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What’s the Stink? What deodorant and discipleship have in common

I was lamenting to my husband the other day on a walk that sometimes I feel like the work I do with ReFocus isn’t taken seriously, especially by those is pastoral leadership, namely senior pastors and church boards. “Children’s pastors get it! Youth pastors understand! But I feel like everyone else just writes off the work of generational discipleship as not being worth their time, money, or energy” I complained.

My husband is a pretty smart guy and he runs a successful small business so I figured he’d offer some nuggets of wisdom. He dropped a whole 10 piece with fries instead! “What’s the stink?” he asked me. I was confused. Then he shared the story of deodorant.

Do you know that deodorant is a fairly new thing? It was officially invited in 1888 by Enda Murphy who discovered that she could target the bacteria that made us stink rather than just cover it up with perfume. But her invention wasn’t super popular. Why? Well, mostly because people didn’t know they needed it. You see, everyone was fairly used to the smells that surrounded them and the people they were with, so they didn’t feel the need to cover it up. It’s like a fish swimming in water – the fish don’t really *see* the water until someone points out that they are surrounded by it

And that’s what happened. A brilliant marketing campaign decided to “show” people the water. They started telling people that, well, that they smelled bad. And people believed them! Between 1942 and 1957, the market for deodorants increased 600 times. That’s an incredible market growth. And today, everyone I know uses deodorant. In fact, everyone I know has a favorite deodorant.

What does that have to do with generational discipleship? “What’s the stink?” he asked. “Declining church attendance.” I answered. “No,” he said, “Everyone knows that. It’s not the stink they can’t see. What’s the stink?”

“We are not making disciples.”

Hard stop. That’s the stink. And it feels like so many in the church, even those who serve in leadership in the church, are seemingly okay with this. So much effort is put into programming and buildings and worship and lights and technology and all the things. But this is the heart of the issue. And it stinks. It stinks mostly because this is the heart of our calling as believers – “Go therefore and make disciples” Matthew 28:19. (What is discipleship? Check out this blog post for my thoughts on that important question!)

The call to make disciples isn’t a new one. It is as ancient as the Christian faith, given by Christ himself before His ascension into heaven.The journey of a disciple isn’t a new phenomenon. Christian Scripture and history are both filled with stories and testimonies of people who have come to know and follow Christ, from young to old, from all over the world

But here is what is new.

Last year, Barna Group has completed a study focused on children’s ministry and discipleship and here is what they found:  It wasn’t enough for a child to be simply be involved in children’s ministry at their church in order to engage in the formative practices and meaningful characteristics of a disciple. There needed to be more, another integral step, another piece to the puzzle: Relationship.

They discovered that when kids have a meaningful relationship with an adult in the church, they are twice as likely to have an ongoing relationship with the church.They are three times more likely to be engaged in Scripture including understanding the metanarrative of Scripture and integrating biblical principles in their life. They are twice as likely to say church matters to them, three times as likely to see church as a highlight in their week, and three times as likely to read the Bible on their own.

Barna Group, 2023

The conclusion drawn by the researchers at Barna Group? (and I quote) “The meaningful relationships individuals have as a children fundamentally influence the stability of their future faith.”

Now, here’s the reality check: Only 2 out of 5 kids in children’s ministry have a positive, meaningful relationship with a mentoring adult.

Two. Out of Five. That’s only 40% of kids in children’s ministry at a given church.

Even more telling than that. Only 53% of churchgoing adults identified “Have a loving, caring relationship with an adult” as an outcome for children’s ministry (75% of ministry leaders agreed). That means half of adult church members and three quarters of ministry leaders did not see developing a meaningful relationship between younger and older generations as an identifiable goal and desired outcome for ministry to children.

The call to make disciples has always been here. Our children have always been here. Paul spoke directly to them in the letters he wrote to the church. Jesus put a child in the middle of all his disciples and declared the least to be the greatest in the kingdom of God.

It is time to take radically the call to make disciples.

It is time for us to create spaces and make room for children and youth and young adults to grow with us, worship with us, learn with us, serve with us, laugh with us, cry with us, question and doubt and argue and debate with us, to be in relationship with us so as to become disciples of Jesus with us.

If we are not cultivating spaces in our churches and faith communities for our youngest and our oldest and all the generations in between to develop meaningful relationships in community and learning, we are missing out on our call to disciple-making.

It’s not new but it is time for us to take action. It’s time to identify the stink and put our time, energy, and effort into the actual cause instead of applying the perfume of stage lights and fun programming. Connection – relationship – discipleship. That is our deodorant. It’s time to go and make disciples.


Vacation Bible School is often one of the highlights of the church year. It’s fun! It’s loud! It’s got snacks! But over the years, more and more churches have been wondering, “Has VBS run its course? Is it effective? Are we reaching our community?”

Let’s imagine a different kind of VBS.

Imagine the entire family moving through a faith experience together; playing games, building crafts, maybe even a short parent training on faith formation at home… all happening at one of your cherished church events – VBS!!

Now imagine a tool that helps make it all possible. Welcome to the Family VBS Curriculum Adapter!

This resource will go LIVE on Thursday, February 1, 2024. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and website for ways to purchase!


Welcoming all ages into worship spaces together can be an incredible blessing but it is not without challenges. One concern is that including younger generations simply means including them in the space but without including them in actively participating with the worship experience and larger church community.

What are some ways that we can help all ages to actively engage in worship together, in community sharing, and corporate gatherings?

ReFocus is hosting this online roundtable discussion for anyone interested in exploring how to cultivate an intergenerational actively-engaged church and how active participation vs. passive observation can inform our approaches to intergenerational faith community.

Reserve your seat at the table here

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.

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We're made for connection. What is keeping us apart?

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