With the elections coming up, we've been watching debates and discussing politics probably like a lot of people around the country this week. Oddly enough, our thought process went off in a tangent from national issues to one that's seriously affecting local churches.
Christian children are abandoning their beliefs as adults.
The churches are in trouble. It's not completely obvious on the surface. There are churches all over the place and they have attendance every Sunday and lots of weekdays as well. There are activities and programs and all kinds of stuff going on.
But 50% of the kids raised in these churches and attending all the special children's programs are no longer active Christians as adults. (I did some research on this and the numbers are pretty dicey, but I found an interesting Barna Group study here that talked about how kids raised in church are affected as adults - the paragraph I'm referencing is under the sub-heading "Faith Journeys" and actually sounds positive in the context of the article...but in this instance, I'm a glass-half-empty girl).
What gives? How can we be losing half the kids in church - kids of Christian parents who were raised attending church all the time?
I'm going to say something really controversial and extremely unpopular in the church today, but please bear with me.
We're losing the kids because we're separating them from their parents.
The churches - at least, all the ones I've been to in the area over the past two years in the course of some area-wide church programs - are splitting up their attending families. The kids go to Children's Church, the teens go to their own special classes, and the parents and grandparents attend the adult service. Men and women split up to study the Bible. Everywhere you turn, you find families splitting all different ways at church.
The more Ben and I watch and discuss, the more we're concluding that this has become an incredibly destructive influence the broader culture has had on mainstream Christian philosophy.
When I was little, there was a very common feature attached to most church sanctuaries called a "Cry Room". It was usually small with a couple of rocking chairs and a glass window allowing anyone inside to be able to watch and listen to the service. It was a good place for nursing moms to be able to go if they weren't comfortable nursing in the congregation, and it encouraged something very simple: even the youngest are welcome to listen in.
But even in my fairly short lifetime, something has subtly shifted in Christian philosophy and the Cry Rooms have all but vanished. It's another step in a process that's been happening over the past two hundred years or so, a process that involves something unheard-of in the past two thousand years of Christian life: children are no longer expected to be present in service with their parents in a startling majority of churches.
At the founding of our country, those incredibly dedicated Christian parents who first made it to these shores wouldn't dream of attending a church service without their children seated quietly and neatly in the pews with them. Those children grew up simply and naturally accepting the faith of their fathers in large percentages. Families that prayed together stayed together, the saying went. Parents were somehow able to learn about God with their children all seated around them because they expected nothing less. They knew how to train them not to be disruptive because there wasn't another choice.
Sometime around the invention of our modern school system, though - right in sync with the Industrial Revolution and the concept of having masses of people separated into types to accomplish specific workforce goals - came a new idea to the churches: separating kids from the parents so they could more effectively learn about God. Sunday School became just as much a fixture of church life as the Sunday sermon.
Still, as my kind elderly neighbor Bertha was just telling me this week, even when kids back nearly a hundred years ago went to Sunday school, they joined their parents for the majority of the Sunday service, including the sermon.
Not so today.
In the church Ben and I attend, the children and teenagers are present for the beginning of the service only. After the singing and the opening prayers, they're dismissed to their separate classes where various dedicated adults from the church do their best every week to present Godly principles to the kids "at their level" while their parents stay behind and hear a sermon being preached "at their level" in the sanctuary.
The more I watch this happen, the more I want to cry every Sunday when all the kids in every family get up and leave before the serious stuff ever gets started. There are only three children left in the room, and even they are only there because they're a little young to be left in the nursery (or in the case of one very outspoken little toddler, she refuses to be parted from her parents and protests loudly when they try to put her in the nursery). Other members are ecstatic about the number of children in the church. All I feel is worry and grief when they disappear. Something is wrong. Very, very terribly wrong. The services are too quiet. Half our assembly is missing; and they're missing what their parents are hearing.
Yes, I've heard over and over, "Well, the adult sermon goes over their heads." That's only true to a point. I was one of those kids once. Yeah, it went over my head for a while. But little by little, I began understanding. I knew what my parents were talking about when they discussed things they'd heard. Even if I didn't totally understand all the time, I learned what they were hearing and what they were learning. I wasn't left behind when they made decisions because I'd been hearing the whole process of how they thought and where they were coming from. I absorbed my parents' beliefs and understanding from being exposed to what they were hearing through the filter of what they thought about it. I remember being about four or five when I first grasped the concept of "atonement"...from hearing adult discussion and matching it to constantly listening to the Bible read aloud on tape. Four or five! And I'm no genius.
Jesus was not kidding when he said his Father revealed himself to little children. Little children that were given to their parents, to grow under their leadership and be taught the things their parents know and understand.
But today in church...children aren't expected to understand. They're expected to only be able to learn if they're separated from the adults, given a special lesson tailored to their age, kept out of the way so the adults can learn the really serious stuff without them.
Where did this come from? When did it become a good idea to separate whole families during the time when perhaps they should most be together? Because from what I can see of Jesus' teaching, he found it absolutely critical that the very young children be included in what his disciples thought was much too adult for the little crumb-crunchers to be wandering around. That very famous phrase, "Let the little children come to me" came about because Jesus was chastising his closest followers from trying to shut children out of their adult discussion. Every time I see the kids get up and leave, I wonder what would happen if Jesus walked into the service and looked around. Once our three little representatives have graduated to nursery and Children's Church, where would be the little fellow he could call over and use as an example in his teaching?
