CTY March 12 Raise a Child.pdf (page 1 of 4)

It takes a whole church…

We still have a huge problem in the church seeing young people grow up to become adult members of our churches. This month in Christianity Magazine, Youthworker and IDEA magazine we have opened up a discussion about what needs to change in order for young people to be discipled into adult believers. The headline statistic is that:

1523 out of 2228 passengers and crew were drowned during the sinking of the Titanic – a loss of 68%. But according to Peter Brierley’s research of every class of 10 nought to nine year olds in Sunday School in 1985 only 3 were still connected with church in 2005. That’s a loss of 70%. You had a better chance of survival on the Titanic than a child’s faith has in our churches.

This has got to be one of the highest priorities for us to sort out as churches across the UK (and I am hearing across the world). It’s a bigger problem than any one church, tribe or denomination can solve. We need to work together on this one. I have been asking questions about this subject for a while now.

The Evangelical Alliance Council will meet on 1st of March to discuss the topic.
We will be drawing on expertise from a range of speakers including:

“Almost Christian” Kenda Creasey Dean Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture
Department of Practical Theology (on video)

“Stop cutting families out of children’s formation” Alan Charter (Chair of Children Matter)
“Is church toxic to children’s faith?” Kay Morgan Gurr
What can we learn from Redeemed churches Bajo Akinsanya (Jesus House)

“How can youth agencies work more effectively with families?” Hannah Field & Matt Summerfield
“Reshaping a church around intergenerational ministry” Jason Gardner & Carolyn Skinner
“How can we help young people develop confidence in the gospel? Ruth Hassall & Krish Kandiah

Debate : This house believes we should scrap Sunday schools and youthworkers
For: Scrap the Sunday School Benedict Mwendwa (Salvation Army Youth Advocate)
Against: Scrap Sunday Schools John Kee (Director of Summer Madness)
For: Scrap: youthworkers Jason Gardner (Youthworker and FUSE Director)
Against: Keep youthworkers Sarah Wynter (Youthwork Magazine Editor)
What can we learn from Abundant Life Dave Niblock and the youth team

We will put the videos online as soon as possible after the consultation.

This issue is so important we need as many hands on deck as possible, so if you have any suggestions, ideas of questions you would like to share please drop me a line below and the best of them will be fed into the council proceedings.

HELP NEEDED

I am looking for great stories of churches that have unusual high retention rates of children and young adults.
I am looking for wisdom from parents on passing the faith on to children
I am looking for churches that have experimented with intergenerational ministry
I am looking for theological and biblical wisdom
I am looking for stories about what went wrong
I am looking for comments from young people for their perspectives and ideas on the way forward

So please drop me a line.

 

In the articles I drew on a number of books including:

 

David Kinaman’s excellent book is the most often quoted piece of literature in our office at the moment. Kinaman’s expert analysis of the US scene is very instructive for the UK audience too. He has called on the help of a number of significant thinkers and practioners to come up with a book which is strong on analysis and practical ideas for helping 20somethings stay connected.

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Kara Powell and the Fuller Youth Institute have done a great job of promoting intergenerational thinking for churches.
This book offers some great practical advice for churches and youth ministries. It’s well worth the read . Check out their website for some excellent resources and videos.

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Care for the Family have been touring with Rob Parsons and his excellent primer on this subject. Packed with the usual Parson’s story telling. Parsons has an incredible ability to challenge without guilt and inspire without daunting his readers. Well worth a read.

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This book is based on serious research of the US youth scene. There are of course a number of differences with the UK situation, but this book should be a wake up call to the UK church to stop relying on US models of youth discipleship.

49 thoughts on “It takes a whole church…”

  1. Do figures show how many return at a later date. I know many people who in their late teens left the church because they felt they had been pressured into attending and wanted their ‘freedom’. Most have not lost their Faith, just fed up with church, not God. The majority, though admittedly not all, return to a church (not necessarily the one they grew up worshipping in) at a later date. Usually much more enthusiastic.

    1. Hi Pat, thanks for your comment sadly from what I can see they are not coming back – at least not in their 20-30s. The least represented demographic group in church are the 20-30s.

      1. Hi Krish, return happens often when yp bring a baby for baptism, it seems we want for our children at least the contact..
        A big problem is the way yp are often looked on as “tokens” (we’ve got a young family coming to our church) rather than being treated as any other new member.
        Our children, for instance, are outside the church doors welcoming arrivals (wiah all churches did this – a closed door isn’t welcoming!) and inside, they give out books, chat to people, etc they are involved in the service in the same way that adults are, and they are prepared as young as 6-7 to receive Holy Communion.
        This way they *are* members of the church, and not Tokens.
        Why would anyone want to be treated as if they were only capable of doing nothing? Adults wouldn’t hang around if they delt their contribution wasn’t wanted, so why should children?
        It is a really important point, and so simple, and one that churches simply never think about.

