This past Sunday at Westminster we began a conversation with parents of all ages and stages about the ongoing struggle of raising families of faith in a culture which is increasingly busy and puts faith on the backburner (if not in the cupboard!) We began by sharing stories about our own upbringing – what it was like when we were kids, and who were those role models who taught us a way of faithful living. We heard about grandmothers and mothers, who faithfully dragged us out of bed and got us dressed (usually in our ‘Sunday best’) and brought us to church EVERY SUNDAY. For many of us, it was just what we did.
We also noted that when we were young, there was nothing else to do. No sports or school activities were planned on Sunday. When our friends slept over at our houses, our parents thought nothing of insisting that we all (friend included) head to church the next day. But now – with sports and travel and activities…it is no longer a choice about whether to go or not go. It is a choice about whether to go to church or go to sports, school, etc. So the battle is far different and more complicated than the battle our parents faced.
In the midst of our conversation, I shared a few bits of research. Studies show that when people who have returned to church participation as adults are asked about the main reason they want to raise their children in the faith, they cite their family of origin. That is to say, a parent’s faithfulness is the number one indicator that a child will grow to be an adult with faith.
The second reason cited (by a long shot) is a connection with a non-parent adult in the church. This means that if we put all of our energy into strong youth programs and amazing youth leaders, we are putting a lot of energy into a small return. It is actually parents who matter most in the faith development of our children.
When we begin to follow this thread, it starts to unravel a lot of our age-old assumptions and practices. For too long we have “hired out” the teaching of faith to our children, assuming that trained ministers and Sunday school teachers will do it best. We let night-time and dinner-time prayers go by the wayside as our family lives get busier and busier, thinking that our kids will learn how to live faithfully in youth groups and church school classrooms.
So this raises some interesting questions…
What if the church saw it’s goal as empowering and equipping parents to lead and teach their kids about faith at home?
What if we opened ourselves up to the idea that worship, “church school,” faith formation, can and do happen in many ways, at many times, and in a variety of settings? And instead of worrying about how we get families into the building, we helped families gather together to do those things outside of the building when it works for them?
What if we assumed that our gathering as a “whole church” would be an occasional one, but entrusted families, individuals, cohorts to teach and preach and pray on their own?
What do you think? How do you see family ministry evolving, changing? What are the challenges? What are YOUR ideas for solutions?