When Church is Optional

I recently heard a speaker refer to the “Nones” as the “new atheist.”  I quickly leaned over to my husband and said, “No, that’s wrong. They aren’t atheist. They just see belonging to a church or a denomination as optional to their faith in God.”

Now, in case you’re lost…. a “None” is someone who does not choose to affiliate with a religion. Over the last decade, there’s been a marked increase in the number of people who choose this designation on surveys, especially in the Millennial age group (18-30ish). Atheists claim there is no God, but the diverse group of Nones doesn’t say that. Rather, most say that they do believe in God, but they choose, for a myriad of reasons, not to associate with a specific religion or preference. Even those who say they believe in a Christian God and agree with the tenets of Christianity don’t want to claim a denominational affiliation.

And attendance at a church is…well, optional to their faith.

The latest Pew Research on Religion & Public Life has found that “nearly half (23% of all U.S. adults) say they have always attended religious services at least as regularly as they do now, but slightly more (27% of all U.S. adults) say they now attend religious services more often than they did at some other time in their adult lives.”

However…

Our definition of what a “regular attender” at church is probably varies quite a bit from the definition they used which was “at least once or twice a month.”  That’s right. Regular attendance at church is now defined as “once or twice a month.” To me, that is a startling definition. I can’t think of any other social institution that would count “once or twice a month” as regular attendance (unless they are only open once or twice a month). School, clubs, work, sports teams, etc. all require a much higher level of commitment to be considered members, let alone “regular attendees.”

And therein lies much of the struggle and much of the beauty of church.  

God does not “require” us to attend church to be members of his body than Jesus.  We repeatedly teach that our faith is “by grace through faith” not by works. And while we encourage the participation in the church and we teach on the importance of growing faith within community and we provide deeply needed place of connection so that we don’t walk away from God, church is a voluntary obligation and a place where we have the choice to join or not and still call ourselves a member in good standing.

Well, almost all of us. There is a group that doesn’t really have that choice.

boywithhymnalThe choice is made for them because they are young and their parents/caregivers are the ones that must bring them to church and involve them in the faith community.

The children are not given the options that we as adults are. They go where the
parents/caregivers say to go
.

So when the parents/caregivers make the church optional, the children do as well. And they can grow up and say things like, “I believe in God, but I don’t think I need to belong to a church to have my own faith.”

Regardless of feelings on this, and there are many, one of the reasons that family ministry has gained traction over the last few years is because this reality has been realized. Coupled with the fact that research both secular and religious consistently find that parents ARE the primary faith formers of their children, it has become evident that in order to reach the children, we must reach the parents.

Last year at the D6 Family Ministry Conference in Louisville, Pastor Robby Gallaty shared:”One of the biggest problems we face in the church is parents who are trying to make disciples with kids but are not being discipled themselves.

That’s what family ministry is all about.

It’s about reaching a generation of parents/caregivers, equipping, nurturing, and supporting them for the work of discipleship but not by saying, “You’re on your own. You don’t need the church.”

The purpose of family ministry is to put the church at such an integral place in the home and in the family that parents prioritize faith formation and involvement in a faith community in such a way that their children know just how much they need the body of Christ if they are to hold fast to their own faith as they grow.

Re-read that!  It is so important to understand this concept if we are going to have healthy conversations about families, and children, and church retention and attendance.

So what does family ministry really say about involvement in a faith community?

Dr. Colleen Derr, also shared at D6 Family Ministry Conference, this nugget I think we all need to grasp: “Family ministry is not ‘dump and run.’”  In other words, it’s not “Well, you are the primary faith formers so here you go, you’re on your own. Good luck with those kiddos!”

Sadly, this is a misconception that can sometimes be read into the goal of family ministry, which does put the primary discipleship responsibility in the parent/caregiver’s hands (because its already there by default), but misses the heart of family ministry, which is to work with the parents in a mutually edifying way that leads to disciple-making, not just of children, but of parents WITHIN the context of a local church body.

We are not separate from each other. We are made to be one body in Christ. As Dr. Derr shared, our job as ministers to the family is to find the “common practices, moments, and celebrations” to build upon in a way that doesn’t encourage less church attendance but rather more and more connection to the body of Christ.

 

We cannot force church attendance and/or more connection to the body of Christ. Christ won’t even force that.

What we can do is be such a pillar of support, nurture, encouragement, equipping, partnership and blessing that parents/caregivers long to bring their children to church to experience that love.

