grade through early high school. The results have been amazing!

Principle 3:

Teach How to Study the Bible.

Child reading his Bible.

Most curricula teach facts about the Bible but don’t equip students to accurately handle the Word of God. When a curriculum teaches inductive study techniques, students learn to discover truth for themselves. Christian teachers should not just tell students to trust the Bible as absolute truth; they should show students how to see this truth from Scripture. Learning how to study the Bible is a lifelong skill that allows people to fall more in love with God and His Word.

Principle 4:

Employ Critical Thinking Skills.

The curriculum should examine everything in the light of biblical truth.

For instance, don’t just tell students they must believe the earth is young; rather, help them see it from the text of Scripture. It helps young people to learn what popular thinking says about the earth and then to work through the contrasting biblical and theological truths revealed in Scripture. In the process, they will also learn scientific evidence that confirms these truths.

Our secular school system indoctrinates with memorized “facts” and discourages logical questioning. Students who are never taught to question will fall prey to professors who teach unbiblical views. The curriculum should have time for group discussion and allow the freedom to question.

Everything parents and teachers do should reflect the character of God. Nowhere is this more important than in our teaching.

Principle 5:

Reflect God’s Character in the Teaching.

Everything parents and teachers do should reflect the character of God. Nowhere is this more important than in our teaching. Joy prevails as we enjoy Him and each other. When we do things through the power of the Holy Spirit, the results will bring blessings.

For example, God is never boring. He loves variety. His work reflects excellence, beauty, and joy. Any good curriculum includes these components. The goal of a good curriculum should be to honor God through excellence in every lesson, and teachers should strive to achieve this same goal.

Bible study at Trinity Presbyterian Church

Click to enlarge

Members of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, participate in an intergenerational Bible study using the It All Begins with Genesis curriculum. Participants ranged from third grade to grandparents.

When teaching, I constantly change the setup of the room. Sometimes families sit grouped around tables, other times the children on the floor with the parents behind them. Study groups use fast-moving PowerPoint presentations, hands-on demonstrations, and drama. At other times they do quiet “seat work,” marking key words in the biblical text and making lists. And they often draw pictures to describe the concept or play competitive games to evaluate what they have learned.

As the Beemer poll revealed, young people need to learn at a very early age why they believe what they believe. They need to be able to give answers that support their faith. With the Lord’s enabling, Christian parents and teachers can change the results of the poll. Using the right materials, churches and parents can prepare kids to “think biblically” and to discern false teachings when encountered.

Five Benefits of Intergenerational Teaching

  1. Parents are equipped to teach their own children and can reinforce the Sunday morning lesson throughout the week.
  2. Teachers can partner with parents to go deeper by supervising home assignments (e.g., reading books and watching DVDs).
  3. Misunderstandings about controversial topics are minimized because the parents are present in the classes. Parents tell us that they learn even more than their children.
  4. Young and old benefit from each other, combining maturity and abstract thinking with enthusiasm and freedom from ingrained wrong thought patterns.
  5. Warm relationships develop among parents, kids, and teachers.

Sheila Richardson, author of It All Begins with Genesis, has been teaching inductive Bible study for over 20 years. She also taught teacher workshops for Kay Arthur’s Precept Ministries International for 12 years, and she coauthored the Bible-study course Genesis.

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Footnotes

  1. America’s Research Group, Ltd., is a full-service market and behavioral research firm, offering expertise in all phases of survey research, from questionnaire design to final report preparation. Back
  2. These were people now in their twenties who regularly attended an evangelical church as they were growing up. The poll was nationwide. Back
  3. Britt Beemer poll commissioned by Answers in Genesis. Back
  4. Barna research study, August 9, 2005, www.barna.org. Back