Millennials are NOT leaving their faith.
Seriously, they aren’t. In fact, 59% of the faith population are Millennials, which is crazy because only 40% of the general population are Millennials. But it’s the truth.
It’s just that the faith isn’t Christianity. It’s Islam.
If you read this blog at all, you know my passion for equipping the home as the primary place of faith formation. While this concept is certainly not new to the Christian church, it is one that is experiencing a revival of sorts as the number of 18-29 year olds in church declines and recognition that “siloed” or age-segregated ministries have had the unintentional affect of segmenting families and replacing the parental discipleship role with a ministerial one.
But this concept of focusing on the home and parents/caregivers is not a uniquely Christian one. While it is a “hot topic” right now in evangelical settings, it is not a new idea or a singularly biblical thought.
In fact, the Muslim religion is quite emphatic about the intentionality of discipling kids in the faith.
In an article I recently read by a Muslim cleric on the topic of “pious parenting” he quotes the prophet Mohammad saying,
“The Prophet once looked towards some young children and said, “Woe be upon the children of the latter days from that which their fathers will do (to them).” It was said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! From their fathers who are polytheists? He replied, ‘No! From their fathers who are believers however they do not teach them anything from the (religious) obligations and whatever they teach their children from the (transient) world, they only teach them that amount which will allow them to “get by” with ease. Indeed, I am not from them, nor are they from me.”
He tells parents that…
“when you learn and review your faith and how you worship, especially its rituals and traditions, then review with your spouse what is of particular importance to you. Remember that your younger children will not understand many theological concepts of your faith, but they will develop their faith through words and actions and conversations with you and your spouse.”
He quotes saying after saying from the Koran that encourages parents to play with their children, to show compassion to them and to live up to the promises they make to them, and to teach them the tenets of Islam before the disbelieving get to them. There is intentionality. There is consistency. There is a recognition that the home is the primary place of faith formation and that even in utero, the Koran is read to the unborn child. The first words a child hears, whispered first into his right and then left ear is from the Koran. As I heard one Muslim teacher once share, “The children are the greatest investment.”
I’m not an expert on Islam in any way nor would I claim to be and I know that just because I’ve read and heard these things, it doesn’t mean that’s how it plays out in every community. But I also know, it wasn’t hard to see this emphasis on the next generation as I’ve been studying my own heart for faith formation in the home.
And how has this emphasis affected Islam?
- Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (according to Pew Research).
- The Muslim American population is much younger, on average, than the non-Muslim population. The survey finds that 59% of adult Muslims are between the ages of 18 and 39, compared with 40% of adults in the general public.
- American Muslims have a 76% retention rate as compared to under 50% for most Protestant religions. (That means their kids stick with their faith as they become adults).
I realize of course that there are other factors involved but I do think that there is a correlation between the intentionality of religious instruction in Muslim homes and the fact that their children and young people do not tend to leave their faith as they grow. And, as a family minister, I cannot help but contrast that with the decline of these same age groups in the evangelical church and the growth of the “religious nones” or the Unaffiliated. And guess which religion most of the Unaffiliated grew up with in their home? Christianity. (Source: Pew Research).
Maybe it’s all a fluke. Maybe the retention of Muslims has nothing to do with their emphasis on practicing their faith in the home with their children. Maybe the growth of the Unaffiliated from Christian families isn’t because of the lack of emphasis on discipleship in the home and the segmented, age-segregated format of the church. Maybe the correlations aren’t really correlations just things that happen to coincide.
But then again, maybe not.
Maybe there is something to this refocusing on the family and reaffirming the home. Maybe there is good to be found in the intentional creation of intergenerational relationships for the purpose of passing on the faith. Maybe there is an integral piece missing when faith get compartmentalized to a building, a time, a Sunday school teacher or a pastor instead of incorporated into the very fabric of the home, the family, and the local body.
I happen to believe it’s more than a fluke and I’m willing to fight for this generation, these families, and Christ’s body today with these convictions in my heart.
Because children aren’t just our greatest investment. They are a means of welcoming Christ, and not only Christ, but the One who sent Him, into our midst. They are the ones to whom belong the kingdom of God. They are the church. Let’s give them every bit of the riches, grace, and mercy we’ve been given and pass our faith on, from the moment they are born.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Dt. 6:7
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com