The Loneliest Generation and the Church’s Role

If you’ve been on social media at all lately, it’s likely that you’ve seen a story about a recent loneliness survey done by Cigna (a global health service company) that reveals Generation Z is the loneliest generation currently alive around the globe. This came as a surprise to many people who naturally assumed that the oldest generation would be the ones who experienced the greatest loneliness, not young vibrant 18-22 year olds that boast huge followings on social media and are seemingly always surrounded by people.

And that’s not all. It’s not even that the 18-22 year olds are lonely; it’s that they join nearly half of all of America in saying that they are lonely.

“The survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 years and older revealed:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).” SOURCE

person-409127_1920A couple of years ago, Pew Research released a survey that showed religious affiliation in America and it was revealed that the largest drop in church membership and attendance was in Protestant Christian churches and the greatest gain (so where those people went) was in the category of Unaffiliated, not associating with a religion or religious community.

I cannot help but see the similarities of these two surveys.

If you look up the definition for “unaffiliated” you’ll read things like, “not associated with another or others” and “not connected” and ” not a part of.” Another word for those things is “lonely” or “alone.”  If we look at the multiple studies that have been done on why there’s been a decline in the attendance of 18-29 year olds in church, they put it this way; “We don’t belong.”  

There’s a sense that there simply is not place for them any more.  

They had a place a kids in the children’s department and they had a place as youth in the youth department but as high-school graduates, they are met with a way of worship with which they are unfamiliar, a group of people they have little to no relationship with, and a myriad of other opportunities outside the church building walls that are screaming, “You BELONG Here!”

They are…Unaffiliated…Lonely

It’s not that suddenly 18-29 year olds don’t associate with religion.  44% of the Muslims surveyed were Millennials!

It’s not that 18-29 year olds don’t believe in God.  Of all the survey respondents who identified as Unaffiliated or “religious nones” only 3.1 % identified themselves as atheist.

It’s that they do not belong. They don’t feel a part of the community.  They feel alone.

And I think we, the church, must take some of the blame for that.  

Over time, we’ve created a place where we inhibit relationships and stifle community by segregating generations and dividing up spaces based on age.

We make it difficult forge a deep sense of community by limiting our interactions making the church fit within certain hours and places instead of recognizing the church is a people not a place.

We label certain things as “worship” and make attendance at those events indicative of what a “Christian” is instead of recognizing that all of life is worship and inviting people to worship is inviting them into our lives.

We’ve created a lonely place, especially for those who “graduate” from our specialized children’s and youth programs into our larger corporate gatherings where they’ve never had a meaningful conversation, built a single intergenerational relationship, or experienced a heartfelt interaction with other older members of the congregation.

It’s never been their church. It’s been their parent’s church and their grandparent’s church.  “Big” church, adult church, but not their church. 

And they feel unaffiliated. Lonely.

If we are going to reach the loneliest generation, it’s not going to be through worship styles or coffee shops. It’s going to be through community.

It’s going to be through an intentional movement toward intergenerational relationships forged through time spent together, not just inside the walls of a church building, but time spent in life being the church. It’s going to have to be “on purpose” not simply by accident or by chance.

We will need to create and cultivate the space necessary for these types of connections to be made and we will need to recognize that community is more than just people being in the same space or building together; it is a place where people feel understood and not isolated, a place where they can feel close to people because there are people for them to talk to, a place where “meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, happen on a daily basis.”

The loneliest generation needs the church to be the Church.

The Fellowship of the Believers (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 


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

EmbreeFam2017

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, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

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“It Feels Like I Belong”

The other day I was speaking with my daughter (11 years old) about our neighbors. “I really like them,” she said. “Me too! Why do you like them?” I asked. “Because when I talk, they listen to me.” she replied.

It was an interesting response. From a mom’s perspective, I thought that we, her parents, did a pretty good job of listening when she talked and I never really felt like her voice went unheard, but obviously, these particular neighbors stood out to her as unusual. So I asked her about that. Her response was convicting.

“Well, yeah, other people listen but most adults only listen halfway. They don’t really care about what you are saying. They are just polite and listen because they have to. But (our neighbors) really listen. They ask questions and they laugh and they treat me like an adult. I like being heard. It feels good. It feels like I belong.”