  2. The issue is bigger than the need the to scrap children’s and Sunday school but that the majority of church as we know it is not fit for purpose in a post Christian culture. The reduction of mission to a task of the church rather than church being caught up with mission god. If you look at messy church which generally is great but I would estimate 90% of church members and a lower % of leaders still see it as an outreach rather than genuine expression of church. This limits the potential to nurture faith. Sunday’s and dualism are an even bigger issue as the culture makes the simple calculation if god is present at a particular time or mediated through songs,words etc then god is less present in the rest of life, which creates a cultural paradigm making discipleship and retention an issue for adults and Yp let alone what it says to the wider context.

  3. Hi Krish, We really need this debate and I thank God that you and others are raising it. It was brought to my attention a few years ago by some elder mentors and it has dominated my thoughts for the last 6 or 7 years. There are no easy answers, but I think of the home as one side of a bridge and the youth ministry in the church as the other side of the bridge. When both are strong, we are more likely to preach a faith that works in the real world. By my figures, our church (and I don’t presume to be ‘right’) is retaining around 65% of the youngsters who are involved on a Sunday. It is still not enough, but better than many of the figures coming out of the USA. We do need more accurate figures for the UK though! I welcome the debate.

  4. Well, first of all, I recommend you speak to my friend Lynn – who is a Children and Families Pastor. Her blog is at http://helpiworkwithchildren.blogspot.com. She has just written a book about Children and Families in missional communities which should be out later on this year.

    I did not grow up in a Christian family but I do remember my sister going to sunday school for a while as a kid – but the rest of our family didn’t really go. I know in the Church of Scotland kids at sunday school aren’t really ever in the main service with everyone else, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

    I also think that if a kid is going to church but no one else in the family is they are less likely to stay going to church as they get older. That’s why I loved my friends for saying ‘we’re not Children’s pastors, we’re children AND family pastors’. They saw the importance of a holistic approach.

    One church in Edinburgh realised that with lots of teens coming to their church through different youth ministries etc they had, they don’t go on a sunday because getting up to go to church at 10.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning isn’t exactly sociable hours so they’ve changed their service to be at 3 p.m. each Sunday.

  5. Apologies also meant to add that I think the sessions are asking the wrong questions. The questions outlines whilst helpful are still church shaped questions rather than mission shaped. I would seriously question the bridge metaphor as neither a biblical nor culturally applicable model

  6. I have a couple of observations.
    Firstly the children and teenagers who stay involved in church tend to be those whose families are involved in mission in one way or another, usually in their local church and in another way like beach missions, residential christian holidays for children and young people. They can see that church is about more than a local congregation and just their own family.
    Secondly, we as a church try to get youngsters involved in ministry themselves, so that they are a part of the church today and are not just observing. This may be in helping in the creche, welcoming people at the door, learning how to do sound and visuals. The point is that church is about being involved, not about being a spectator.

  7. Without a doubt this is an important debate to be having and I agree with you in that it is ‘one of the highest priorities for us to sort out as churches’. To this end the fact that it is at the heart of the EA’s agenda is great.

    I would be interested to know though, as to how this, as ‘one of the highest priorities’, is being balanced with helping churches to reach children who have never heard of or been given the opportunity to get to follow Jesus.

    In terms of stories of what is currently happening, at the church my family and I are a part of, we are seeing an exciting number of children and teenagers come to and be a part of the church. I believe the issue of helping parents is key – equipping them to engage with their children before, during and after our regular meetings/services is one of the area we’re working on at present. At the same time though we’re actively seeking to equip children to share their faith and engage in the community we’re a part of – both and.

    Picking up on Richard Passmore’s comment I look forward to hearing how the EA discussions in March in particular, and its ongoing work on this issue will seek to engage with the issue of a generation of children right now who do not know Jesus. Surely the challenge needs to be for the church to both refocus itself in terms of how it nurtures and disciples children, but at the same time grapple with how it reaches out to children and furthermore empowers and encourages children to share Jesus with other children.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Two quick comments, First I guess we need to start somewhere and second if we don’t solve the issue of discipleship then we risk reaching out to an unchurched generation and seeing them come to faith and become dechurched and thus possibly even more resistant to the gospel.

    2. The ‘Butler Act’ required all schools to have an act of worship each day. It’s still the Law, but who does observe it?
      Children at many (most?) State schools don’t have any consistent RE and often the intended link between RE and relationships becomes a pretty basic Sex education, without any Christian underpinning.
      If 1,000+ children go through a single SecondarybSchool without any word about Christianity, the why are we surprised/disappointed that fewer people have any clue what it’s all about?
      Thinking about the way that Moslem families bring up their children, learning the Koran is the Norm.
      If we read the Bible to our children got them to read the Bible, remember key verses, etc., no doubt there would be a resurgence in Christianity in the UK. Is that what we want?

      If we dont want it to happen, we’ll go on finding excuses, or making difficulties, but if we DO want it to happen, we’ll find ways, and be a missional church – again.

