When It Comes to Church, Are Your Children Already Gone?
By PHS Staff
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #89, 2009.
We already knew that between 60 and 80 percent of Christian youth leave
the church for good after going away to college.
In his new book, Already Gone, Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham
reports on the results of an extensive new survey. It says the problem
starts much earlier.
Since the majority of homeschoolers are Christians, and the #1 reason
for homeschooling among all homeschoolers is “religious reasons,”
Practical Homeschooling felt this story needed to be told. We caught up
with Ken Ham a few weeks ago and asked him to give us the “inside story”
on why Christian kids are disengaging from the church in droves,
starting in elementary school.
PHS: According to pollster George Barna, “61% of today’s young adults
had been churched at one point during their teens years, but they are
now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading
the Bible, or praying).” Other polls have found an even higher figure.
Ken, when did you first begin to realize the problem of today’s youth
leaving the church in droves?
Ken: I’ve been in this ministry for 30 years. Particularly in the last
10 years as I have traveled around lots of churches and countries, and
especially America, I’ve seen more and more evidence of young people
just questioning whether they really understood Christianity and what it
means to be truly saved. Also, more and more parents are telling me
their teenage kids don’t see Christianity as relevant. This has
escalated in the last 5 to 6 years.
PHS: How much of this is due to the public schools and the media?
Ken: It’s a combination of the lack of training at home and church and
the forcefulness of the teaching of atheistic philosophy at school.
The public schools have great bearing on this. Ninety percent of kids
from church homes attend public schools. We all know that public schools
have become increasingly antagonistic to Christianity and teaching
evolution as fact has become more aggressive. Many teachers who are
atheists or agnostics have become more aggressive in an anti-Christian
When they threw God out of public school, they didn’t throw religion
out, just Christianity. Now if you open up any biology textbook, you see
how they explain all of life without God or creation. This point of view
is naturalism, which is atheism.
The public school is either for Christ or against. There is no
PHS: Is it really Jesus they are rejecting, or just “churchianity”?
Ken: They are certainly rejecting the church, because the church to them
is hypocritical, boring, irrelevant, and inconsistent. When you analyze
deeper into where all these attitudes are coming from, it’s because the
Bible is not being taught to them as a book of history that is relevant
to them. They really want answers as to what it’s all about. They are
rejecting how the church operates and what it’s doing. Many of them
truly don’t understand the Gospel and who Jesus is.
Kids tend to think school is where you learn real stuff. Church is where
you learn stories.
PHS: Your book, Already Gone, is largely based on the results of a
massive study, involving 20,000 interviews, that Answers in Genesis
commissioned in order to find out why today’s kids are abandoning the church. What made
you decide to commission the study?
Ken: We are an apologetics organization who equip and challenge the
church. We believe the church has lost biblical authority as we have
seen in this nation and across the world. We know from George Barna’s
research that 2/3 of young people are leaving the church. Only when we
address why and when it’s happening can we solve this problem.
We also wanted to see if any topics such as the age of the earth came
PHS: How is this study different from those that went before?
Ken: Most other surveys tried to find out what young adults believe, but
not why they believe the way they do and not when they started believing
When? Kids today are leaving the church, but not in college. They’re
mentally “dropping out” in middle school and high school.
Why? Because they are not being taught the Bible as real history. They
are not being taught answers to the skeptical questions of the age. They
are not being taught that the Bible is true and relevant and we can
They are being taught relationship things and moral things. They are
only taught spiritual things in a very shallow, experiential way.
PHS: Describe the “Sunday school syndrome.”
Ken: Chapter 2 of Already Gone particularly dealt with this. We divided
this group of 20-somethings who went to church but no longer do so into
various subgroups: for example, those who attended Sunday school
regularly and those who did not. We were amazed to find that those who
attended Sunday school regularly were much worse off spiritually than
those who did not.
Here are some of the shocking results: those who went to Sunday school
were more likely to defend abortion, gay marriage, and premarital sex;
more likely to believe in evolution and “millions of years”; and more
likely to have become anti-church.
Keep in mind that these young adults had attended conservative churches.
If we had included all types of churches the results would be worse.
That’s why Already Gone makes the statement that going to Sunday school
is not good for your children’s spiritual health.
We were careful in the book to help people understand we’re not
advocating getting rid of Sunday school. Rather, we are advocating some
radical changes in the curriculum and how they choose teachers.
The reasons are found in the statistics themselves. Those who went to
Sunday school are more likely to have heard a pastor, teacher, or other
church authority tell them it’s OK to believe in millions of years or
even evolution, as long as you say God did it. They hear they can
believe what’s taught in the public school, and they know it contradicts
the Bible. This reinforces to them that you can’t really trust the
PHS: What about the actual Sunday school curriculum?
Ken: We summed it up in this way. Most Sunday school literature teaches
what we call “Bible stories.” We are advocating that parents, teachers,
etc. stop using “stories” when it comes to the Bible, because one of the
definitions of “stories” is “fairy tales.” Kids go to school and learn
what they think is real history, and they come to church and learn
“stories.” Sunday school does not connect the Bible to the real world,
and it certainly does not teach apologetics, the study of how to deal
with skeptics’ questions.