We can do that. So, let’s do that. 

Portions of this post appeared here originally last year in an article entitled, “Are We Going to Church?

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 this Blog

family

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  Seedbed

Listen to the Future

I love going to conferences for children, youth, and family ministry. Mostly because I love the energy around this particular group of people. Let me explain.

These people work with the future.

They are constantly immersed in working with “the next generation” so they are constantly thinking about tomorrow. They are constantly in prayer. Constantly thinking of the how they can better reach children, youth, parents/caregivers “so that”…

And by “so that” I mean, ministers who work with children and youth are acutely aware of the challenges that face these young people in the future.

They know the statistics about young adults walking away from the church and their faith.

They are always cognizant that their time with this generation is fleeting and that they are seed-planting for a future.

They are not only fully in the present, reaching the hearts of the church today, but they are also fully in the future, recognizing the impact they will have for generations to come.

They hold sticky hands and wipe snotty noses because one day those hands will be wiping the noses of the next generation and they KNOW that they KNOW that they KNOW that their influence will extend to that place.

They eat lunch in noisy cafeterias. They visit tired mothers holding crying infants at home. They go to soccer games and baseball games and volleyball games and countless plays and musicals and they genuinely love doing it because they genuinely care for these they serve and the many generations to come they represent.

But they are tired.

And they aren’t tired because of everything I just described.

They are tired because….they feel alone.

They see all these things. They feel so deeply the absolute depth of importance of reaching the next generation for Christ, of wrapping them in His love, and of surrounding them in meaningful relationships in the church and home… but they sense that their burden is not shared by the larger faith community. In fact, at times, it seems the larger faith community sees them merely as the quieters of the young and entertainers of the youth.

children-567567_1920In the meantime, some of the most innovative and creative and downright genius ways to build the church and grow the Kingdom of God are coming from these very people yet their voice gets unheard because, frankly, they just work with the kids.  But children’s pastors and youth ministers KNOW that 85% of new converts are between the ages of 4-14 (source). They understand that to invest today in children and youth is to grow the kingdom of God for generations to come.

It’s time we give them voice.

Senior pastors, they need to you speak the truth of their ministry from the pulpit. They must have your voice legitimizing what they do, not just asking for more volunteers, but explaining the absolute need for the church to join the MINISTRY to youth and children. To form meaningful relationships. To pray for them by name. To go to their games. To visit their schools and homes. To invite them into service at church. To give them a place of belonging to a bigger community (not just the small community of people their age they find in Sunday School or youth group).

Ron Hunter of D6 Family Ministry shared this week at D6 Family ministry conference from his book The DNA of D6 that “The most important leader for leading change in a church is the senior or lead pastor.”  Without that voice, it is unlikely that change will happen. Without that voice, the children’s minister and youth pastor will continue to work and share and guide and pour themselves out for the next generation but will continue to feel very much alone.

If you don’t believe me, go ask them. Ask them if they feel alone, tired, like their voice isn’t heard. And when they say “Yes,” ask them what you can do to help change that. Do your own research and allow the reality of the gravity of their calling within the church impact you deeply.

Then speak. Speak from the pulpit. Speak in the board rooms. Speak in the finance and budget meetings. Speak in small groups. Speak in the newsletter. Speak to the oldest. AND speak to the youngest. Tell them that you understand how important this ministry to the next generations is and embrace it as the best way for your church to grow the kingdom of God.

Church, do all of that too.

Listen to what your children and youth pastors are telling you. They have the pulse of tomorrow, the inside track on the future. Just ask them to go out to lunch or coffee with you and ask them about what stirs their heart. What is their vision? What is their burden?  And what can you do?

I almost wish I could write this NOT as a children’s pastor or family minister.

I wish I could write this with a louder voice. Because this is the raw and simple truth.   This group of ministers care infinitely more than I could put into words about the kingdom of God and the future of the church. Please hear them. And love the children.

Children’s pastors, youth ministers, and family minsters who read this – if it resonates with you – please forward to those who can join your voice at your church. And know that you are not alone!  You are joined by incredible leaders and incredible lovers of God and youth all over the world. Keep loving the next generation. Keep doing all the things because your work is not in vain and one day, those children and youth you are investing in will be the leaders, the movers, the shakers…they will be pouring into their own disciples.

Teach them well. Love them. Love God.