    3. The ‘Butler Act’ required all schools to have an act of worship each day. It’s still the Law, but who does observe it?
      Children at many (most?) State schools don’t have any consistent RE and often the intended link between RE and relationships becomes a pretty basic Sex education, without any Christian underpinning.
      If 1,000+ children go through a single SecondarybSchool without any word about Christianity, the why are we surprised/disappointed that fewer people have any clue what it’s all about?
      Thinking about the way that Moslem families bring up their children, learning the Koran is the Norm.
      If we read the Bible to our children got them to read the Bible, remember key verses, etc., no doubt there would be a resurgence in Christianity in the UK. Is that what we want?

      If we dont want it to happen, we’ll go on finding excuses, or making difficulties, but if we DO want it to happen, we’ll find ways, and be a missional church – again.

    4. The ‘Butler Act’ required all schools to have an act of worship each day. It’s still the Law, but who does observe it?
      Children at many (most?) State schools don’t have any consistent RE and often the intended link between RE and relationships becomes a pretty basic Sex education, without any Christian underpinning.
      If 1,000+ children go through a single SecondarybSchool without any word about Christianity, the why are we surprised/disappointed that fewer people have any clue what it’s all about?
      Thinking about the way that Moslem families bring up their children, learning the Koran is the Norm.
      If we read the Bible to our children got them to read the Bible, remember key verses, etc., no doubt there would be a resurgence in Christianity in the UK. Is that what we want?

      If we dont want it to happen, we’ll go on finding excuses, or making difficulties, but if we DO want it to happen, we’ll find ways, and be a missional church – again.

    5. The ‘Butler Act’ required all schools to have an act of worship each day. It’s still the Law, but who does observe it?
      Children at many (most?) State schools don’t have any consistent RE and often the intended link between RE and relationships becomes a pretty basic Sex education, without any Christian underpinning.
      If 1,000+ children go through a single SecondarybSchool without any word about Christianity, the why are we surprised/disappointed that fewer people have any clue what it’s all about?
      Thinking about the way that Moslem families bring up their children, learning the Koran is the Norm.
      If we read the Bible to our children got them to read the Bible, remember key verses, etc., no doubt there would be a resurgence in Christianity in the UK. Is that what we want?

      If we dont want it to happen, we’ll go on finding excuses, or making difficulties, but if we DO want it to happen, we’ll find ways, and be a missional church – again.

  8. I came to Christianity later in life so have absolutely no experience of Christian childhoods whatsoever.

    Children are only at church for one hour a week. I suspect that low retention rates may have a lot to do with things happening elsewhere and within the family.

    If parents don’t support a child’s literacy development at home, that kid will struggle with reading. The teacher has far less influence on the child than the parents.

    If church isn’t a place that inspires the parents’ activities at home, why should a child be interested in continuing to attend?

  9. Hi,

    I’m 18 and am discovering what might be the cause for some people my age to leave the Church – for me, thankfully I have a Christian girlfriend at another Church, so my solution has been to move location rather than stop all together.

    I’ve noticed that in the Church I’ve been attending for about 9 years now, I feel very patronised and treated as if I was still 10.

    I’m a keen musician and have led worship at the youth service, along with running almost every aspect of it, for about 2 years. However, recently the vicar has decided he wants to be more involved with the service and so I’ve had it “conviscated”. Topics and talks have been changed without even an email to apologise or explain. Also, when asking to join the ‘adult rota’ for main morning services I’m met with a “I don’t see why not” but when I suggest dates (as none are ever offered) I end up getting lots of excuses of why I can’t do that week…

    However, having almost completely moved to my girlfriends church over the last couple of months, I feel like an adult – am regularly part of the worship team and they’re encouraging me to do more as they’ve only ever known me as an 18 yr old. Perhaps Church needs to explore more into the transition from “sunday school culture” to “adulthood” and how to make the transition smoother and allow the young person to be valued and appreciated.

    1. This could well be part of the problem. Unfortunately, my foster children have to have seperate teaching as our Anglican Church is in England and our children are Ukrainian and although they speak quite good English, they don’t speak it well enough. However they are made to feel part of the church family, helping us to get set up before the service and the two girls getting refreshments etc set up as well. it isn’t just helping get things set up, but they know that is their ‘job’ as part of the church family.

  10. In my experience there seems to be a huge gulf between what happens in Sunday School and what happens in Grown-Up Church.

    Sunday School (and other youth work) tends to be smaller interactive groups with a focus on discussion or activities.

    Grown-Up Church focuses on sitting and listening.

    I appreciate this is possibly an unfair generalisation but when my kids reach their teens there will be no ‘hook’ to make them want to stay in church.

    1. helpful comment Colin – sunday school has paid attention to educative models while “adult” church often hasn’t. That’s an interesting perspective.