Her words struck me. Over the past few years, as I’ve researched and written for this blog and for classes, one theme kept coming up over and over again in regards to why young adults left the church behind when they went to college – they didn’t feel like they belonged.  They felt like they belonged in children’s ministry when they were little. They felt like they belonged when they were in youth ministry as teenagers. But once they were in “big church” they felt out of place, disoriented, like strangers in a familiar place but one where they didn’t belong.

This feeling or sense of not belonging could stem from many things.

If the only experience that children or youth have within a church is in age-segregated ministries, then the sense of not belonging in “big church” makes sense.

If children and youth do not have the opportunity to meet and interact with the larger faith community or the chance to worship with or even have their name known by the adults in the congregation, that also makes sense.

But what if the kids have been in some way a part of the corporate gathering and what if their names are known by the congregation?  Could it be possible that what we are missing is their voice?

Is there a place in our faith community where our children and youth can talk and really be heard?

Is there a space for them to know that the person or persons they are talking to aren’t just listening to be polite but listening because they care?  ‘

Do they know that they belong?

These questions, while challenging, are fair to ask. After all, Jesus tells us that we should be learning from children (Mt. 18:1-5) and that we are to welcome children (Mk. 10:13-16) but often children, even if they are included in the corporate gathering, aren’t given a chance to speak. 
microphone-1804148_1920

Last Sunday at our church, we nearly ended our service without the children having a
chance to speak, until a member spoke up at the end of service and said, “Don’t forget to let the children tell us what they learned!”  And we did. And they loved it. And I was struck in that moment to realize that, however unintentionally, we had created a culture where the children were expected to have a voice, to belong.  I wish we could say we had done that intentionally, especially as I reflect on my daughter’s words of belonging, but I’m grateful that nevertheless it is an expected part of our church plant.

That being said, I’ve served in churches of various sizes and know that space, time, and the flow of service don’t always allow for these types of promptings. Here are some ways that larger churches may want to consider creating space for the voices of children and youth to be heard.

Display their work

Children love to show off their artwork. If you’ve ever gone to a parent night at school, you’ll find the hallways filled with examples of student work and if you go with your child, you will need to find theirs and let them talk about it.

What if in church, we created the same opportunity for conversation by displaying the kid’s artwork, not in the children’s ministry wing, but in the space frequented by the adults, thus opening the door for conversation between young and old?

Give them a voice

Churches are great at making committees. Come on, you know it’s true! What if each time a committee is created or established, a “youth” chair is automatically a part of the plan?  Create a space where older youth can sit and be a part of the discussions that guide the church. Let them know their voice is a needed part of church growth and development by giving them an actual voice in those areas.

Open the pulpit

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have come from kids and youth. As children and youth pastors, we have the great privilege of hearing those stories, but often the other members of our congregation do not.

What if we intentionally invited those kids and youth who have stories to share the opportunity to share what they’ve learned with the larger congregation?  Even if it is something “we” already know? Peter tells us to “stir one another up by way of reminder” and who better to stir us up than the next generation?

Listen. Just listen

Ultimately, that was what made my daughter feel like she belonged. She felt heard. They listened. It was really that simple. If there is room for their voices, I believe the children and youth will speak. But that won’t do any good if we don’t listen. Truly listen with all that we have, not passively because we have to, but actively because we want to.

There’s no silver bullet for reversing the trend of young adults leaving the church, but there are lots of opportunities for us to improve. Listening to our children and making space for their voice to be heard could be one really big area. Let’s give them a voice. 


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

EmbreeFam2017

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, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

What the Latest Pew Research Offers for Children, Youth, and Family Ministry

This past week the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life released their newest findings on how and why people choose a new house of worship. It is a long report but I highly recommend reading the whole thing if you are someone that is interested in overall ministry within the church.

For those of us who are more specified in our interest, namely children, youth and family, here’s what I would call the Highlight Reel – the information most pertinent to these specific ministries.

1. 65% of young parents rank ministry to kids as playing an important role in choosing a new house of worship

Overall, 56% of adults who have looked for a new congregation say the quality of educational programs available for children was an important factor in their decision. Among those who currently are parents of minor children, however, about two-thirds (65%) say this. – Page 1, Pew Report

What does this mean for us?

It means that what we do matters to families that come and visit our church. In fact, this factor ranked 5th overall in importance, which is impressive considering this survey included those without children and those with grown children as well as parents of school-aged children.

2. The biggest reason to look for a new church (34%) is because of a geographical move not because of problems with their old church (7%). 