We think one huge factor is that Christians today are accepting a very dangerous philosophy, one Ben and I have started calling "Babel Again".
Our whole society right now is very eager to accept the idea that only by banding together as a worldwide people will we be able to achieve the great ends we believe we're capable of. We want to end World Hunger, ensure World Peace, think of ourselves as People Without Borders, change our entire planet's climate, redefine entire Human relationship structures, rise above racial differences, decide who should live or die...all things that God himself stated are his prerogative alone. So by ambitiously staking our claim on becoming a World Society, we are in essence saying, "Let's build a tower up to the sky where God lives!"
Last time we tried that, God was so alarmed by our attitude that he broke our ability to communicate as we used to. We call that incident the "Tower of Babel" story, a gigantic warning about the consequences of trying to set ourselves up as gods. It hasn't totally stopped us, though. We're still out here tower-building; and anyone who's alarmed by it is considered irrelevant because there's been a huge system setup to inexorably continue training the youngest generations how to "think properly" and totally break from their parents if they're such sticks-in-the-mud as to think maybe this or that current philosophy isn't such a good idea. Because a Global Society only works if you get a huge majority of the world to fall in line with a specific, homogenized way of thinking. Independent thinkers can destroy the whole construct; and those who believe in a God greater than any Human institution have to be silenced or made irrelevant for the Humans-as-gods dream to succeed.
Hence, massively organized school systems designed to separate children from their parents' views so they can be remolded into whatever form the system desires to create.
And we Christians, rather than being wary of going along with our society's ambitions and philosophies, are trying to take that idea and customize it to our own purposes. We're transferring the philosophies meant to indoctrinate young children into abandoning their parents' faith onto our methods of teaching the children in our churches. We're accepting a model of schooling meant to divide children from their parents for the purpose of more easily influencing them and transferring it to teaching about God. We believe that if the purpose of this style of teaching is to train kids in Christianity, the ends justify the means. The kids will be learning what they need to know regardless of what their parents think or teach...and we even think it's a plus that we have a chance to take children of unbelieving parents and pull the parents in by working with their kids. But that's worldly philosophy, not God's! God's philosophy is to work from the parent to the child, from the authority to those under the authority. The children were brought to Jesus by their parents, not the other way around.
Separating children from their parents - and even from their siblings of different ages - was a method originally conceived to indoctrinate them away from parents, not to encourage strong, vibrant families where children are in harmony and agreement with their parents and look to their authority first. We're training children to constantly look to their teachers and give them the love and respect that should only belong to parents; and by sabotaging parents this way, we're wreaking havoc in the churches. We're sowing a wind that's reaping a whirlwind and each successive generation abandoning God in higher percentages should be a wake-up call. More and more elaborate children's programs are not solving the problem of adults abandoning the faith they were brought up in. We're losing at least half of them and that is a percentage that sends a chill up my spine. It indicates that if Ben and I have two children and follow the current model of spiritual training being advocated in the churches, we stand a high chance if losing one of those children to the world. That's not a percentage we can live with. It would be better for us not to have children than accept this.
But instead of recognizing we've let the snake into the garden, let worldly ideas poison our philosophy, we just keep trying more and more fervently to make the world's methods work for us. Jesus told us pretty plainly that we can't patch an old garment with new patches. We can't serve two masters. We can't put new wine in old wineskins. We're going to simply destroy what we're trying to fix.
The problem is not the sincerity of the church leaders. It's not the fervency of their goals or the energy they put into doing their very best to teach Godliness to the children entrusted to them. It's not the parents who diligently bring their children to church every week and conscientiously keep them involved in the programs meant to keep the kids interested in God and learning about him.
The problem is no matter how good the program and how dedicated the teachers, the children are still being separated from their parents. When it comes to children and families, God's way is to join together. The world's way is to separate. God's way unites. The world's way tears apart. God says, "I hate divorce" (divorce being a separation of what God has joined together, including parents and children as well as husbands and wives). The world says, "Separation is healthy and necessary." God says, "I have called you to be set apart, a peculiar people." The world says, "Hey, using a few of our ideas will solve all your problems!"
Over the past two hundred years, Christians have accepted the "healthy necessity" of separation and the results are increasingly stark. The marriage failure rate in our churches has exploded to match that of the general population. The failure rate of children to maintain the faith they were raised in is astronomical. Even those who carry their faith into adulthood are far too often suffering a crisis of faith for some period of time that puts them in open rebellion against their parents and what they were taught to believe. Even if they recover, it's as if they suffered a life-threatening illness and often carry the scars of it the rest of their lives. This is not successfully raising up a new generation of Godly men and women. It's a deadly serious gamble.
The definition of insanity is to keep following the same methods and expect different results.
If separating the children from the parents in churches for several generations is resulting in each generation abandoning God in greater numbers, we have to do something different. Something radical. Something unheard-of.
We need to keep the kids with their parents. Abandon the separation indoctrination model. Quit worrying about sermons going over little kids' heads so they can be one with their parents in learning and talking about and finding God.
We can't afford to be insane.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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