  11. I think parents need way more support. I’m not a parent (but youth worker turned Rev) but after talking to lots of parents about why their children are wandering (and these are very committed parents)I have been shocked that most of them have never prayed together as a family outside of the church walls and rarely have talked about faith other than ‘should we go to church today?’ Surely we need to help parents do this better, so faith is just as much a home thing as away.
    I don’t think parents are the problem though, I think we need more truely all age worship. One of the things we’re trying is an all age home group, it died a death with the church folk, lots of the repsonses were about how parents didn’t want to be with their kids in church, and kids wanted a break from their parents (their were that brutual about each other!), but it’s thriving with ‘unchurched’ families. I know there is not a simple answer to any of this, but I think we really have to get working on some ideas!

    1. I sometimes go to an Adventist Church and like the way they do things. Praise and worship, then split into groups for Bible School (four groups as we have five different languages spoken in that particular one, the lesson is the same for each group) with the kids also going to a seperate Bible School, then a short break, then more worship and a short sermon. The first and last parts of the service the kids sit with us.

  12. Just a very brief thought that I have to take further in my own mind, but it occurs to me that the children’s Bibles and stories bear almost no resemblance to the actual stories of the Bible. Is there a problem with kid’s feeling they’ve been lied to and misled – and that the heroes we give them have nowhere to go but to fall? In a world that needs honesty and trust do we set ourselves up to fail but not writing more honest adaptations?

    1. was just thinking something similar when reading the Jesus Story Bible with my 5 year old tonight – lots to love about it but some huge omissions. Interestingly the “what’s in the Bible” resource our church uses in S Club was all about Joshua and Genocide today…

    2. The children’s Bible I have are shorter version of the adult Bible with simpler words. I often go over it with them as well when they start talking about what they’ve been told, of there is some confusion over the stories. The confusion is not usually over the way the stories are written, but because I foster and often the children never heard the Bible stories before they came to us and need to have some things explained to them

  13. I think sometimes we take the time to teach young people what Christianity’s all about, but we don’t really teach them how to do it… That’s not to say I think all young people should automatically ape their youth worker (recipe for disaster?) but that more emphasis should be on doing Christianity, rather than just learning it. They need to live it, not just learn it.

  14. My concern when these questions come up is that the worry is over church attendance mainly, not faith or belief.

    Growing up in a good church I was told a few tiems that just coming to church didn’t make you a Christian. The reverse is true too – not going to church doesn’t automatically make you a pagan.

    The panic about kids leaving church may reflect the overall panic about church attendance declining (which it is, on average) and that many’important’ people in the church universal have a lot to lose if nobody comes any more.

    Is this discussion genuinely about young peoples’ faith or is it about maintining the institution of church? It can look a lot like the latter the way some people present it.

    As for the discussion about abolishing sunday school and youth workers, it’s simply not as simple as one being better than the other. Some kids will really need sunday school and dedicated youth work and some kids won’t. From about 14 I stayed in Sunday services most weeks because I prefered it, and I had the option. It’s the one size fits all mentality that kills church as a community really and why we end up with so many different churches that are fundamentally the same but have minute differences in ritual.

    It’s a shame there is nothing on your panel about 1-2-1 mentoring. I do this with kids in our church and they grow and the impact on their lives is remarkable. One kid I’ve mentored is the only member of his family wiht an active faith, an absent father and two older brotehrs who are not good role models. Without mentoring he would very likely have drifted off, but he is an involved, committed member of the church.

    It’s time-consuming but to be successful you have to put the time in. Most of the ‘solutions’ to the problem of young people quitting church are quick fix fads – a holier version of diet pills, really.

    1. Thanks Jon – you are right we can’t assess spiritual formation on church attendance alone – but it is a partial indicator at least of spiritual health.
      It’s not about keeping the institution going for the sake of it – but on being faithful to God’s mission, his story in which the church has a vital role to play.
      One to one mentoring is an important aspect – people are nervous about it in our current child protection situation. Mentoring is definitely a key part of the disciple making we are called to be part of – thanks for sharing.

  15. My understanding with the young people I currently work with is that they are open to hear. The problem I think is to do with the delivery of the message, sustaining projects and the willingness to try initiatives that are relevant and within the context of the community the youth belong / grow-up.
    It may be worth considering how many young people convert to other faiths. There’s a growing trend of young boys converting to Islam because it emphasises on masculinity – which unfortunately is at the expense of Christianity, which to an extent is likened as very feminine.
    Do the statistics make reference to specific denominations? Or is it generalising all Christian denominations – as I wonder whether that makes a significant difference particularly as statistics suggest the membership of the Anglican community is declining drastically which would have a massive knock on effect on children/youth membership, whilst membership in the Pentecostal community is growing.

  16. This is a question that has been on my heart for some time and I am pleased that the question is being discussed by EA. I am also grateful for Krish’s articles that I have read over the last few days and pondered.

    As a youth worker for an Anglican church who has been employed for the last six/seven years I have been privileged to have journeyed with a group of young people through from the start of secondary school to the completion of their A levels. As there was no youth work before I was employed, as year has passed to year we have ‘broken ground’ in our church community with number and age of young people. Now several have left to go to University but return in breaks and many are attending church in their University town. Those who have not moved away, but have found employment, or are unemployed have moved away from church attendance but still have the relational contact through me as the youth worker.