About half of Americans have never looked for a new house of worship, perhaps because they are not churchgoers or because they have been members of the same church, synagogue or mosque since childhood…They are also more likely to have lived in the same place all their life. – Page 1, Pew Report

What does this mean for us?

It means that for at least half of the children you begin ministering to at birth will remain with you into adulthood. This is why generational discipleship is SO important. Helping those children and youth establish relationships within the church with people of multiple generations is essential to creating a strong ethic of mentorship and discipleship within the church.

3. The idea of “regular attendance” is a fluid one with most churchgoers BUT many say they attend church MORE now than that have in the past 

More than a quarter of Americans (27%) say they currently attend religious services at least once or twice a month, but that there was once a time in their adult lives when they attended less regularly than they do now. And more than one-in-five adults (22%) say they currently attend religious services infrequently or never (a few times a year, at most), but that there was once a time when they attended more often. – Page 3, Pew Report

What does this mean for us?pewresearch

Perhaps this surprised you as much as it did me. We are always told that church attendance is declining in America so I was shocked to find that most evangelicals would say that they attend more frequently now than they did in the past.

That being said, the idea of attendance is quite fluid because the definition of attending regularly (in this study) is “once or twice a month.”  You read that right. Once or twice a month is now considered regular attendance. That means, for the most part, you will get to interact with those families and kids for 1 to 2 hours a month. That alone shows the importance of reaching families in their home, workplace, schools, and athletic events with support and consistent communication outside the “box” of church. Our time with is important, but it simply doesn’t carry the most weight. The other 167 hours of the week are hugely influential and we need to be there.

4. Roughly 8 in 10 of religious “Nones” or the Unaffiliated were raised with a religious affiliation

There are clear patterns in the reasons “nones” give for disaffiliating, based on how they describe their current religious identity. For example, most of those who now identify as atheists (82%) say a lack of belief spurred them to become unaffiliated. By contrast, fewer than half of respondents who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (37%) cite lack of belief as the reason they no longer affiliate with a religion. – Page 3, Pew Report

What does that mean for us?

If you are like me, your heart just broke a little. Maybe a lot. This is my why. This is what motivates me every day as I recognize that 80% of those who self-identify as “unaffiliated” were at one time part of a church or community of faith. And, a deeper study will show you, these are primarily coming from evangelical Protestant backgrounds. For more thoughts on this and on what we can do to turn this tide, please read this article regarding last year’s study released on the “Religious Nones” and this response regarding Millennials walking away from faith.

There is a lot more to be gleaned from the research provided by Pew regarding this topic but I hope what was highlighted will help us prayerfully consider who we can use the resources of time and community to help our children, youth, and families grow together as a community of faith.

Creating space for deep and meaningful intergeneration connections that extend beyond the walls of the church and the hour or two a month we might be there together is absolutely critical to helping our young people find their place of belonging within the congregation. 

For more information regarding the current landscape of the church in America, please refer to the following information provided by Pew Research.

The first report on the 2014 Landscape Study, based on a telephone survey of more than 35,000 adults, examined the changing religious composition of the U.S. public and documented the fluidity of religion in the U.S., where roughly one-third of adults now have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. The second report described the religious beliefs, practices and experiences of Americans, as well the social and political views of different religious groups. A third report drew on both the national telephone survey and a supplemental survey of participants in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel to describe how Americans live out theirreligion in their everyday lives.


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)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

Why Intergenerational Worship? And Why Now?

Recently, I’ve been asked to share some of the research and studies that I have used in writing my blogs and developing my heart for family and intergenerational ministry.  The following is a brief overview of some of the top studies, articles, and research I’ve used to formulate my ideas and share my heart with all of you.

The Research behind Intergenerational Worship

One of the first longitudinal studies done on youth in regard to church attendance post high school once the Millennial decline became apparent was done by Fuller Youth Institute in 2006-2010 and they released their findings here. Primarily, their research found three things:

1. While most U.S. churches focus on building strong youth groups, teenagers also need to build relationships with adults of all ages.

2. Churches and families overestimate youth group graduates’ readiness for the struggles ahead with dire consequences for the faith

3. While teaching young people the “dos” and “don’ts” of Christian living is important, an overemphasis on behaviors can sabotage faith long-term.

