Eight years ago, Barna Research Group reported that 59 percent of young adults who grew up in the church had dropped out. By 2022, the number had increased to 64 percent.
Here’s a sobering reality: if you’re an evangelical grandparent, the odds are 90 percent that one or more of your adult children have abandoned their faith, and two or more of your grandkids are lost to it. So, here’s a critical question: when your kids are in the “far country,” how do you bring them home?
In His parable of the prodigal son, Jesus tells the story of a rebellious twenty-something-year-old. The bright lights, painted ladies and wild parties in the far country seduced his wandering heart. In Luke 15:13, we see the kid grab his share of the inheritance and leave home.
The far country is not so much a geographical location as it is a condition of the heart. Later in this parable, Jesus will show us that the older brother, though he never leaves the Father’s house, is in a far country of his own—one of religious effort, far from his father’s heart of grace.
Many grandparents say to me, “I don’t need grandparent training. My children and grandkids all believe in Jesus and go to church.” I respond, “Maybe now! At least on the surface. But the fact that they are currently in church on Sundays or confess their faith to you, doesn’t mean their hearts aren’t moving away from God.”
Remember, 64 percent of church-going kids will leave the Father’s house. Why do our kids have restless hearts? Why do any of us? The far country – that is, the secular world – is attractive because every person has a God-shaped hole within them. We can fill it with the presence of our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ indwelling us, or we can try to fill it with things from the far country.
Here’s the problem with far country things: God is infinite in size. It’s impossible to fill a Creator-sized hole with created things. This is why suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens and has doubled among middle schoolers. It’s why kids are so unhappy with their birth sex, that transgenderism is skyrocketing. It’s why there’s an opioid crisis among young people in America. In our postmodern, post-Christian society, we have largely abandoned the God who can fill the infinite God-shaped hole within us.
It’s that God-shaped hole in each of those two brothers that creates their crises. The rebellious son thinks that he will be satisfied with the pleasures of the far country, while the older brother thinks he can fill it by being the dutiful son. He’s a picture of the religious person who is in church every time the doors open, working hard for the heavenly Father. But his God-shaped hole is as empty as his brother’s, for he fills it with a religion of human creation.
Your kids or grandchildren may be conservative, heterosexual, pro-life, flag-waving churchgoers, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any closer to our Heavenly Father than the rebellious kid who has run off to the more visible far country. The dutiful son is just as empty.
How do we bring our children home?
The truth is, we can bring up our children in our faith, but the secular world will still have access to them. It doesn’t matter if we homeschool them or send them to Christian schools or try to keep them in a sanitized evangelical bubble. We live in a media-saturated world. Its pervasiveness is impossible to avoid. Eventually, university professors will teach them, culture influencers will try to seduce them and a thousand other forces will work overtime to reprogram their thinking.
Paul was right: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).” Satan is out to get our kids by any and every means possible! Yet, even when the far country gets our kids, God doesn’t forget them. He has a plan for them that is infinitely more powerful than what this world offers — if only we will trust Him to do his work!
What does that mean for those of us whose children or grandkids have gone into the far country?
Some of you have been prayerfully waiting for years for that child or grandkid to pick up their faith again. It’s so tempting to plead, lecture or manipulate their emotions in a vain attempt to play Holy Spirit. Like the father in Christ’s parable, we should wait for them to return to the Father’s house, while never denying them full access to our heart in the interim.
Wait by the gate: Every day, the father went to the gate and looked down the road, hoping to see his son on the horizon. Everything within him must have wanted to go find his son and plead with him to come home, but he didn’t do it. It could only have been the work of the Holy Spirit that caused that boy to cry out, “I have sinned against heaven and before you (Luke 15:18).” Are you willing to wait for the Holy Spirit to do the work in your child or grandchild?
Notice also that the father didn’t go down to rescue the boy from his folly. When he heard that the kid was running out of money, he could have rushed to bail him out. Oftentimes we’re too quick to enable our kids, thus prolonging their stay in the far country. It’s not easy to sit by and watch the secular world dismantle those you love, but it gives God room to bring them to their senses.
Don’t wait passively: The old man didn’t just stand there, wringing his hands. He surely prayed desperate prayers and depended on the Holy Spirit to work in his son’s life. Are you praying for your children and grandkids—not only for those who walked away from their faith, but also for those still in the Father’s house?
What happens before the far country determines what will happen afterward.
Once the far country had dismantled the son and the Holy Spirit brought him to his senses, the boy remembered the love that was in his father’s house. It was a place of unconditional love and grace. In the same way, bonding with our grandkids when they are little will pay huge dividends when they’re older.
The father’s house, the very place where the son felt stifled during his teenage rebellion, now brings forth memories of the amazing grace and love that was also there. In short, our kids and grandkids must see love in us and in our churches before they run to the far country, so that they’ll remember it after Satan’s kingdom dismantles them.
Dear friends, God is still on his throne. He hasn’t lost control of Heaven or earth, the Church, your kids or your grandkids. The father in Jesus’ parable never gave up, nor does our Heavenly Father. Parents and grandparents, neither should you. Don’t give up on the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father or the precious love God has placed in your heart for your children.