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 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, 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

“Are We Going to Church Today?” The new question of Sunday morning

Church attendance.

Yup, we’re gonna go there.

First the good news, because we need the good news.

Jesus is Lord. Nothing can change that.

And the church is the body of Christ, and nothing can change that.

So that alone should stir an undying hope within our souls that cannot be diminished by statistics or our negative experience. Let’s be sure to keep that focus no matter what; to magnify God instead of magnifying our struggles.

church-703512_1920But there’s more good news too!

The latest Pew Research on Religion & Public Life has found that “nearly half (23% of all U.S. adults) say they have always attended religious services at least as regularly as they do now, but slightly more (27% of all U.S. adults) say they now attend religious services more often than they did at some other time in their adult lives.”

Now for the not-so-good news.

Our definition of what a “regular attender” at church is probably varies quite a bit from the definition they used which was “at least once or twice a month.”  That’s right. Regular attendance at church is now defined as “once or twice a month.” To me, that is a startling definition. I can’t think of any other social institution that would count “once or twice a month” as regular attendance (unless they are only open once or twice a month). School, clubs, work, sports teams, etc. all require a much higher level of commitment to be considered members, let alone “regular attendees.”

And therein lies much of the struggle and much of the beauty of church.  

God does not “require” us to fill any criteria to be members of his body than Jesus.  We repeatedly teach that our faith is “by grace through faith” not by works. And while we encourage the participation in the church and we teach on the importance of growing faith within community and we provide deeply needed place of connection so that we don’t walk away from God, church is a voluntary obligation and a place where we have the choice to attend or not and still call ourselves a member in good standing.

Well, almost all of us. There is a group that doesn’t really have that choice.

The choice is made for them because they are young and their parents/caregivers are the ones that must bring them to church and involve them in church. The children are not given the choice that we as adults are. They go where the parents/caregivers say to go. So when the parents/caregivers make the choice to not attend church or to make deeper commitments somewhere else, the children do as well.

Regardless of your feelings on this, and there are many, one of the reasons that family ministry has gained traction over the last few years is because this reality has been realized. Coupled with the fact that research both secular and religious consistently find that parents ARE the primary faith formers of their children, it has become evident that in order to reach the children, we must reach the parents.

Yesterday at D6 Family Ministry Conference in Louisville, Pastor Robby Gallaty shared:”One of the biggest problems we face in the church is parents who are trying to make disciples with kids but are not being discipled themselves.

That’s what family ministry is all about.

It’s about reaching a generation of parents/caregivers, equipping, nurturing, and supporting them for the work of discipleship but not by saying, “You’re on your own. You don’t need the church.”  As the apostle Paul would say, “By no means! May it never be!”

The purpose of family ministry is to put the church at such an integral place in the home and in the family, that parents prioritize faith formation and involvement in a faith community in such a way that their children know just how much they need the body of Christ if they are to hold fast to their own faith as they grow.

Re-read that!  It is so important to understand this concept if we are going to have healthy conversations about families, and children, and church retention and attendance.

So what does family ministry really say about church attendance?

d6imageDr. Colleen Derr, also sharing at D6 Family Ministry Conference yesterday, shared this nugget I think we all need to grasp: “Family ministry is not ‘dump and run.’”  In other words, it’s not “Well, you are the primary faith formers so here you go, you’re on your own. Good luck with those kiddos!”

Sadly, this is a misconception that can sometimes be read into the goal of family ministry, which does put the primary discipleship responsibility in the parent/caregiver’s hands (because its already there by default), but misses the heart of family ministry, which is to work with the parents in a mutual edifying way that leads to disciple-making, not just of children, but of parents WITHIN the context of a local church body.

We are not separate from each other. We are made to be one body in Christ. As Dr. Derr shared, our job as ministers to the family is to find the “common practices, moments, and celebrations” to build upon in a way that doesn’t encourage less church attendance but rather more and more connection to the body of Christ.

What can we do better?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, because I think within this group of readers, there are amazing works of grace taking place that are helping families grow in ways that we all need to hear. I could list a bunch of ideas here, but honestly, I believe it is a heart thing.

We cannot force church attendance and/or more connection to the body of Christ. Christ won’t even force that.

What we can do is be such a pillar of support, nurture, encouragement, equipping, partnership and blessing that parents/caregivers long to bring their children to church to experience that love.

We can do that. So, let’s do that. 

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 

Family(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, 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