The Age Gap in Religion is Primarily a Christian Problem

Younger people are less religious than older people.

Across the board, this proves to be true. Doesn’t really matter what country one observes or what metrics one uses; statistically, research finds that younger generations tend to be less religious than those who have come before.

However, it turns out, what does matter is which religion is being studied.

According to recent Pew Research, Christianity not only has the most predominant age gap, in that it affects nearly every country that identifies as Christian, it also has the largest one by percentage meaning there is a larger gap in between the ages than other religions.

“Age gaps are also more common within some religious groups than in others. For example, religion is less important to younger Christian adults in nearly half of all the countries around the world where sample sizes are large enough to allow age comparisons among Christians (37 out of 78).

For Muslims, this is the case in about one-quarter of countries surveyed (10 out of 42). Among Buddhists, younger adults are significantly less religious in just one country (the United States) out of five countries for which data are available.

There is no age gap by this measure among Jews in the U.S. or Israel, or among Hindus in the U.S. or India.1 (Source)

PF.06.13.18_religiouscommitment-00-01-

The highest retention rates for religions are found in the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities.  The lowest retention rates are found in Mainline Protestants, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and atheism (Source).

Why?

man-3552247_1920There are so many people asking and answering this question. There’s a lot of research being done not only on why younger generations are leaving their faith and/or their church and why some choose to stay.  And there is no silver bullet or perfect answer. But here are a least a few things that we need to consider.

  1. Some stay away from church because they don’t feel like they belong. A study shared by Christianity Today found that about “58 percent of young adults indicated they dropped out because of their church or pastor. When probed further, they said:
    • Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical (26 percent).
    • They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church (20 percent).
    • Church members were unfriendly and unwelcoming (15 percent)
    • Fifty-two percent indicated some sort of religious, ethical or political beliefs as the reason they dropped out.”
  2. Others leave because their faith or their church was never truly theirs, just something they had to do for their parents or because children’s ministry or youth group was a fun social hangout. “Consider this finding: when students involved in the College Transition Project were asked what it means to be a Christian, 35 percent “gave an answer that didn’t mention Jesus at all.” (Source)
  3. Still others leave because they have no relationships the church or a compelling reason to stay.  According to an interview with Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute, “The number one reason why young people are walking away from their faith—it’s a lack of intergenerational worship and relationship” (Source).

Of course, there are more reasons, but these are some of the big ones. And the thing is, these can be easily solved! 

Basically, each of these reasons boil down to this:  We need faith communities that are, as Dr. Powell stated another interview, “ruthless about focusing on Jesus [and] realize that Christianity can be awkward and sometimes confusing, but Jesus is always magnetic.”

We need communities that foster a sense of belonging to something bigger, create space for intergenerational connections that are meaningful and long-lasting, and invite a willingness to engage in conversations of doubt, faith, and culture. 

We can keep moving forward with age-segregated ministries, church services, and programs or we can step back, see the bigger picture, listen to what we are hearing from generations to come, and begin implementing the changes needed to address the concerns listed above.

It won’t always be comfortable for many of us to “change” and to embrace new ways of thinking and “doing” church, but it’s time to think bigger than today, bigger than “us” and consider our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

For more on these topics, check out the posts below and share your own thoughts in the comments


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina 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

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What Happens When We Break Our Promise to the Next Generation?

A few years ago I told my daughter that one of the moms from church was going to teach her how to knit a scarf one afternoon. Her eyes lit up.  “Are you serious?” she said in surprise.  “Yes,” I replied, “She told you she would on Sunday.”

Her reply struck deep into my heart, “Yeah, but grown ups say that kind of stuff all the time but they never actually do it.  They’re too busy.

Here’s the thing: It is widely recognized that parents/caregivers have the greatest influence on their children  but they don’t have the only influence.

I  once attended a seminar with Dr. Kara Powell, author of Sticky Faith and Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute.  She asked all of us to write down three people other than our parents who were influential in forming us into the people we were that day.  Once we were done, she asked us to raise our hands if we had written down a teacher? a Sunday school teacher?  a grandparent? another adult?

Lots of hands.

Then she asked, “How many of you wrote down your high school best friend?  How about your middle school classmates?”  Not one hand went up for those.

