Parents in our generation are generally untrained in how to teach their children about how to be a part of the church. Growing up in the American Christian church, most of us were separated from our parents at the front door of the church every Sunday morning. We had a Bible lesson, sang some Jesus songs, had a graham cracker snack, and made a craft. We often memorized Bible verses and got stickers by our names on an attendance poster board. It is similar for children today. There are amazing resources out there for Children’s Ministry today, however, and servants are being trained instead of just handed a felt board and old tattered curriculum book.
Just like yesterday, today children are shuffled off to Kids’ Church, Joyful Jungle or whatever other catchy name we can come up with. Then their parents reappear and drive them home or out to lunch, but not with other people from church or extended family. Often, their parents’ stresses have been washed away with a soothing cup of gourmet java and some “time away from the kids.” They have been refueled and are ready to start the grueling work week ahead until they are able to get their Jesus fix next Sunday morning. They are able to check church off their to do list for the week and get on with real life.
The conversation in the car on the way to a lunch place or couch in front of the tv usually consists of, “What did you learn about in Sunday school, honey?” “Moses again, Mommy.” And the Mommy and Daddy are pleased their child remembers the name of the Bible character from the lesson. They do not pursue further conversation, because they are afraid they will be asked a question they don’t know the answer to or will hear, yet again, “It was so boring.”
Children connect with their Sunday school teachers, but not with any other church attenders, because they are never with them. They have never been to “Big Church” so they don’t really know what goes on there. They are brought into the worship center/sanctuary twice a year to sing songs about Jesus’ Birth and Resurrection and clapped for. They barely recognize any of the faces in the “crowd.” For some reason, they are not seen as valuable to the church of today, only the church of tomorrow, so for now they must just be sent to the classroom to learn. No field trips to Big Church to learn how to be a Christian adult or interact with their parents or other Christian adults. Why aren’t children serving throughout the church and learning a “church skill set” to take with them as they grow and move on to college, the mission field, or the work force? Aren’t they indwelt with the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus as Lord just like adults? Doesn’t that mean they have spiritual gifts, just like adults do?
The problem really begins to show in the teenage years. Suddenly in sixth grade, if they are lucky, they are forced to sit with their parents once a month and be bored out of their minds during the worship service. Why can’t they just be with the kids playing games and having a snack, they ask. Parents aren’t taught how to help their children integrate into the congregation. Congregants aren’t used to children and teens being in the service, so they are irritated with whispering, doodling, and question asking. They sure aren’t going to help those children pay attention. That’s their parents’ job. What happened to the reality of the phrase “Church Family.” Aren’t we all brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers in the church? What happened to Paul’s call in Titus 2 for older women and men to train younger men and women? Does that not include you unless you are serving in Children’s Ministry that day?
In the church of today, teenagers not only know their former children’s ministry teachers (though there is no opportunity for them to interact, because there is no integration), but they also know their youth leaders. Youth leaders who are trained to make church fun and entertaining to them so they’ll stick around (and so their parents won’t go church shopping). The teens still don’t really know how to interact with Christian adults unless the adults are “trained to work with the youth,” because they are never given the chance.
There is Sunday School or Impact or Extreme Church Teen Edition during “Big Church” so parents get a break and teens can talk about relevant topics. As the teens approach graduation, they still don’t have a “church skill set,” because adults are scared of them (because they don’t get the chance to interact with them, either) and are convinced they’ll break something or not be responsible. Sure, they volunteer in the nursery sometimes, babysit for small group meetings, but just for the steady spending money. They’ve cleaned the church a few times for community service hour requirements for church, but are they using their gift of hospitality, administration, teaching, or leadership at church. No, only the youth pastor knows about those gifts and so they can only use them during youth group or Sunday school times.
They haven’t been to “Big Church” and really don’t know what a Christian adult should look and act like other than their youth leaders. Their parents don’t talk to them about spiritual issues, because they are afraid tough questions will come up, their past will come up, or they simply don’t want to. That is why 3 out of 4 teens leave the church when they graduate from high school and out from under their parents’ roofs.
What about what you’ve read about children and teens’ typical church experience sounds attractive, challenging, authentic? It’s no wonder they are calling it quits. If their youth leaders are the only ones they see living out their faith on a regular basis, no wonder they try out Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity at college, but not church more than once or twice. They go, looking for a message that will be relevant to their lives – just like youth group. They don’t care about the marriage or Prophets of the Old Testament series the pastor is preaching, because no one taught them how to take notes, filter the content for application or apply it to a friend’s life and share the message with them. They don’t know where they fit in, because they never learned to run the sound board, prepare the communion or do any other church skill set. It’s just easier to sleep in on Sundays and go to a campus organization at night. Maybe they’ll come back to church when they have children of their own who need Sunday school… you know, and repeat the cycle of a lukewarm belief system that doesn’t change the world.
There is a vaccination for the epidemic, but you have to decide that it starts with you and your family. You in?