Learning Faith -Part 2

This is part two in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part one here, and stay tuned for part three.

Shoveling Dirt, and other spiritual lessons

So, we have seen how the Bible is pretty clear about the importance of passing on faith memes, in order to cement and pass on our rich Christian faith and heritage.  We have seen how in the past Israel’s neglect of this duty led to apostasy, syncretism, and moral decline.  The next obvious question is, “So how are we doing now? Are we passing on these memes?”

I contend that we aren’t.

OK, that seems a bit harsh.  Yes, there are Christian children and teens who are growing up with a deep faith.  There are young people learning how to lead worship services, run ministries, and do evangelism.  But there are also ridiculously high numbers of men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are leaving the church, never to return.  The percentage of Americans who are claiming an allegiance to Christian faith is declining, and the socio-political influence of Christianity on Western culture is undoubtedly in retreat.

A large reason for this according to the book Essential Church, is that many Americans (This book deals with American church statistics, although I would contend that this holds true in other Western countries) see the Church as an institution that is not essential to their lives.  They see the ceremony and programs, and can’t find a vibrant and valuable relationship with God happening.

More anecdotally, in 14 years of youth ministry I have noticed a growing loss of biblical literacy within the next generations of the Church.  There is also a lack of practiced disciplines of faith in these generations.  Many teens know each and every part of the church service, but don’t have any understanding of fundamental elements of Christianity.  This is not something I have noticed as tied to a particular church or denomination.  It is much more of a cross-section than that.

To take a small detour:

After I take a shower at night, I use a squeegee to wipe down the walls.  This helps keep my shower from getting mold and mildew.  But that isn’t really the reason I do it.  I use the squeegee because my grandfather did the same thing.  He had a squeegee in his shower and I heard him use it after he finished with his showers.

Every time I sweep the grass clippings off of my sidewalk I hear his instructions in my head.  When I sort laundry I hear my Mom’s voice, and when I spell Renaissance, I hear my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Maddox.  I am who I am because of those people’s example in my life, and not just in instructional ways.

I read my Bible because I know that God grows me through that communication channel, and He makes me more like Him.  But every time I open my Bible I remember my Grandad with his Bible open on his desk, and all of the highlights and notes he had put in it.  In case I ever forget, I have his Bible on my shelf.  It is one of the few things of his that I have.  In it is a picture of generations of my family together at a family reunion.  My Mom was pregnant with me, her only child.

My grandfather obviously had a mental connection to reading his Bible with the faith strain running through the generations of our family, and that connection has passed on to me.  It is a meme.  It is good.  It is the plan of God.

These things came to my mind recently as I was moving a large amount of dirt in a pile with one of the students in my High School group.  He is a good kid—a little squirrely—but a good kid.  He has a good dad.  But as we shoveled dirt, he needed me to explain how a shovel is used.  I didn’t mind explaining.  He responded by saying that he didn’t know, because he never did these things with his father.  I told him that his dad was a busy man with too much on his shoulders, and that is true.

The point of this is that things even as rudimentary as shoveling dirt have to taught, and that requires things like mentoring.  Boys and girls learn how to be men and women by watching their parents, teachers, and mentors, and by doing things alongside them.  How much more is it important to instill things of faith to your children?

3 thoughts on “Learning Faith -Part 2

  1. I always find those Barna stats a little… questionable. We always here that 80% of the people in church don’t do anything, most people that go to church are Biblically illiterate, probably have never really understood what Christianity is, probably are just going because of tradition or because their parents went, etc… and then we are like “Oh, no! They are leaving!” And also throw in that mix that most younger churches don’t even count attendance or report to anyone their numbers… I don’t know if we have any real way to gauge what is happening in the Church in America.

    But we do see people leaving, but I don’t think we get why. My opinion is that most churches only care about people that are coming and going, and not the people they already have. We have all of these elaborate studies about people leaving, and all of these elaborate programs to greet visitors, to make them feel welcome, etc. Once they are in, we try to get them in leadership or some other form of involvement. Once they do that…. nothing. Our church right now spends more time devising plans to get visitors and new people than they do making sure their leaders are covered and cared for. Katie and I went for over two months this year without hanging out with a single person from church. We went to plenty of meetings and small group gatherings and large church events, but as far as hang time with friends.. nothing. We are kind of almost regretting getting in to leadership – more people called us up to hang out when we did nothing and they were trying to recruit us. We usually try to initiate with people ourselves, but with this whole baby thing, we are kind of overwhelmed 🙂

    As leaders, we are expected to cover others, and we do try to do that. But who is covering us? The church spends more time on greeting visitors and having meetings with visitors and all that than they ever do with us – and most of those visitors just visit and never come back. This sounds whiny, but it is really just an observation I have noticed in every church we have been a part of. I guess that leadership community thing is an attempt to make up for that? I have been three times and still don’t see the point.