    I think church based youth work faces the following challenges;

    1. We are in a ‘now and not-yet’ time in terms of the understanding of modernity/postmodernity or christendom and postchristendom within the church congregation as an intergenerational community. What our older members ‘want’ and what our younger members ‘want’ are becoming increasingly different. Our church leaders are also often aware of the need to change but unable to move themselves beyond their perspective because it is such an ingrained part of them. We need to find a way of either drawing the two together, accepting that we need to be separate or perhaps journeying through this tough time in hope and expectation.

    2. Those young people who have a faith that lasts into their early adulthood, in my experience, are those who have been connected to more traditional aspects of church ministry, in our case through the church choir. I think this about participating, but is interesting to note that those access points to church that are about active participation connect people for the longer term.

    3. The role of the youth worker in many church contexts is still perceived as a ‘training post’ for ‘proper ministry.’ At the age of 29, I am still patronised by some and I have an acknolwedged leadership role. How much harder is it for young people themselves? We need to move towards seeing youth workers as co-leaders in the church and young people as unique individuals who can offer insight and perspective we will struggle.

    4. The employment of a youth worker enables people to abdicate responsibility for the developing faith of children & young people, whereas in any other area of life we know that we learn from people of all ages and a ‘professional’ advises.

    5. Since many youth workers are employed by churches there is a sense of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune,’ and therefore are we making disciples of the denomination rather than of Jesus?

    6. Our childrens and youth work does focus on small group work where questions can be asked and discussion can occur. In our situation this is never replicated in ‘adult church.’ There is a huge culture shock for young people expected to move across and we have to look at supporting them more effectively in the transition. This will require a cultural shift from leaders, congregations and youth workers.

    7. We need to decide whether it is appropriate/sensible to seek to integrate young people into church of whether we need to look at a new model/idea of church, along the lines of Richard Passmore’s comments and work…

    I would like to hear if anybody else has a similar experience to mine as I suggest in the bullet points above, especially the first point as it is something I’ve been reflecting on for a while. Thanks.

    1. this is a very well thought out post Dan, thanks for putting it out there.
      Your observations resonate with a lot of where I am thinking.
      I think we need both greater integration and a recovery of the church as “missional movement.”
      blessings mate

  17. I am an Area Director for Young Life in Arizona. My experience is primarily with teenagers in the last 15 years.

    For those kids coming out of a Christian environment I agree with what I see as the primary conclusion of “Almost Christian” by Dean that by far and away the biggest predictor of a child’s faith is the active lived-out faith of the parents. I have spent so much energy trying to overcome the harm done by all sorts of parents done to their children, it is nearly impossible. Thank God for His Spirit and power, yet I wish I’d see more of it in this battle.

    Local youth pastors often ask me how to get our new Christians into their youth groups. Many never go to youth group because they go with their Young Life leader to whatever service the leader goes to, be it a college group or the “big” adult service. Therefore many youth pastors never see us making the connection into the church just because if is not into their youth groups. The teenagers I work with will go where an existing relationship bridges the gap. I suppose you could look to the research about people coming to Christ through a friend (the majority percentage), and then ask where the friend goes to church.

    On the other hand I have many local pastors asking me what to do with their youth groups (often in times of turn over in youth pastors), and I tend to recommend a multigenerational service rather than elaborate youth services, for the very reason of long-term integration and the blessings that come from a well-rounded group of people together.

    Dean, Powell, and Chap Clark are doing good work. I’d like to see more thoughtful work on incorporating youth in to the main church, but the root issue is in the discipleship of the parents for the future generations (in my opinion of course!)

    Sean

  18. Children learn what they see their parents do.we as christian parents have a tremendous job of remoulding our child to biblical standards with love and prayers.no one else is going to do this job better.but for that we have to be more christlike in our daily activities and setting an example for next generations(which can be very difficult of certain people).Of course there are and will always be things to attract teenagers away from the lord but with prayers and hard work we can win.So if parents realize their responsibility as christian we can make a difference here.

  19. I work with 14-18 year olds at my church’s youth group. Call me old-fashioned, but I have found for this age group, discipleship is the most effective means of retention. The kids I work with don’t need any more programs or gimmicks to keep them interested in “church”. They need truth and mentors. If every adult in the church I go to discipled one teen, every single teen would be individually discipled. I think this would make a huge impact on these students’ lives! When I was this age, the relationship I had with the woman who discipled me was one of the most impactful parts of my church experience during those years. It really isn’t a far stretch, either. We are called to make disciples- so why not start in our own churches!! Hope this helps.

  20. Portland, Oregon’s Solid Rock Church would be an exception – young people pack the house and are an essential part of the church community, all week long!

    There are more young people than elderly and parents often join the church after their kids discover Solid Rock! Big high school ministry, including High Schoolers reaching out to local public schools for “Jesus Pizza” opportunities to share faith. Lots of college students are also part of Solid Rock!