Further research showed that while there was no “silver bullet” churches that encouraged intergenerational connections and worship and youth that felt involved and connected to the larger church had a much greater chance of remaining in church post high school. (The findings can be found here).

stickfaithDr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark, authors of Sticky Faith, were among those who first influenced me to understand the of importance for intergenerational worship. In this article, Kara Powell clearly demonstrates the need for and support of corporate worship, stating ” Of the many youth group participation variables we examined, involvement in intergenerational worship and relationships had one of the most robust correlations with faith maturity.

In 2016, Fuller Youth Institute released a new study called “Growing Young” that looked at churches that were continuing to “hold onto” their young people and even grow in the Millennial sector of their congregation. One of the key reasons they found for that was “Warm intergenerational relationships” at that “involving young people in every ministry has allowed these churches to thrive with authenticity and intergenerational relationships” (Source).

Both the findings of Barna Research Group and the most recent Pew Research support the idea that Millennials often leave church because they have no connection to the larger church body, no relationships with adults outside of specialized ministry areas, and no sense of belonging in corporate worship since they’ve never or rarely attended. You can find the links to this research in the following article.

In 2010 Lifelong Faith also released a study that showed 6 key factors in young adults remaining religious (affiliated with church and Christianity) – the first three applied directly to the family but the next three to the church, specifically supportive non-parent adults and personal religious experiences in the larger church, not just in youth group or children’s church. Read more here.

In 2017, The Journal of Intergenerational Relationships explained that intergenerational relationships create essential learning environments for all generations. Specifically they find that three things are necessary for intergenerational learning, 1. There must be space to learn about one’s own generation with other generations, 2. All generations must act as learners and teachers at the same time, and 3. The learning must motivate participants towards in a particular way. (Source)

The Reasons for Intergenerational Worship

For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I am concerned when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together. As my friend Matt Deprez shares, “(I) believe in age-appropriate ministries with intergenerational opportunities.” There are many benefits to children participating in corporate worship we can’t necessarily quantify as I share here.

Additionally, it’s not just about the kids – WE, the adults, need them. Christ tells us that we must “be like children.” Matt. 18:3. But, how can we learn from them if the adult church community is never or rarely around them as I share here?

Intergenerational worship a multi-faceted issue.

Excellent resource for building relationships between generations in your church

Excellent resource for building relationships between generations in your church

Much more could be shared in terms of research and the need for corporate worship and community and what church looks like when intergenerational ministry is emphasized. Check out the book Join Generations by Matthew Deprez for some more great information on this topic.  

And every church has its own unique culture and needs to consider.  There’s no cookie-cutter model.  However I do believe that there is a bigger vision needed that includes children in worship with adults at some point and allows for relationships to be fostered between the generations, even those who don’t volunteer in kids ministry.

Some have shared with me their concern that churches are losing families and that this cannot “simply be fixed” by any one thing such as intergenerational worship.  I agree and that’s why I am a huge advocate for the equipping of parents for discipleship at home and equipping the church to be their biggest cheerleaders, constant partner, and strong support as they do so.

Most church services today are designed to reach one target audience – adults and generally, older adults.  In order to be churches that welcome children, some things might have to change; there might have to be a new “normal.”

I feel however that times of communal worship and fellowship, where kids and youth can see these things modeled for them and where church members who aren’t involved in kids ministry can see them, grow with them, and know their name is an important part of that plan.

The Heart Behind Intergenerational Worship

While I don’t feel like there’s a cookie-cutter answer for every church and there are some churches that are able to foster intergenerational connectivity without including kids and youth in the worship service, I believe corporate, communal worship is one important and overlooked tool God has given us for reaching the next generation.

Jesus modeled this inclusion of children in the larger context throughout his ministry as demonstrated in these verses where he drew the kids into his teaching time and welcomed them in his presence. family-clip-art

At the very least, intergenerational worship gives families more time to spend TOGETHER which is an endangered moment in this day and age.  One study of 4,000 families showed that on average they spent 49 minutes actually together (not in front of a screen, separated due to activities, in different rooms of a house) in a day. 49 minutes.  A more recent study from 2013 lowers that time to a mere 36 minutes per day. We could more than double that with one worship service spent together.

What better time for families to BE together than when they are worshipping God and spending time with fellow believers?

What better place to participate together in learning, growing, and discipleship than in the house of worship in the midst of the congregation?

In a world that is consistently pulling families apart, shouldn’t church be the very place we create space to put them together?

