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.

Why is a philosophy of ministry so important?

I like to start my blogs with a question, and today I really want to answer the one posed above, “Why is a philosophy of ministry so important?”

However, I realize that for some, we need to first answer the question, “What is a philosophy of ministry?”

A philosophy might be defined as “a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.” It’s what you believe about an area of study. In this case, a philosophy of ministry might be defined as what you believe about how ministry works (or doesn’t) based upon a rational, thoughtful study of the facts and known body of knowledge in this field.

But let’s take it a step further. One could say that EVERY ministry leader has a philosophy of ministry…even if that leader isn’t aware she has a philosophy or if he can’t articulate it for someone else. In fact, if you are a ministry leader, YOU have a philosophy of ministry (and even if you aren’t a leader). It’s what YOU believe about how ministry works and it’s what guides your decisions for ministry.

Let’s take a look at this in practical terms…

If you minister to children in a rural setting and you select your curriculum for Sunday school because a mega church in a city across the country uses it (or wrote it), your philosophy of ministry is that children are the same everywhere and every church setting can use the same materials. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, so your selection of curriculum may or may not be valid for your students.

If you’re a preteen leader and you start your youth group with wild games and loud music because the kids seem to have fun and be happy, your philosophy is that preteens are attracted by freedom and friends and that meeting their desires is your primary goal. Unfortunately, what some preteens want is not necessarily what they all want, nor what they most need, nor the best way to start a session.

If you teach an adult Sunday school class and you lecture your students because some of the people in your class don’t like discussing things, then your philosophy is that adults need to be taught in the way that causes the least disapproval! Unfortunately, discomfort is often the best way for an adult to be motivated to grow!

So a philosophy of ministry is essential, because if it is well-developed, it helps us apply to our own ministry the wisdom and knowledge we gain from others. As ministry leaders, it is our responsibility to make decisions based on the best information we can find, not just on what is easiest to use… or what someone else found helpful… or what “seems” to work in my church.

A sound philosophy of ministry is formed when we take time and energy to study and answer some key questions, like these:

  • How do my students learn best? (Not, how would they prefer to learn?)
  • What motivates my students to change long-term? (Not, what incentive does my co-worker use to coerce cooperation for the moment?)
  • What are the real needs of those I shepherd? (Not, what would they like me to do for them?)
  • How does God work in the ministry process? (Not, what’s the latest church growth principle?)

A philosophy of ministry is the grid through which you filter your decisions about what you do and how you do it. Make sure your grid is based on sound principles. We owe it to our students…our sheep…God’s kids!

How do preteens become missionaries? (Part 2 – Involve them)

Studies continue to show us that between 80 and 85 percent of all career missionaries make their commitment to missions before the age of 12. Preteens are ready to be challenged to make a worldwide difference for Christ!

Our job is to challenge our students by giving them opportunities to explore missions firsthand.

Involve Students in Missions

Preteens learn best by doing! So get yours involved in meaningful missions projects. Here are 12 ideas – enough for one each month of the next year:

1. Write to prisoners. Contact a chaplain or prison ministry team in your area and establish contact with incarcerated Christians. Don’t use last names and only the church address.

2. Visit a Native American reservation. These sovereign territories are spread throughout the U.S. They do not require an interpreter, but still offer a cross-cultural experience.

3. Feed the hungry. Contact shelters in your area to find opportunities for your preteens to serve meals – other than during the holidays.

4. Get professional training. Some cross-cultural missionaries within the U.S. offer daylong training seminars to help supporters understand their work.

5. Go international. Contact your local college campus ministries to find a missionary to international students. Encourage the families of your preteens to invite these students into their homes or join the group for a social event or athletic activity.

6. Go south, or north. If you are fortunate enough to live within a reasonable distance of an international border, do anything you can to cross it with your preteens. The impact is worth the effort.

7. Minister to the mentally or physically challenged. Contact your social services department for help contacting a group home in your area. Then take your students to sing, play and share with the residents.

8. Collect school supplies, cosmetics, or Christian magazines for use overseas. A variety of organizations will distribute these for you or you can make them available to missionaries your church supports.

9. Visit the inner-city. Find a needier church that you can serve downtown or one that you can partner with to execute a 5-day club or sidewalk VBS.

10. Gather toiletries for shelters. Have your preteens collect, package, and deliver soaps, shampoos, and lotions to local shelters for battered women and neglected children.

11. Share the sweetness of the good news. Layer pre-measured ingredients for chocolate-chip cookies into glass jars, attach hand-written recipes and explanations of the gospel, and give to neighbors.

12. Bring the Bible to kids. Gather crayons, markers, coloring books and Christian books. Label these with your church’s name and a greeting and then offer them to facilities where children wait like doctors’ offices and hospitals.

Since our kids want to change their worlds, we need to help them. And in doing so, we will also change their lives. Helping kids make a difference will help them cement their commitment to Christ…and to the lost and dying world He loves so much!

Join me this week at the FourFiveSix conference in Rocklin, California!

The FourFiveSix Preteen Leaders Conference is coming: April 18-20 in Rocklin, CA. And we hope to see you there!