Yesterday morning, a group of people from around the globe (shout out to our friends in the UK and New Zealand) joined for a ReFocus Roundtable discussion around the topic of “Developmentally Appropriate Church.” I love these discussions because we get to hear from people in churches that don’t look like ours or think like ours and find common experiences and ways to move towards generational discipleship together. Thank you to all who came, who shared, and who offered insights and ideas. The blog post below was inspired by you and your willingness to keep this discussion active and growing.
I’m not a baker. I’m a cooker. I love to cook – that wonderful place where measurements don’t matter and recipes are optional. But I wanted croissants, real ones like we had in France. So I followed a 42 step recipe that took two days and lots of measuring, and converting said measurements from metric, and rolling and chilling and laminating and chilling and rising and baking…but the result was eight beautiful, perfect, delightfully fluffy croissants that I now don’t want eat because it represents so much of my last two days. I still think cooking is more fun but, I can see the appeal of baking. It’s predictable, there’s an outline to follow, it worked for someone else, and generally, you can expect certain outcomes.
Only when you can’t. The reason I’m a cooker not a baker is because I have had a number of baking fails. I added too much of something or too little of something else. My oven wasn’t hot enough or my dough wasn’t cold enough. I didn’t have enough time to give the recipe my full attention or something unexpected came up. And I’ve ended up with flat bread, crunchy cookies, and mushy pies.
What does this have to do with church?
During a recent conversation around church and the integration of all ages in worship service, someone asked a simple question: “If developmental research shows that learning happens when someone is in a close proximity to others and most people would readily agree with that concept, why is it so challenging to bring ages together in church?”
The answers were varied, things like, people are afraid of change, people don’t want to be put in the role of teacher or mentor, people aren’t aware that their attendance at church isn’t just about what they experience or get out of church, so much of what we get out of a service is abstract and not concrete, etc.
But if we could sum it all up as one person did, “It’s messy.”
How is it messy? Well, just like with cooking, the recipe becomes malleable. Unlike baking, cooking allows for experimentation. You can add a little bit more spice and still get a savory dish. You can reduce the salt, increase the temp, add some spice, or leave out a key ingredient and still end up with something edible, delicious even! But baking is a little more precise. Do the same and you’ll end up with something inedible.
We have a recipe for church, a formula we have grown quite comfortable in following. We’ve seen it work once or twice in the past. We’ve been told it’s the way to grow big or get more people to attend or fill the pews with parishioners. We’ve been told that this is the way we’ve always done it. Our recipe, generally, includes elements that feel familiar and predictable – welcome, announcements, prayer, Scripture reading, songs, offering, sermon, prayer, and dismissal. But it’s not just those elements, it’s those elements presented in a specific way, a way that appeals to a specific audience to be received in a specific way. We know when to sit and stand, when to be quiet and when to speak out, when to sing and when to pray silently.
So, when those who don’t know the right ingredients show up, things get messy.
The children get labeled a distraction, the teenagers get deemed a disturbance, and the elderly get called a diversion. We try so hard to follow the recipe that at one time produced what we were looking for – disciples – but seem to fall short year after year. According to one research group, more than one million young people per year are walking away from their faith. But it’s not just younger generations. “Forty million Americans have stopped attending church in the past 25 years. That’s something like 12 percent of the population, and it represents the largest concentrated change in church attendance in American history” (Source).
If we look at our church and we see attendance dropping, young people walking away, or faith formation stagnated across generations, then our recipe is no longer working. We can bake away, follow the formula, and hope for the best or we can start cooking in a new fresh way. And yes, it gets messy. We might add in something and it spoils the pot. Or we might take something away and lost essential flavor. But we might also find something else – we might find that secret ingredient that meets the need we didn’t even know we had.
In that aforementioned discussion, one of the participants asked the best question of all, “What do we value the most?” If what we value from church is a specific experience, whether that be from the sermon to the songs to the sanctuary, then that is what we will work to protect. But if what we value is connection that leads to relationship that leads to lifelong disciples, then we are going to have to mess with the recipe. We’re going to have to try new things. We’re going to have to find out just what it looks like to offer worship services and ministry experiences and service projects and mission trips that incorporate all ages together in active learning and genuine community.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
Let’s mess with the recipe.
ReFocus Roundtables are online discussion forums around topics that are timely and integral to church growth and discipleship today. For more info about our recent discussion on Developmentally Appropriate Church, check out this link. ReFocus offers these free guided discussion every two months. Our next discussion will be in February 2024, topic TBD
Family Faith Formation Christmas Promo
Many parents express frustration about the lack of support and equipping they experience when it comes to leading their kids spiritually at home. Churches often encourage parents that they are the ones who are called by God to disciple their kids but frequently don’t provide the training, experience and resources needed for them to feel adequately prepared for that work.
Our Fill Your Toolbox curriculum gives parents what they need and churches what they desire. Each block contains five lessons focused on introducing, learning, and practicing specific discipleship strategies.
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FREE ADVENT RESOURCE
“Waiting for the Light“
It’s not too late to help the families at your church celebrate Advent together in their homes!
ReFocus is grateful to our dear friends, Pastor Matthew and Stephanie Peterson for this wonderful family Advent devotional, Waiting for the Light.
This downloadable PDF includes a devotional from Matthew that explains the heart of “active waiting” at Advent as well as a series of beautifully illustrated Scripture readings and family activities from Stephanie for all four weeks of Advent as well as Christmas Day. Thank you Matt & Steph for sharing your gifts with us!
About the Author
Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.
Interested in having Christina visit your church, speak at your conference, or coach your team? Christina speaks on a wide range of topics related to children, youth, and family ministry with a unique focus on connecting generations for discipleship within your church. Her personalized approach allows you to pinpoint the needs of your community and gain the insight that you are looking for. Whether this is a volunteer team training and pastoral staff meeting or a ministerial conference, her experience and knowledge will help you determine the next step forward in creating lifelong disciples.