There are no easy answers.  

I don’t think there should be.  Being the church wasn’t supposed to be “easy.”

Each of us, parents and ministers, must weigh out before the Lord what is His will, using the Bible as our guide and His Spirit as our witness.  But, given what I’ve seen and the research I’ve read, I feel it is imperative that we, the Church, welcome the children into our midst as integrated members of Christ’s body and intentionally create space for them in our communal worship.

Because, as the kids at my church say each Sunday, together WE are the body of Christ.


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

Unaffiliated

A few weeks ago (May 12, 2015) the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life released the findings from its latest study.  As expected, this release brought about a flurry of blog posts focused mainly on the decline of Millennials in the church.  If you follow my blog you know my thoughts on that one, but if you are unfamiliar, feel free to read the article End the Millennial Postmortem here.

I purposely steered clear of reading the study until the buzz died down and I could read without other voices in my head telling me what to see.  I wanted to see for myself this abject decline of the church and the overwhelming gap left by Millennials who have chosen to walk away from organized religion in the form of “church.”  And, as everyone warned, I saw it.  I saw that for Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants on 16/17% of their population was made up of 18-29 year olds.  I saw that these percentages matched those of the Catholic church and the Jehovah’s Witness.

Age_Distribution_by_Religious_Group_(2014)

But I saw something more disturbing than that.  I saw that those were the ONLY religions were showing the lowest percentages.  In contrast, 34% of Buddhist were in the 18-29 age group, 34% of Hindus, and a whopping 44% of Muslims (almost half, think about that!).  The only other category that could even come close to competing with those was the new religion of “Unaffiliated” which, for the first time in Pew history, hit a high of 35%.

What’s going on?!?

It’s not that suddenly 18-29 year olds don’t associate with religion.  44% of the Muslims surveyed were Millennials!

It’s not that 18-29 year olds don’t believe in God.  Of all the survey respondents who identified as Unaffiliated or “religious nones” only 3.1 % identified themselves as atheist.

I think it’s simply that they are… Unaffiliated.

The religion that has seen the biggest drop? Christianity.   And the area with fastest growth?  Unaffiliated.

That word just makes me sad.  If you look up the definition for “unaffiliated” you’ll read things like, “not associated with another or others” and “not connected” and ” not a part of.”  I think if we look at the multiple studies that have been done on why there’s been a decline in the attendance of 18-29 year olds in church, they put it this way; “We don’t belong.”  There’s a sense that there simply is not place for them any more.  They had a place a kids in the children’s department and they had a place as youth in the youth department but as high-school graduates, they are met with a way of worship with which they are unfamiliar, a group of people they have little to no relationship with, and a myriad of other opportunities outside the church building walls that are screaming, “You BELONG Here!”

They are…Unaffiliated.

And in the words of one of the most noted Millennial bloggers (Rachel Held Evans), their generation is “struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong.”

And I cannot help by look at my daughter, getting ready to enter middle school, and think, “What about you?  Do you feel like you belong in church? Do you feel like you are a needed part of the body of Christ? Do you know that you are necessary?”

I look at my 9 yr old little girl and I pray, “Lord, let her know her voice is important.  The church needs her smile, her songs, her prayers and her love.  Let her understand that she doesn’t need to search because she belongs.”

And I look at my “baby” my 4 yr. old son whose name means “wholly devoted” and I hold him and ask him, “Who loves you?” and he says, “Jesus loves me” and I say, “Always and forever…you belong.”

Because if you feel like you don’t belong, if you feel like you aren’t needed, it’s very easy to become…Unaffiliated.

And that’s on us, Church.

So find the kids in your pews.  Find the little ones in Sunday School.  Find the middle schoolers in your youth room and your high schoolers in the worship band.  Find them, welcome them, engage with them, invite them, listen to them, and make sure that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are members of Christ’s body and they most certainly belong.

And more than that, make sure your actions match your words.

Give them the chance to serve in ministry.  Let them share what God is speaking to them.  Let them lead you in worship and read to you the Scriptures. Incorporate them into the very fabric of your local body until not just they, but you, know that without them, you’d be incomplete.  Until each generation is convinced that they are exactly where they belong…in the body of Christ.  Connected to Jesus and one another in the bond of love and community; not alone, not disconnected, not removed…a part of a larger whole… Affiliated.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Are We Starving Our Kid’s Spirits?

