I’m just gonna put this out there.
Going to church isn’t the answer.
This past week I’ve seen a number of posts and articles that, for all intents and purposes, drop the reason for young adults leaving the evangelical Protestant church on the fact that they are attending church for less time then they spend playing sports or going to school. Once such post read something like this:
Why do young adults drop out of church?
1) Kids go to school 30 hours per week and get taught ideas that are opposed to biblical truth
2) Then they spend another 30 hours per week watching TV, playing video games, or connecting on social media.
3) Meanwhile, time spent weekly in the church classroom: 45 minutes.
Another article circulating this week came from the a satirical Christian website that poked fun at parents who wondered why their daughter has left the church when they made it a priority to bring her whenever there wasn’t a sports schedule conflict.
In both of these posts and in a few others I read this week, the proposed solution to the problem of people leaving the church when they are older was to make them go to church more often when they are young.
I could not disagree more with that sentiment.
If the foundation of our faith rests in consistent church attendance, then we have missed the mark on what it is to be the church.
If we expect that Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders to have so much influence as to negate the effects of living in a world that beats to a different drum, we are sadly misguided as to what church is intended to be.
Let’s be realistic. More time does not necessarily equal more influence. And even if it did, how many more hours would be needed? If the numbers listed above of 30 hours for school and 30 hours for entertainment are correct, does that mean kids need to be in church 60 hours? Or is there an acceptable percentage? 10% would be 6 hours. Would that be enough?
I realize I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, but I think we need to recognize something. Realistically, more time in a church building is not the answer to diminishing returns to church from post-graduates. And, even though this is even harder to swallow, more time doing the things we do inside a church building isn’t the answer either. If it was, there would be a direct correlation to involvement in youth group and Wednesday night programming and young people remaining in church….and there’s not.
There are some reasons why I think this.
- Every study that has been done, secular or religious, regarding the influencers of faith formation on children rank the home or the parents/guardians as the overwhelming primary source of formation (For more on this, click here)
- Studies done on why young adults choose to remain in church is not linked directly to time spent there but directly to relationships fostered there, especially intergenerational relationships outside of their peer group and the adults that work directly in age-segregated ministry. (For more on this, click here)
- Another major factor in church retention is involvement serving within the church and in the community, particular with younger generations and in family groups. (Check out Sticky Faith for some great research on this)
I’m not against going to church. Frankly, I’d be out of a job if everyone stopped attending. But I’m aware that “church” isn’t a place and if becomes a place, we have already lost the next generation. Church isn’t Sunday morning or Wednesday night or choir practice or a really cool youth group. And more time logged in that place will not change anything. It can’t. We simply can’t compete.
So what if we were serious about looking at church differently.
What if Sunday morning and Wednesday night and choir practice and really cool youth groups were launching pads instead of destinations?
What if we were intentional about equipping and sending so that not being in church looked more like being the church than missing church?
What if we talked to each other all week long, at soccer practices and bus stops, at lunch tables and school concerts?
What if we taught our kids, our youth, our parents, our church that church is who we are not what we do and that being a Christian isn’t a box we mark on Sundays or on a Pew Research survey, but a transformation of our reality because of the grace of God and connection to Christ’s body?
The Bible says some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer (Heb. 10:25). If we only apply that to times our church doors are open for service, we are missing the point.
We need a bigger picture of what church is.
We need a bigger vision of what it is that will help keep our kids connected to God’s family after they are grown.
We need a bigger dream of how God is building us together as the body of Christ.
And sure, that might mean we end up spending more time at church, because that’s where relationships are being fostered and life is being lived…but simply adding more time there isn’t the answer.
When we are Christians…when we are the church… everywhere we go; when parents are inviting God into ordinary moments like sports practice and video games; when ministers are connecting and continuing conversations far beyond Sunday and way past church doors; and when the body of Christ shows up all week long, all over the place, habitually being together and encouraging one another more and more… that’s when I believe we will see the church truly grow.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
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 D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.