She used that moment to illustrate what their research had found:

Adults have a far greater lasting influence on our kids than their peers.

pinky-swear-329329_1920This flies in the face of the messages we get from media and even our own kids at times where peers are portrayed as the most important influence in kids lives.  The truth is, that influence is fleeting, while the influence of adults sticks around; it endures after middle school awkwardness and high school “coolness” and college independence.

The influence of adults, especially involved adults, lasts for a lifetime.

So, what  happens if we, as adults, tell our kids, “Yes, I’ll do that, teach that, play that, build that, go there, eat there, and read that with you” and then we fail to follow through?

What happens if with good intention, we say we will do something and then we repeatedly and consistently fail to do that thing, what message are we sending to our kids?  That our job is more important?  Our social media too demanding?  Or own lives too consuming to follow through with what we said?

In most churches, when a child is baptized or dedicated, there is a moment where the congregation makes a pledge to walk with that child as a member of their faith community. In one of the churches I served in this was the promise made by the congregation:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life (Source).

These promises to surround and pray for the children and youth in our churches resound loudly in baptism/dedication Sundays, but do they echo over and over again in our actions and practices?

If we say we’ll do it, we NEED to do it.  

All the good intentions in the world will only make a stronger road away from truth and commitment.  I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next person.  But hearing and seeing my daughter’s genuine shock over a simple kept promise  convicted me deeply. If anything, this post is a chance to hold myself accountable for the promises I’ve made and the words I’ve spoken and to truly consider, am I following through on the commitments I’ve made to the next generation?

Let’s not pave a road with good intentions.  Instead, let’s build character, model love, and display commitment.

Let’s be the right kind of influence on generations that follow.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina 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

When Church is “Boring”

Brutal honesty time.

Sometimes, my kids think church is “boring.”

My middle child has definitely fallen asleep on her dad’s lap right in the middle of a 9:30 service.  My oldest has made the most amazing doodles you’ve ever seen during service times and, when he was little, if I could get my youngest to make it through any portion of a service, he spent most of his time touching everything he can get his hands on like hymnals, bulletins, random stranger’s hair…

So, why in the world do I make such a big deal about having kids in worship?

Obviously they are bored.  Obviously I am forcing them to do something that they don’t like and probably scarring them for life when it comes to attending services.

Wouldn’t it be better for them to be somewhere else, like with other kids in a different room, where they can have fun and want to come to church?

There’s a lot to unpack in those questions, more than one blog post can cover.  A lot of underlying assumptions about why we go to church and what church is supposed to look like and how kids are wired and all that stuff, but I’m just going to tell you my simple reason for why I want my kids participating in worship.

Because they are members of the body of Christ.

It’s simple really.  They have each made declarations of faith, appropriate to their age and understanding, that they love God and want to follow Him.

They are part of the church.  The church needs them.  And they need church.

Okay, you thought I was brutally honest above… check this out.

Sometimes, I think church is boring.  Hey now, so do you!!  Be honest, sometimes we have a really hard time engaging, in some cases, staying awake.  We wish we could curl up on our daddy’s lap and grab a quick cat nap during the sermon.

But most adults I know, especially adults that are desiring to grow in their faith and active in their walk with Christ, would not use the fact that church is “boring” to dissuade them from attending.

Because that’s not why we go to church.

We don’t go to church for an adrenaline rush.  We don’t go to church to be entertained.  We don’t go to church for goosebumps and thrills and chills.  I’m not saying there aren’t times when we have amazing moments where those things might happen, but that is not WHY we go to church.

And that is not WHY my kids go to church.  Sure, I do my best to engage them with the service.  And we continue to explore more ways to welcome and invite kids and youth into active participation in the service.

But even if we do it all perfectly, chances are, there are going to be days where church is boring.  And that’s okay.  Because there are days when school is boring, and home is boring, and life is boring.

If we are never bored, if we are constantly entertained and distracted, how are we ever going to find time to “be still and know that He is God?”

boredkidIf you are concerned with bringing your child into worship because you are afraid that he/she will be bored, don’t be.  Being bored is not the worst thing in the world.  But here are some great suggestions for how you can engage with your child during the service so that being bored and being left out don’t have to be the same.