“Mom, I’m STARVING!”

The battle cry of every tween and teen as they declare war on our cabinets can render our grocery budget decimated in a matter of seconds.  And to an extent, we’re okay with that because, we get it – they are growing and they are hungry. As a parent/caregiver we make sure that they have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to call home.  It’s what we do.

We also drive them to ball practices, get them up for school, help them with homework, watch their recitals, host their sleepovers and kiss their boo-boos.  We hug them when they are sad and hug them when they are happy.  We take care of all their needs because…it’s what we do.

We take care of their body.  We nurture their mind.  But…there’s one more important part we sometimes neglect.  Their spirit.

I once heard a youth pastor share this thought-provoking concept, “Kids are made up of three things; mind, body, spirit.  Equal parts of each form who they are.  But parents tend to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure their body is cared for with food, shelter, clothing and exercise and their mind is engaged with good schools, good curriculum and good grades but very little time researching and engaging with their spiritual side.”

Let’s for a moment just assume we are equal parts mind, body and spirit.bodymindspirit

Would one meal a week be enough to sustain your body?  Would one hour of sleep or one hour of exercise be enough to keep it healthy?  Would one hour of schooling give you the knowledge you need to survive and navigate this world?  One book read? One lesson learned?

And yet, statistics show that on average children who attend church regularly only attend 1 or 2 times a month for a grand total of about 40 hours in a year. Contrast that to 1,080 in school, 2,920 hours of sleep, 1,095 meals consumed, and 2,786 hours spent engaged with some sort of media (8-18 year olds).

Clearly, if we are going to nurture the whole person of our children, we CANNOT rely on the church alone to be the sole means by which they connect with God.  It cannot be the only place that the Bible gets talked about if we believe that the Bible nurtures their spirit or as David says, “Your word is the source of my life” (Psalm 119:114). It cannot be the only time that faith formation happens, that discipling takes place, that mentoring relationships are developed and that worship takes place.

If it is, then our kids are starving…spiritually anemic.

Parents will go to great lengths to develop a skill or ability in a child.  Travel ball is a tremendous commit of time and financial resources for any family, but sacrifice is made if a child is deemed talented enough.  Scholastic achievement is hard work and takes time and intentionality but often the space, time, and encouragement is given to bring about that success.  Hobbies are nurtured.  Gifts are called out. Time is given.

And I’m not hear to condemn or to condone.  I’m simply asking this: In the midst of all of our care of the mind and the body, have we neglected the spirit?  Have we assumed that mere exposure at church a few times a month is enough to develop the spirit and sustain the life of Christ in a child’s heart as they grow into adulthood?

There are many reasons out there about why young adults are walking away from the church as they grow older.  I think this is one of them.  Their spirits were starving.  They found sustenance elsewhere.  As church attendance declines, social entrepreneurship has exploded – the spirit is being filled through the act of serving others.  The same young people who are leaving church are creating business that are “driven to produce measurable impact by opening up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged.”

That’s what the church is supposed to be doing.

Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
    and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
    and to defend the needy and the poor. (Pr. 31:8,9)

We are made in the image of God. Our spirit was breathed into us by God himself.  It does not surprise me then that if our spirit is starving it will seek out something that looks like God to fill it.  Social entrepreneurship provides a platform for spiritual needs to be satiated through the acts of Love that are in us because we are made by and for Love.  But social entrepreneurship cannot fulfill the deep spiritual needs.  It can only go so far.

But for many, it is enough to satiate a starving soul.

It’s enough for me as a parent to give pause.  Am I expecting too much of those moments in church?  Do I expect that my kids time in worship and with their small group to be enough to satisfy their soul?  Or am I creating an atmosphere of intentional faith formation and Christian service in my home so that those remaining 1,934 hours can be hours where their spirit is being fed and filled.

There’s no silver bullet to ensure your child’s faith is engaged.  As a mom myself, I so wish that there was.  But there are a few things recommended by Fuller Youth Institute specifically feed their spirit.  Things that will take time and intentionality and in some cases mean we need to sacrifice our money and our schedule to ensure they happen but things that will ensure your child is well-fed, body, mind, AND spirit!

1. Find ways for your kids to serve – There’s a reason why we are seeing the trends we are; service connects our spirit to our faith.  Look for ways to get your kids being the church not just going to church.

