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Bringing faith home

Are we exclusively outsourcing our children's faith to churches? asks Alastair Kendrew.
Family reading the Bible
Posted August 30, 2012

As a children’s ministry leader and church leadership team member, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations about ‘How can we improve the church?’

We’ve grappled with things like small groups, worship, being new-person friendly, providing a high-quality kids programme and surveying for church health.

Yet Mark Holmen, leader of Faith@Home, says we’re asking the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, ‘How can we improve the home?’

According to the Barna Group, 90 per cent of families that regularly attend church do not read the Bible or pray together. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when other studies tell us that somewhere between 69 and 94 per cent of churched children will have left the church before they are young adults.

The Search Institute surveyed young adults that remained in church and asked what major factors had influenced their faith. The key finding was that ‘Mum and Dad’ were ranked as one of the top influences by 80 per cent of these young people, with the ‘best church programmes’ down at 25 per cent. In other words, if you want a 25 per cent chance of influencing the faith of the young people in your congregation, put a big effort into kids church and youth group and leave it at that. But if you want an 80 per cent chance of retaining young people in the Christian faith, shift your focus to the home.

Of course, this principle is not new—the Bible told us about it 4000 years ago! In Deuteronomy chapter six, Moses gives his final instructions to the people of Israel. His message can be paraphrased for today:

The most important thing in life is to love God with all your heart. Do everything you can to ensure your children learn this. Model your love for God to your children. Talk to them about God throughout the day. Stick posters up around your house. Put notes in their lunchboxes. Tattoo your forehead … whatever it takes! Because when you get to the Promised Land, things will get pretty good for you and it will be easy to take God for granted. If you get complacent, you will lose this love for God (and experience the consequences).

It seems to me New Zealand is a bit like the Promised Land—and if less than 10 per cent of our church families are reading their Bibles or praying together, we’re clearly taking God for granted.

How might we change this?

I think the main thing is to shift our mindset about who is responsible for developing our faith. We often refer to this as a partnership between ourselves and the local church, but in reality, that’s more of an outsourcing arrangement where we attend church expecting that it will take care of our faith and that of any children. But the church can’t—and shouldn’t. We need to take care of our own faith, with parents taking care of their children’s faith—all supported by the church.

As Dr Roland Martinson of Luther Seminary says, ‘What we ought to do is let the kids drop their parents off at church, train the parents and send them back into their mission field, their home, to grow Christians.’

What might a church serious about partnering with families look like?

It would start the partnership when the baby was dedicated (christened), helping parents understand that if they want an 80 per cent chance of their child retaining their faith, the parents need to be the main influence.

Rather than assuming families are doing devotions together, it might hold family equipping events to teach families how, let them practise, and provide resources for them to use at home.

To encourage discussion between parents and teenagers, it might ask parents to come to the last 15 minutes of a youth group Bible study and have them talk with their kids about what they’ve been learning.  It might hold events for parents and kids to talk about sex, or provide resources to help parents discuss this at home.

Have you ever stopped to think about how your family traditions have influenced you? ‘Dads mow lawns.’ Why? Because that’s what my dad did. ‘The only presents you can open before breakfast on Christmas Day are the ones in your Christmas stocking.’ Why? Because that’s what our family did.

Well, what would happen if we could help families to start praying, doing devotions and serving together as everyday things? Those kids would likely grow up not only doing those things themselves, but also doing them with their kids. Why? Because that’s what our family did!

A small focus on equipping and empowering families could have an impact for generations to come. But Moses already told us that.

By Alistair Kendrew (abridged from War Cry, 25 August 2012, p11)