Everywhere you look there articles, blog posts and research reports talking about the number of kids that leave the church after graduating high school. Depending on where you I have seen this number be anywhere from 20% – 30% to as high as 85%. This is a pretty high disparity in numbers.
Well, let me start by saying that being concerned with this is admirable. However, we can become so distracted by what a kid MIGHT do in the future that we fail to minister to them NOW. When we do this we, in essence, are creating exactly what we so desire to avoid. So, what do the numbers really me?
It depends on how you look at it: Currently I work full time as an ER nurse in addition to my position as children’s pastor at my church. In my ER there is a radio that the ambulances use to call us when they are bringing in a patient. On a number of occasions I have jokingly told people that if we stopped talking to the box, the ambulances would stop coming. You see, I had observed that every time the box spoke we talked back to it. And every time we talked to the box and ambulance would show up with a patient. Therefore, if we stopped talking to the box, then the ambulances would stop showing up. Of course this rational is completely ridiculous. No matter what we do with that radio, the ambulance is going to come.
What does this have to do with ministry to children and youth?
Well, there is a tendency to take this sort of approach when looking at some of this research. It’s something like this:
- “The report shows that of the people that stayed in church, 75% of them were connected with more than one adult in the church. Therefore, we must seek to have more adults involved in our children’s/youth ministries.” This is a good thing, but I’m not sure that it is the ULTIMATE solution.
- “According to the report, the people that stated in church spent most of their time in church worshiping with adults. Therefore, we must abolish all generational ministries and combine them into one worship service.” Ok, there is some value it combined worship opportunities, but it will not ENSURE that every child the comes through our ministries will stay in church.
- “Based on the results of the latest study, 98% of those that stayed in church always wore black socks when attending. Therefore, the church should supply black socks for all attendees.”
Obviously some of this is meant in jest, but you get the point. I know that many people leave the church when they graduate from high school. I know because I did. However, I also know that many of them return, just as I did. In fact not only did I return, but God then called me into ministry.
Growing up I was in churches that had “age-segregated environments” and have also spent my share of time in the “main” worship service. In fact, I came to salvation in an adult service. I was in a church where there were adults, not related to me, that loved me dearly and invested in me. I was also in a church where many of the adults made it very clear, although never spoken, that they only tolerated my presence. And even their tolerance was only because my dad was the pastor.
Clearly spending lots of time in the adults service did not prevent me from leaving the church when I graduated. Clearly having adults that invested in me didn’t prevent me from leaving the church. Likewise I would say that being in the age-segregated environments and being treated with something less that love did not CAUSE me to leave the church.
So what DID I leave the church. For me it was much simpler than all that. Life just got busy. I was 21 years old married, going to college, living in a new town, had just built a house; life was just busy.
Ok, enough rambling for today. Come back tomorrow when I share the pieces of my childhood/youth that brought me back to the church.Matt Norman
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