2. Let them ask questions – Look, everyone has questions and doubts and fears.  Deflecting doesn’t help them at all. Engaging can lead them to Christ.  If help is needed, that’s what your ministers are for – use them.

3. Don’t neglect the gospel – Ultimately, our spirit is only filled with we are in communion with Jesus. As Johnny Johnson of Fuller Youth Institute shares, “Children are concrete thinkers and teaching the do’s and don’ts is easier than trying to teach something as abstract as grace.  When we do teach the moral side of Christianity, we have to be careful to explain why we live that way: Because of Jesus. And out of gratitude for God’s grace. More importantly, our children need to see the gospel lived out in our lives.” Model discipleship and growing faith in your own life. Dr. Christian Smith of Notre Dame has studied teens and religion and concludes that “the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parent.”

We love our kids.  That’s why we do all those things we do. In our heart to see them succeed and grow up healthy and happy, let’s make sure that we don’t neglect the eternal part – feed their souls, give them Jesus, every single day.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

End the Millennial Postmortem

Every few weeks I see a rash of “Millennials Leaving the Church” and “How to Get Millennials Back” articles make a run on Facebook.  They get lots of “likes” and lots of attention and foster lots of “Well, I think…” discussions.

And I am so tired of them.

I know that sounds terrible.  It sounds like I don’t care about the Church or about Millennials.  And those two things couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I care deeply about both.  But I am tired of all of the talking and analyzing and bemoaning and wooing and attention that is being placed on this one group.  It’s as though this topic has become the newest Christian distraction.  Wanna be relevant?  Millennials.  Want to be authentic? Millenials. Wanna be incarnational? Millenials.  Want to revitalize? Millenials!

Meanwhile, I go to church every Sunday and are met with a group of people that are actually IN my church.  A group of people who are NOT Millennials.  A group of people who are excited about Jesus and church and the Bible and the small groups and Sunday school.  I don’t think we have a catchy name for their generation yet; most of us just call them kids.

While we are busy trying to figure out how to get the Millennials back in our pews, we have the eyes of an entire generation looking to us to keep them in the pews.  They haven’t decided yet that church is too showy or too traditional.  They don’t know the difference between being seeker-friendly or missional.  They have no idea what liturgy, sacraments, theology and denominations are and they are not likely to critique whether or not the music is too loud, too upbeat, too slow, or too quiet.childchurchThey are looking to us for one thing – they want to be seen, they want to be loved, they want to belong.

Because children don’t need convinced that God is love and that He loves them.  You tell them, they believe it.  But they do need to see that love lived out in us. They need to see a group of adults who don’t just say, “Eh, they’re kids.  They don’t get it” but instead say, “Oh, they’re children!  They are the ones that get it!”  As Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me.  Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” (Luke 18:16 NLT).  They need the Church to engage them today so they are not disengaged tomorrow and following the Millennials the next.

Recently, I was able to hear Reggie Joiner, author of Think Orange, share at a conference where he said, “No one should feel more welcome at a church than a kid.  It doesn’t matter if they are a screaming baby, a whiny kid, a stinky middle schooler, or a annoying teenager; if you welcome them, you welcome God.” Think about that for a minute.  Really give that some thought.  What if… what if we did that?!?

Would your church look different if that was how you headed into each and every service, prayer time, worship gathering? If you knew, Jesus himself was going to walk through your doors, how would you react?  Would anything change?  Because Jesus himself said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” (Mark 9:37 NLT).

Come on Church!  We need to STOP! 

We need to take a deep breath, shake our heads and open our eyes to the generation right in front of us.  The Millennial postmortem has to stop.  The generation that is in our hands right now are NOT them and even if we could definitely say, “Here it is – here’s the magic bullet, the place where we went wrong” and we fixed it, WE COULD STILL LOSE THE KIDS!  Because they aren’t themThey are who THEY are.

There a many lessons to learn from those who have chosen not to walk away.  We’ve learned that kids who interact with their parents around faith in their home are much less likely to leave the church.  We’ve learned that kids who are able to engage in service and actively participate in the ministry tend to stay involved as they grow older.  We’ve learned that young people who have meaningful relationships with engaged adults in the church create ties that lead to discipleship and faith that sticks. (For more on this, click here)

So, now it’s time to do those things.  We’ve got a live body; a growing, breathing, beautiful, alive generation walking into church, not as much as we’d like (average attendance for most “churched” kids is 1-2 times a month, and that’s linked directly to parental attendance) but they are there.  Let’s keep them there Church! 

