"I don't take my children to church," the young woman said. "I'll let them choose for themselves what to believe in, when they're older."
Her casual approach to her children's religious involvement will surely affect her children's lives. Even more so, decisions like hers have unintended consequences for our moral culture and political future.
Children and teens who lack religious connections today will be the spiritually indifferent adults of tomorrow. A recent study found that religious involvement as an adult strongly correlates with attendance at weekly worship services as a child or "weekly or monthly" religious programs as a teen. Most "unchurched" adults never went to religious services or programs as children and, consequently, religion means less to them later. Only 16% of "unaffiliated" adults describe religion as "very important" in their lives.
In a 2010 survey, "Millennials" (18-29 year olds) describe themselves as more "spiritual" than "religious"--which really means they congratulate themselves for their "spiritual" inclinations while doing virtually nothing to live their beliefs.
Over one-third of millenials say they never pray alone and two-thirds never or rarely pray with others. They say they don't read the Bible and two-thirds rarely or never participate in worship services.
The weight of a spiritually indifferent younger generation will be a heavy burden on us all because, on the most significant moral questions of our day, religiosity makes a difference.
For example, "almost seven-in-ten (69%) of the religiously unaffiliated (including 85% of atheists and agnostics)" support unlimited abortion. In sharp contrast, 82% of those who say religion is the most important influence in their lives believe abortion should be illegal. The religious influence is even stronger on same-sex marriage. Among those who say religion is the primary influence on their lives, 94% oppose same-sex marriage; only 6% favor it.
How to Save Your Family by Worshipping Together
Our American founders understood the importance of faith, not only to our families but also to our cultural fabric. George Washington's First Farewell Address warned, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports."
Explain Washington's words to your children and teens, so they will see the intimate connection between faith, worldview, religious practice, and moral decisions. Pray with them, for personal or community concerns and for America's leaders.
As Americans, and as parents, we need to prioritize the time we give to family worship and particularly to educating our children in our faith traditions. Our children cannot drive themselves to church. They won't devote time to religious activities as teenagers-when studies, sports, and busy social lives compete for every hour-unless we encourage them and offer the practical support to make it happen.
Look for a youth group or religious education team that connects with your teen spiritually to reinforce your religious and moral messages. A good youth pastor can work miracles, opening a young person's heart to eternal truths.
And, most importantly, live your faith out in your daily life. You and your actions will serve to either help lead your children to or away from God.