    Not only do we KEEP youth as part of the church community, we train them to live out the gospel in everyday scenarios!

  21. The church needs to go beyond just teaching and entertaining. The culture of church is the culture of church, it is not a relationship with Jesus and culture is easy to leave. The Word of God is living and needs to be taught in a way applicable to life “today” so that the lives lived by those on the pages of The Book become just as real to kids as their own. The church needs to be talking and sharing about the wondrous works of the Lord “today”–what He is doing in the present. If that’s not happening, it’s all just a story, just tradition, just culture. If kids never progress from culture to relationship, we lose them because they are lost already. I’ve seen that in friends that I grew up with in church, in youth group, even in campus Christian club. What was in their head and somewhat lifestyle hadn’t resulted in a transformed heart. They had culture but no relationship. I think this is Judged 2–generations who don’t KNOW the works of the Lord. All the stories, all the sacraments, all the songs, were just entertainment and culture creating participants that had no depth of a transformed heart. But, this is not a new thing in the church, only something that now statistics show to be in grander scale. The graffiti on the wall was ignored to some extent till now it covers the whole house.

    More importantly, I believe a huge key to understanding what is happening is the prayerlessness of the church today. Even in churches that teach well, those are just words if not backed by the power of prayer. Only God can turn a heart. And prayer, especially corporate prayer invites God to work and rule over the prince of this world. Our enemy is real. God has won the war, for sure, but we are losing battle after battle because of prayerlessness. We are not owning our children before the enemy.

    Prayer ministries, like Moms in Prayer and others, exist, but, as Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Many will go to a place of worship if they can be entertained with fine music or grand oratory; but if communion with God is the only attraction, they are not drawn thereby.” So true. Prayer meetings are sparsely attended and are usually last on the list of something to put on the calendar. This hints that it isn’t just the youth we are losing. And that is foundational to understanding what we can do about the rapid attrition of young people from churches.

  22. I wrote the children’s book series Hillytown Biscuit Church because it felt wrong that church children never see that part of their lives reflected and validated in any form of media – even the books on the Christian market which are mostly Bible story retellings. However what you’ll read in the first book, Hillytown Biscuit Church, is also part of the truth in my house – that the stresses of life, sometimes increased by church busyness and relationships – get played out at home because to some extent we have to keep smiling at church. If church leads to arguments, why would our children want to make it part of their lives? On the other hand, if faith leads to reconciliation and renewal, they might.

  23. Even within the 20-30s in our church there is a divide, often between the married with children and the married/single. We seem to struggle to engage with young couples with kids and many use their children as an excuse not to get involved in ministering in the church. I think maybe family life is changing and becoming more individualistic and private, so much so families do not want to share family life with others in the same way as in the past and see it more as an exclusive entity.

    As a twenty-something single in the church I find myself wanting to use my singleness and ‘free time’ to serve wherever possible but I think the church is missing out on the involvement of the married/married with children.

    We also have the challenge of being a church that welcomes all, so finding the balance in our gatherings together that involve young and old is incredibly difficult!

  24. There’s a helpful blog response to my Youthworker article at http://smoorns.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/is-youth-work-working-thoughts-on-krish-kandiahs-article/ by Simon Mitchell.

    It’s similar to Simon Passmore’s comments about focussing on the church not the church reaching out to the young people outside of the church.

    Three quick comments:

    1. Its great to connect with guys that have a passion for lost young people. If you know me a little bit, you’ll know evangelism is something I am deeply committed to – and do as much of it as I can. There’s quite a lot of evangelistic wrestling on this blog from the university missions and the evangelistic small group I run for secondary school students.

    2. The church has not managed to help young people stay connected to church (which is not the only indicator of faith I agree – but certainly a significant one). But if the numbers are to be believed – we haven’t seen significant number of unchurched children won to christ and then stay connected to church either. We have seen a lot of evangelism through schools ministry, holiday clubs etc but it is worrying that hasn’t translated into long term disciples.

    3. We need to sort this discipleship issue out – for the sake of the churched kids but also for the sake of the unchurched kids we are seeking to reach out too. If not we dechurch those that do make commitments which will make life harder for them in the long run.

    Thanks for being part of the conversation. Blessings all

  25. hi, at the church i’m currently attending as a student, children stay in sunday school till they are 7 (or there abouts) then they go into the main service, unlike the churches i attended growing up.
    i think this is a great idea, as someone who grew up in church sunday schools till i was 12, i think part of the problem with the whole sunday school concept is how the children feel separated and actually keeping them in sunday school for a long time after they are capable of understanding the sermons is patronising. if they are kept seperate then they wont feel like they belong in the church and wont want to be there, especially if they are bored and patronised until their early teens.
    i think getting young christians involved in church life and allowing them to serve the church from a young age is important. i think i was lucky that as i was reaching the age where i could have not gone to church if i’d wanted that we had moved to a church where i could get involved because church had become boring and repetetive for me for years, despite being a christian because i sat there i sang i listened i sang i went home essentially.
    the whole church should group around parents because it is supposed to be a family, if the adults of the church fellowship and share God’s love with each other yet ignore young children, they will feel as though they aren’t part of the family and God doesn’t love them…not the impression we want to give!!

    so yeah, kids in the service as soon as they are ready, whole church getting involved with kids and getting them involved! could just be as simple as a few words of encouragement or asking what they learnt in sunday school/in the service, or bigger like inviting a group of them to the cinema with a group of you, or a married couple inviting a few teens round for dinner…it is a family =]

  26. We need to rediscover catechisis. Three years in the Orthodox Church . . . in the West, we have a couple of prepartory sessions before “believers baptism” or you do an Alpha Course . . . there is not time to see faith lived.

