Why are we still losing kids?

Although pollsters can’t seem to agree on the exact percentage of kids who are dropping out of church in the “gap” between children’s ministry and youth ministry programs, we all know that the number is high.  Too high! 

While many ministry leaders have used creative ways to prepare kids for the transition by overlapping leadership teams or visiting each other’s classrooms, for years there has been a critical element missing: relationship. But we’re not talking about “relationships” with other students and ministry leaders. We’re talking about that most significant relationship of all, the child’s personal and transformative relationship with God.

We say that “true Christians” have a “relationship with Jesus.” But let’s be honest.  For most evangelicals, “relationship” simply means some unique standing I have that will get me into heaven for free.  That kind of relationship falls far short of the intimacy that we would want with any beloved human in our lives and will never be transformative in the child’s life, nor mine.

That’s where “spiritual formation” comes in.  For a few decades, leaders and ministries have focused on equipping volunteers to teach kids about God in the most effective ways possible.  While this is good, teaching kids “about” God is only one piece of the puzzle.  Spiritual formation engages kids with God.  That’s very different.

The principles of spiritual formation are ancient and involve practices that have been exercised by God’s people before and after Jesus’ day. When we set aside time for scripture reading, prayer, fasting, solitude…in ways that slow us down long enough to listen to what God is saying…we are opening ourselves to the transformation process.

Children can encounter God personally through spiritual formation practices, too. If we trust kids to want God and we strip away a few minutes of the “noise” at church so that our students and our Lord have time to talk.

In their book, Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey, Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May share their research involving children who had engaged in spiritual disciplines in their regular children’s worship.  Sam, a five-year old boy, tells them: “He just talks! He talks to us overnight, he talks to us, he never stops!” (p. 47).

Let’s not just change the name of our Christian education and discipleship programs to go with the new trend of spiritual formation.  Let’s expose ourselves to the same spiritual transformative disciplines that helped Jesus as he grew in wisdom and stature.  Then let’s share them with our children and students, trusting that a real God can and will speak to children who can and will listen. That relationship will keep kids coming back.

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5 thoughts on “Why are we still losing kids?

  1. A fine, thought provoking word, Gordon.
    My guess is that the biggest reason children don’t get this is that most adult “Christians” don’t get it. I am convinced Satan has put us on the fast track to oblivion, content with so little of real substance because we’re overwhelmed with the burdens of the “good life.” On the other hand, there seems to be a growing number of “prophets” like yourself whose winsome warnings are heeded. I believe the key to transformation lies with parents, primarily, and other significant adults in kids’ lives who can lead by example, compassion and Holy Spirit infused words. May your tribe increase and thrive! Nancy Tichy, former missionary with USCWM

    • Thanks, Nancy. Yes, we cannot lead children (or adults) to a place we have not been. This is especially true with spiritual formation and the disciplines. As children’s ministry leaders, we need to be much more serious about who we recruit and what we do to prepare the teachers and parents spiritually. This is becoming more and more clear as our own culture becomes more hostile to Christianity.

  2. Pingback: Why is the Church Still Losing Kids? | Sites 4 Kids Ministry

  3. Thanks for this post, it challenges me about the things we do in kids’ ministry. I’m assuming that you would recommend Catherine Stonehouse’s book; are there any others that you think are important to read? Kaye

    • There are many good books on spiritual formation, but not many on children and spiritual formation. You are right, any of the books by Catherine Stonehouse and/or Scottie May are helpful, although more from an academic perspective and not too many at that. Ivy Beckwith also has a book out, but it is a bit more academic as well and looks at spiritual formation more as faith development than as transformation of the person. I would recommend you read any of the books by Ruth Haley Barton, starting with

        Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

      . Becki and I are hoping to bring out a book soon, but that doesn’t help you much now. I will be spending much more time in this blog on the topic in the future. Please keep the conversation going!

      .

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