    Or here is another example: this week in church, a friend came up and said hello to me. I got a generic hows it going, nothing else beyond that to indicate that he was really that interested in talking to me, and the conversation hit a lull. He then started getting intensely interested in some people in the row behind me he had never seen before. Like, the next 5 minutes were consumed with him trying to figure out who they were. And they were sitting with a couple from church who had been there since the beginning, so I am sure they were being greeted. But this friend of mine, who leads a small group with me, was more interested in getting to say hi to a visitor than getting to know me more, or even going to talk to other people in the small group sitting around us.

    My point is – why do we spend so much time on visitors, when only 10% or so will ever become productive parts of the Church? They say nearly half of the lay leaders in a church will burn out in 2 years and leave. Some food for thought.

    I have honestly never met anyone in Church that doesn’t know we need to pass on what we have learned to others. The problem more seems to reside in not building up your core people enough in small groups by focusing too much on programs and visitors and other things that really just don’t build the kingdom.

    (Oh, and a related side note, referencing something said at church this week: church meetings build the Kingdom as much as baptisms! Crazy Charismaniacs! 🙂

  2. Matt,

    Wow- I am sorry to hear how you are feeling about this. It hurts my heart to hear that you guys are feeling this way. No one has ever mentioned that they thought we have focused too much on visitors to the detriment of those in our body already, although I never doubt that that happens. I really assumed that you were so plugged in to the young families small group that you had no extra time.

    The truth is, we need to be very good at both welcoming new people, and keeping those we have. It has been said that the Church needs to have a giant front door, and a very small back door. In regard to your story, I have been bothered by the cavalier nature of our fellowship, a bit. Sometimes being relaxed and casual results in some rude and impolite behavior. I know that usually these actions are not intentional, but people don’t realize sometimes that others may be offended by their “casualness.”

    In reference to my post: I wasn’t really referring as much to our evangelistic efforts, as I was focusing on educating the next generation of Christians who grow up in the faith.

  3. Yeah, that was what I got from your post – how to educate the next generation of Christians. I have a tendency to go on tangents.

    I do have to make an amendment – we were a part of one church that didn’t focus much on visitors, and it was the fastest growing church we had ever been a part of. Started with 400 or so people total and grew to over 1000 in less than a couple of years. But there were no greeters, no ushers, no information for visitors, not really even a defined method for how to become a member. There also wasn’t a church building, so we met in where ever we could rent for the week. Very under the radar church, but we grew like crazy.

    It was basically all because of the home groups. People invited their friends, family, co-workers, etc to those, and people liked it and stuck. They would become Christians and then start attending the Sunday morning service. I think the church really didn’t focus much on visitors because 99% of the people that walked in the door for the first time on Sunday morning were already plugged in.

    After 9/11, two of our missionaries were thrown in jail in Afghanistan and that brought a bunch of attention to our church. After that they added greeters and all that, but they kind of just stood there awkwardly handing out programs. I mean, once you hit a couple thousand people, there is no way to tell who are the visitors that week 🙂

    The interesting thing is that this model is being reproduced all over the U.S. and world (http://www.antiochcc.net/missions_ministry.php?id=3) – kind of unintentionally – and is really working. It is not like they tell all of the church planters to have a small front door, but most of the people that go out were around from day one and they just follow the same path that they were a part of. Which means having a small front door – you get people involved in small groups first, then the larger church.

    I just read where only 12% of the first time visitors to a church come back the next week. 20% if you are really, really good at welcoming visitors. I just don’t think focusing on visitors will ever really grow a church that much. Here is some interesting reading on that: http://www.smallgroupministry.com/article.asp?ID=800

    “Much church-growth thinking concentrates on attracting a crowd. I think Larry Osborne, in Sticky Church, is right in suggesting that the fastest path to growth is to concentrate on the core people in your church.”

    As far as us being plugged in, the problem really lies in that our small group never really hangs out that much. We try to, but everyone is just too busy with so many other activities at church – mens/womens stuff, book studies, this or that meeting, etc, etc. All of these activities just compete for people’s time, but since they are run at the church level instead of the small group level – they just compete with people’s time and relationships in the small group suffer. That is something we constantly hear from people in small groups: too many programs/events/things at church, too little time to form deep relationships in small groups.

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