    Creasy Dean’s previous books are also worth a read . . . but essentially, her argument (allbeit in a US context) holds water, “We reproduce what we are” – this is the biggest issue for the Church, it is a “red herring” in one sense to look at youth work or childrens work as being the problewm . . it is so much more fundamental than that.

    You can have who you like in the room on 1st March – I think the biggest challenge the Church faces is that we are unwilling, for whatever reason, to change our basic model around people “attending church services” and everything else flows from those . . .

    Luther’s “smaller catechism” was initially intended for families in the “household of faith”, but he got so fed up with the fact the Parents didn’t do it . . . he gave up on it. We have not properly addressed it since, but Christendom has hidden the problem.

    We don’t know how to make disciples. Not children, not youth, not adults – until we properly fess up – repent and get back to the drawing board on this, rediscover the OT teaching on doing “life” together . . . digging deeper than the passages, but learing to share the journey we are on with all who are able to understand (that includes children and young people being “in” on the conversations that adults are having about life and faith) . . . we also need to make discipleship tools LONGER not shorter . . . You want to be a Doctor how long does it take . . . 7/8 years . . . before you get to “have a go” . . . The Son of God ran a discipleship course for 3 years . . . We don’t seme to be able to get beyond introducing people to Jesus – maybe, despite the length of time we have been “doing this”, we are not much further on from those who have just completed an Alpha Course and knew nothing about Jesus two months ago . . .

  27. Excited by your discussion – will the meeting/ speakers be broadcast on line/ podcasted later?

    As someone who has been an advocate for children in the church and beyond for a long time- I think the sucessfulness in reaching and then retaining children and young people begins with an individual church’s vsion as a whole. Where are children and young people placed in the vision of the church? So often churches claim to see the importance of children and young people but this “priority” is not reflected in terms of budget/ facilities/ staff/ emaphasis on a weekly basis.

    Check out my church Newhope Durham NC – this church is still young (10 years old) so does not have the retention history you require but its status as the 10th fastest growing church in the US in 2010 is I am convinced in part due to the centrality of children and young people woven into its vision and practice. The “dream” (vision) on which it was founded includes “We dream of a church where young children are raised in a relevant children’s ministry so that the faith they come to know can enable them to grow to maturity in Christ – a church where their continued experience of Jesus Christ will carry them through the turmoil and challenges of adolescence and young adulthood because they have seen authentic Christianity lived out by the adults who surround them. ” This pirotity was reiterated by the senior pastor at the church’s 10 year celebration – the first time I have heard a pastor quote Barna statistics about children coming to faith within a full church vision casting event.

    Although this is a US example as a Brit on the wrong side of the pond who has experienced children’s ministry at local and national level in the UK – I would say there is much we can learn from them.

  28. Hi all
    I am probably too late to add a comment in but I had a special reason for waiting…..this post really wound me up Krish. Not in a bad way, as I hope I will explain but because it made me weep tears of pain and frustration. I have taught, practised, written, trained, preached and prayed on and through what I am about to say. Im not posting it to wind people up or being deliberately (naughtily) provocative back, I’m just sticking my head above the parapet to share a little of my heart for our church.

    I didn’t choose to do what I do now, I would have been very happy (and better off!) in my previous career and like the commenter who has been asked when he’s going to become a real pastor, not a youth pastor, I have felt the pull of God to do what I do because of the reformation I believe he wants to bring to the Church.

    What we have always done just isn’t working. In the year 2000 the church-going population of Great Britain was 4.4 million and 19% of this figure were children aged 15 or under, i.e. 836,000 children. By 2025 the churchgoing population is estimated to be 2.3 million with 5% aged 15 or under i.e. 115,000 . That’s a huge decrease in 15 years or so, if current projections continue. We will have lost 721,000 children in a 25 year period that we are almost halfway through.
    If we were to go back to 1990’s figures and compare this with the 2025 estimate, we will have lost contact with 1.1 million children .

    Now Peter Brierley (from whom I have these stats) and Mark Griffiths have written extensively on this. I write now as from my experience as a children and family pastor.