Kids don’t just have to sit and tolerate services.  They can be invited into the experience and my guess is, if we engage with them during service time, we may just find out that we too get more from the service. (BTW, these ideas were inspired from an insert from Christ Church Parish in Raleigh, NC and a pew card that we use at my church)

  • Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what is going on. They tire of looking at the backs of others’ heads.
  • Quietly explain parts of the service and actions of the ministers and whisper the sermon to them in words they can understand.
  • Sing the hymns/songs, pray and voice the responses because children learn the liturgy by watching you!
  • If you have to leave the service, feel free to do so but feel free to come back as well!
  • Let your kids doodle and color in church.  Often when their hands are busy, their minds are engaged with the service more than you realize.

So many times I have parents tell me, “I didn’t think my child was listening to the sermon at all but then later, he said something almost word-for-word that the pastor had shared!”

Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for.

They are learning all. the. time.  They are watching you, listening to you, and imitating you.

The next time your child says, “I don’t want to go to church.  It’s boring!!” and they will because they are kids, give them a hug and say, “I know it can be boring sometimes, but that’s not why we go to church.  We go to church because we are part of the body of Christ. And you are an important part of Christ’s body.  If you aren’t there, a piece is missing.  Who knows?  God might use you today to encourage someone who is sad, to teach someone who is needing to learn, to love someone who needs to be loved.  God might even speak to YOU if you listen closely.  You are special to God and to us, and we need you there!”

And, as needed, remind yourself of that truth as well.


A version of this post first appeared on this website here

For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina 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

How Can We Nicely Kick Kids Out of Church?

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about a card a church had given out inviting parents who brought their kids to “enjoy the remainder of the service” in the lobby so others could “engage with the sermon.”  This past week, another children’s ministry group I am a part of had a similar conversation regarding if a church is large and streaming on-line,  what card they  should hand out to parents if kids are loud in the main service.

Apparently this is a new thing?  I had not heard of this practice of handing parents cards to invite them to leave the service until recently, but twice in one month made me decide to some digging.  What I found was disheartening, at least for me.

I found stories of parents being told that children younger than seventh grade were not “allowed” in the main auditorium (Source).

I found articles by leading people in the children’s ministry world listing the reasons why children should not be in the corporate worship service (Source).

I found articles written by pastors describing why their church chooses not to welcome or even allow children to congregational worship times (Source).

I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.

I’d love to say that this information was new to me, but it’s not. But, like all of us, I get into my little bubble, my echo chamber, and I wanted to think that since I first was made aware of these types of policies and actions, that things had changed.

I wanted to believe that over the past decade as more and more research has emerged about the absolute importance of intergenerational relationships and shared space for prayer and worship and creating a sense of belonging for all generations to the larger church body has come out, that churches would have examined these practices and worked to transition out of them.

I wanted to think that the examples of Scripture, of Jesus welcoming children and rebuking the disciples for turning them away, of Paul addressing children in letters that would be read in the general assembly, of all the Old Testament times of gathering where all of Israel was present, had been prayerfully considered and embraced by the American church.

And I had hoped that as a community of faith, we would have recognized that the very continuation of our faith is dependent on generational discipleship, not a curriculum or a program, but one generation passing on their faith to another generation through times of mentoring, prayer and communal worship.

Instead, I found this question being asked:

“How can we nicely invite the children to leave?”

suitcase-1412996_1920Oh Church, what is happening?

Even if a church is not actively working to create a culture of welcome and participation that doesn’t target their communal worship to one or two generations but actively seeks to minister to the full body as one congregation…even if that is not happening…actively working to bar children from being in the congregational assembly with their parents and their church seems unbelievably counterintuitive to a faith that is literally passed down from generation to generation.

But we have an amazing children’s program?

Great, that’s wonderful. Children need times of age-specific ministry and teaching that is appropriate to their level of understanding. But they also need meaningful time with their church, hearing the words of the sermon, watching the adults worship God, participating in the acts of worship, and being present in the midst of the assembly. One does not negate the other.  To sacrifice one for the other is not an answer; it’s just a new problem.

But kids are a distraction?