Take Noah’s flood. If you tell children it really happened, but teach it
as a story, you’re not connecting the flood to fossils, which connect it
to the real world, and to biology. If you don’t deal with questions such
as “millions of years” and how the animals fit on the Ark, it comes
across as no more real than a fairy tale.
When you think of the history from Genesis to Revelation, everything we
teach in Christianity anchors somewhere in that history. Whatever we
teach should be anchored in history at the appropriate places. E.g., the
Christian doctrine of marriage is not just based on the words of Paul in
New Testament, but at the origin of marriage in Genesis. Then ask “what
is the world doing right now to stop kids believing that history?” and
teach them those answers.
PHS: We’ve talked about the curriculum. What about the teachers and
other leaders of Sunday school?
Ken: Most Sunday school teachers are chosen because they volunteer. They
are not trained. Most churches don’t have programs to teach people how
PHS: That’s true, but how much of what is wrong with Sunday school and
church teaching of the youth is cowardice? I have personally talked to
youth pastors who got agitated at the mere phrase “confronting the
Ken: Our culture has a mantra of tolerance. You don’t take a stand and
say certain views are right and others are wrong. The secular emphasis
on separation of church and state has caused many Christians to think
there are neutral positions. If you don’t really believe biblical
authority—let’s face it, many of these people aren’t sure what they
believe about Genesis and other things—they can’t preach even the Gospel
We’ve been told it divides people if we confront issues, but the truth
is always divisive. Jesus came to divide (Matthew 10:34—36). He didn’t
say, “I’m one of the ways.” He said, “I am the way.”
There’s an idea that if you teach children something, you’re forcing
your views on them. But if you don’t, someone else will force their
views on them.
There is no neutral position. It’s false to aim for neutrality. It’s not
a question of if you’re indoctrinating your children, but what you’re
indoctrinating them in.
That’s why teachers will bear a stricter judgment—we are not just
responsible for imparting knowledge, but for imparting a whole way of
PHS: Should Christian kids even attend Sunday school?
Ken: Parents shouldn’t delegate authority to the Sunday school and
church unless they check out the teacher and the curriculum. Parents
have a responsibility.
That’s the only way we’ll force some of these churches to change anyway.
Revolutions come from the people; only when enough parents say, “Unless
there’s change, our children won’t be attending,” will there be positive
PHS: Did you go to Sunday school?
Ken: In some areas when I was a child there were no churches or Sunday
schools. In those places my parents actually started Sunday schools, so
they had a great influence on what was taught.
PHS: Is homeschooling enough by itself to keep kids true to the beliefs
taught at home?
Ken: I’ve seen this at homeschool conferences. A lot of parents don’t
know what curriculum to use. There’s even influence within the
homeschool movement to encourage the teaching of “millions of years.”
You can homeschool kids and have them isolated from the public school
system, but if you aren’t teaching the Bible as a real book of history
and how to defend their faith from the world, then don’t be surprised if
your homeschooled children end up the same as those others, leaving the
On the other hand, I’ve met homeschool families where the kids have been
brought up on apologetics materials—not just creation apologetics, but
general apologetics—and those kids are always very strong in their
faith, compared to other kids.
PHS: What is missing in what kids today are learning about church
Ken: I have a number of heroes of the faith. I know they have feet of
clay, but they are heroes. But today kids are brought up to admire
football heroes and film star heroes. They need to know about Christian
persecution. If they know what’s happened in the past, it will give
people more courage to stand up for what they believe in the future.
When I was a child, my parents had Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. That has a
great influence in your life, when you read about the sacrifices these
people made and how they stood on God’s word. It certainly had a great
influence on my life.
PHS: What is the next step?
Ken: At home, I encourage people to immediately get some supplemental
apologetics materials, such as we have at Answers in Genesis. These
books, DVDs, and courses list questions kids are going to be asked: “How
do you know there is a God? How do you know the Bible is true? How did
Noah get those animals on the ark?” That will make the Bible relevant to
them and prepare them for the world out there.
As far as churches, they need to evaluate their curriculum and their
teachers. One church decided to dismantle everything—Sunday school,
youth group, etc.—and start rebuilding from the ground up, training the
teachers, using apologetics curriculum, and making it relevant.
In most churches you would never expect to see a fossil bone or a photo
of geological strata. But you need to change the way people look at
church, and see there is a place where you talk about astronomy,
anthropology, geology, etc. from a perspective of history. I’m not
talking about peering into microscopes, but that the Bible does deal
with history and science. The world teaches a history that contradicts
the Bible. That’s why we need to be teaching that history correctly.
The Bible is not a textbook of science in the sense of teaching you how
to build a motorcar. But it is a textbook of science in terms of
history. The Bible primarily deals with knowledge concerning history
rather than technology, because it’s a history book.
PHS: If Sunday school teachers need to be taught, and nobody is doing
this, when will Answers in Genesis begin offering seminars to teach
Sunday school teachers?
Ken: We hope to have a complete Sunday school curriculum available by
2011. We’ll also be broadcasting Sunday school lessons—maybe on TV,
certainly on the web.. This might start in the fall. Keep checking our