    I found your post provocative Krish because unless the way we do church is up for root and branch reformation, we simply talk. We know how bad the statistics are and we know we have to do something. I don’t believe we have to have the attitude of getting our kids to last through church but instead, have more of an attitude that is up for a return to the Old and New Testament pattern of (as Gordon Wenham says) – “we’re part of a team”. We’re in this together and we don’t live for our own preferences or style of church; how can we together learn more about our amazing God and let as many people as possible know about because of the way we live our lives as individuals, families and communities?

    I’ve been able to think recently, (and huge thanks to Joel Green’s writing on children and families in the book of Acts) at what it must have looked like to see such radical reformation of household life in the First Century. For women and children in particular something so utterly revolutionary was happening to their treatment and status that those outside Christianity looked and wanted to be part; in a context of hardship and even waves of persecution, people wanted to see the same kind of radical reorientation and transformation in their family lives. Pliny wrote that even children were at risk from the menace of Christianity! Chuckle. This thing was spreading like wildfire through the Roman Empire and men, women and children were loving Jesus and each other as part of the embryonic church.

    You see, straight away what I represent is more than just children, although I love them dearly, I love the church. I love what we look like when we are together. I love that on a Sunday morning I look out a gathering like no other on the face of the earth. No shopping mall, football stadium, concert or school composes such a rich mix of ages, backgrounds, interests and ethnicities.

    Partitioning and compartmentalising for convenience sake only has really got to stop in all of our major denominations in order that we might operate as I believe an extended family (the clan and tribe of the people of God.

    Now I do not write this post as an intergenerational guru.Yes, I have set up and advocated intergenerational small groups. I’ve also done age-specific groups. I teach or oversee in all-age settings, but also separate settings. I am not saying that we must be together ALL of the time What I am saying is that we have deferred to be apart MOST of the time. I could write or propose a structure for an individual church as I have been able to put into practice in my own ministry but you know what, that’s not going to kick it either.

    What I have found to be most effective is not a structure or de-programming exercise but a massive culture shift in how we see the young: their current potential, their innate ability to have proven insight into things of the kingdom, their natural connection with the supernatural, their place of incredible acceptance and humility. THESE THINGS we are to nurture, provide space for and…..learn from…..

    Negativity and decline is NOT the picture across the whole world. There are lessons to learn from churches in nations (Indonesia is a great example) who are experiencing tremendous growth due to what I would summarise as this: children contribute to and partake in kingdom practices – they are being discipled as naturally as drawing breath through the input of the whole church which means they learn to pray with expectant faith, worship chasing the presence of God and engage naturally in mission which is marked by signs and wonders.

    I just feel its time for us to take our hands off controlling church shape and structure a little more which, at times, favours the oldest/wealthiest/gobbiest/(insert your own adjective!!). Children occupy a unique place in the gospels, one which with all my heart I long for the church in the UK to return to.

    Jesus, children and the kingdom, all three are in relationship. Through their lack of desire for power and prestige or glory they possess something that I believe we are desperate for in the UK – a church with integrity, authenticity and humility marked with God’s heart to love freely and with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

    Bless you Krish for taking the time to stir this up – you have been much on my mind since you wrote this.

    1. I must agree with you on a lot of points Lynn. I know a lot of churches concentrate on getting the youth in, but don’t seem to think so much of getting families. Unfortuantely, one of the churches I attend here in Kyiv is English speaking so our children go for seperate teaching as having Ukrainian as their main language they wouldn’t really get anything our of the main service, but they are involved in other things within the church itself. helping to set up ready for the service and also getting set up for refreshments after.

      The other church we attend is in both languages. We have the praise and worship first, then what they call Bible School in four different groups (each group in a different language, English, Ukrainian, Russian and sometimes Spanish), but on the same part of the Bible. Our eldest prefers to stay with the adults in the Russian speaking group. The girls prefer to go to the Children’s Bible School. We then have a 10-15 minute break, then the last part of the service is all together again (including the children) with more singing and a sermon. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a way from us and the different things for the children are a bit late so they can’t attend them, but they have indicated that they do get more from this way of doing things.

  29. This is an important issue. However, some of the figures didn’t resonate with me so I checked our own church records. (see my blog http://neilbrighton.typepad.com/distinct_reflections/2012/03/young-people-and-church.html if you want to know more).

    But we have a youth worker and no plans to stop, if we had the money we would have a childrens’ worker as well. And both are important because they are part of a bigger desire to see families grow in faith.

    1. Hi again
      The figures wouldn’t resonate with many in our denomination Neil as (ahem) we buck the trend. In both churches I have served the number of children has doubled in 5 years – and not through sheep moving – 60% of the growth came through contact with families reached through Alpha, CAP support, toddler groups, parenting courses and specific support to families in the community. 20% had moved into the city from out of the country and 20% did come from other churches.

      The Brierley stats do represent the UK as a whole (I hesitate to say institutional church) but many (sadly not all) Baptist churches are seeing growth and exactly what you describe.

      An interesting debate, and I guess one the EA are looking at, is why is that happening in some places and not others? (I hate saying denominations!! Let’s just say “places” as each of our faith communities is different, unique in some way). I have my thoughts ;0)

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