First, that saying needs fixed. Kids are not a distraction; they can sometimes be distracting. As Dr. John Trainer has said, ““Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” And, so what if there is a distraction during the service?  That’s part of life. Distractions come in many shapes and forms and not all of them children. Are we going to remove anyone and everything that causes distraction? Of course not, but we will ask the children to leave.

But this is the way we’ve always done it? 

No, it’s not. This idea of removing children from the corporate worship service and splitting everyone up in the church by their age or life experience is not the way we’ve always done it. In fact, it’s relatively new in the life of the church (think 50-70 years old).  For generations and generations, faith was a shared experience of all ages.

But it works for our church?

Okay, I get that. It is the easiest way for a church to operate. Curriculum is made for age-specific ministries. Services are geared towards adults between 25-65. It’s all set up in our systems and cultures to “work” this way.

But here’s the thing.

What works in our “church” may not be what works for the Church.  The kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus, belongs to “ones like these”, the children. In fact, Jesus says, “Truly unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

There simply has to be more. There has to be a place for the little ones to come.  And not “come” to a place where nearly everyone looks like them, but come to a place where they are part of something bigger and they can belong to a faith community.

If there isn’t room for them in our little corner of the Church, there will be room for them somewhere else. They will find somewhere to belong.

And at least our invitation for them to leave will have been kindly worded and printed nicely on a card.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina 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

Why Do We Gather?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

That word, fellowship, is an interesting one.  The word in Greek is “koininia” which literally means “come together.”  In the Christian community, it means a little bit more than just to being together in one place. It means to come together as a unique community with one another with Christ at the center.

Why though?  Why do we gather together?

Perhaps the answer to that question goes back a lot further than just the book of Acts.  Perhaps it goes all the way back to our creation. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (NLT).

The “our” in that statement refers back to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Think about that for a minute; this is how we were created – in the image of God. God put his hands on us. Everything else in the Genesis account was spoken into being but humanity was formed, touched by God, and then breathed into by Him.  All humankind that followed were knitted by  God in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139. )image_67164417

We all bear God’s fingerprints.

If we look up the words formed and knitted and translate them literally we find out that we were squeezed into shape, spread out and joined together, then breathed into by the Triune God. It’s as though humanity were a divine, hands on, interactive, group project to reflect God’s image in the world.

We were created in community for community.

Our souls look for it. Community has its root in the idea of common identity.  It’s not a “Christian” thing; it’s a humanity thing. We crave this idea of being together.  Just look the weekend – how many gathered this weekend for something we’ve created called “football?”  Sports, clubs, politics, interest groups, book clubs, and parties are all examples of ways we gather.

No one is forcing us together but something innate within us draws us to be with other human beings.  Psychology Today puts it this way: “Every single one of us craves the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves. By nature, we are tribal”

Early Christians recognized the power of community and created opportunities for the faith community to experience God together.  Corporate spiritual disciplines such as common prayers, liturgies, and celebrations were incorporated into Christians living, not as prescriptions or required religious activities, but as ways to experience community. Much like a sports team will have a fight song and a cheer so that the crowd gathers in one voice or fans of a musical will learn the songs and sing them together, there’s a unique feeling of belonging found in joining together in these spiritual disciplines and practices.

What is really incredible about the Christian experience of community, or koininia, is that what we gather around isn’t specialized to any age group, life experience, or special interest. We gather around Christ.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:20 that where two or three are gathered as his followers, he is present with them (NLT).

There’s no limitation to that promise!

There’s no specified location or special practice that needs to take place. There is nothing needed than for two or three people who claim the name of Christ, who are Christ-followers or Christians, to be together.

No age limits.

No life experience limits.

No special interests.

Just Jesus.

Any limits placed on our Christian community come not from God but from us.

Think about that for a minute.  The opportunity to gather, to come together with God and with each other has no limit except for that which we impose. 

We were created with an innate desire to be in community. Our children need community. Our elderly need community. Our middle-aged empty nesters need community. Our young and tired parents need community.

As the church, let’s do our best to create space for this coming together without limitations to experience Christ in our midst. Maybe we employ some of those spiritual disciplines that the early church has given us. Maybe we gather together for times of worship and prayer. Maybe we join together to serve one another or our community.

But regardless of the method, we gather… and He will gather with us. 


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina 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.