Parents, talk about faith at home like their faith depends on it…because it does.

Church, allow your children and young people to be in ministry, to lead the church in worship, share Scripture, pray, serve, and grow with you.

Adults, know the names of the kids in your church; pray for them, go to their ball games, cheer them on with their studies, and worship with them every chance to get.

Walk away from the postmortem.  Embrace life – welcome the children; welcome God!


Looking for practical ways to engage and connect with that next generation?  Check out this post on  5 strategies for refocusing on them!

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

5 Ways to Refocus on the Next Generation

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone points out a problem but offers no solution. And I kinda did that.  My last blog post about Millennials leaving the church and the need to refocus on the next generation came out pretty strongly advocating a change in perspective and strategy but offered no new perspective or strategy.

Lest I become what I dislike the most, here are 5 ways the church, and by that I mean you as a member of the body of Christ, can engage and fight for the rising generation of young believers.

Build Relationships – In as study done by Fuller Youth Institute into what helps young people to “stick” to their faith and adultchildchurch, the top stickiness factor was meaningful relationships with involved adults in the congregation.  Adults that show up to ball games, ask about schoolwork, pray with them about decisions and most importantly, know their name.  Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark in their book Sticky Faith recommend a “sticky web” of 5 adults in each child’s life to solidify connection to the church.

Disciple Parents/Caregivers – The Millennial generation who didn’t leave the church are bringing their kids with them each Sunday and dropping them off at Sunday school just like their parents did when they were little.  Since discipleship in the home was not encouraged and resourced as they were growing up, these parents have a belief that Sunday school and Wednesday nights are enough to instill faith in their kids just like it was for them.  But the truth is, that’s not enough.  Neither is it biblical (see God’s heart for the family through Scripture here).  If we want our kids to grow up knowing that faith is not compartmentalized and only applicable in a church setting, then we need to equip our parents for discipleship in the home.  Just saying, “You should do this” is not enough.  They need training, equipping, mentoring, resources and prayer.

Encourage Service – A recent survey by National Studies of Youth and Religion indicated that when teens were asked about what it meant to be a Christian, they listed actions not beliefs such as “serving at the food pantry, going to church, and helping neighbors in need.”  John Roberto of Lifelong Faith states, “Both children and adults are more likely to have a growing, strong faith when their family serves others together. When parent and child/teen together perform service activities, the child/teen sees the parent’s capability, faith, and values in action. The cross-generational bond takes place not only in the service event, but also in the retelling of the event through the years.”  Combining faith and service creates long-lasting impressions about what it means to “be the church” on our children.

Involve All Generations – Dubbed “intergenerational” or “cross-generational” ministry by family ministers, this aspect of

Excellent resource for building relationships between generations in your church

Excellent resource for building relationships between generations in your church

church encourages the worship and service of all members of the church community to engage in life together.  One unintended consequence of the emergence of Sunday schools and youth groups was creating age-segregated, silo ministries that operate separate from each other and disconnect members from the body.  This can lead to younger generations not knowing where they belong in church once they “graduate” from youth group.  Involving all generations in service, worship, and community creates a landscape of belonging across ages and cultures in the church.

Pray… and then Pray some more – A battle is being waged for the hearts of children.  It is a battle that has been waged for years and years.  Children have been enslaved, sold, neglected, murdered, and targeted since the beginning of time.  We cannot ignore the fact that children are the future and their very souls are being sought after by spiritual forces, media hounds, and cultural foes that will not relent. So we cannot relent.  We cannot turn the discipleship of our children over to this world.  We must fight for their souls, hearts and minds by praying for them, praying with them, and praying over them “without ceasing.”

Whether you are a parent or a minister, I truly believe a concerted effort to engage in these practices and focus our attention on strengthening the home as the primary place of discipleship and the church as a community of mentorship and service will lead to a generation that will stay connected to their faith, regardless of where life takes them.

And it starts the moment they are born, not when they are in youth group or graduating and leaving the church.

What we do today with our infants, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary kids will determine the types of blogs we will be writing 15 years from now.

I pray with all my heart we are not doing postmortem on this generation like we are on the Millennial one.  I pray that instead we are celebrating a resurgence of faith, service and community in our churches worldwide.  That, my friend, is worth fighting for.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.