Meet the Smiths. The Smiths were the perfect family—their kids were crazy about youth group, the parents helped run it, and their daughters volunteered in the nursery while the boys played on the worship team multiple times a month. All four kids were polite and friendly, and the adults in the church gushed about the Smiths' parenting successes.
But when the Smith kids hit adult years, they just stalled. The oldest son kept living at home well into his twenties, and the next one down went to university but just coasted by. The girls became more and more obsessed with pop culture and cute boys, and none of them seemed particularly interested in becoming adults. After a few years, only one continued to be involved in church.
The majority of my research for the book Why I Didn’t Rebel was focused on the difference between teens who rebelled and those who didn’t. But this family was in the back of my mind, because although the kids didn’t get into anything bad in high school, they also didn’t ever “grow up.”
Looking at their family, and others like them, I noticed a pattern: families act as either teams or clubs. In a club, the main goal is to have fun and help people feel as if they belong. You’re with a bunch of like-minded people, you boost each other's self-esteem, but it doesn't go further than that. A team, on the other hand, has a strong sense of identity as a group not because they want people to belong but because they’re part of a bigger purpose. Clubs are about belonging—teams are about accomplishing a goal.
Too many families and churches act as clubs—they’re loving and supportive of each other, but they don’t seem to have a goal outside of making their little club more fun.
Maybe the reason so many kids leave their faith is that church and family were more like "clubs". Youth groups and conferences were exciting, but they weren't something to base their entire lives around because they didn’t seem to have a broader purpose other than just perpetuating itself. Families were places you felt safe, but it didn't seem to make a difference outside the walls of the house. That’s the problem with clubs: clubs benefit the people in the clubs but not so much the people outside of them.
So ask yourself today: is my family a team, or do we act more like a club?