Recently I read an article entitled “The #1 Reason Why Students Leave the Church Could Surprise You.” The title is click bait for sure, but for good reason — many people realize that students are leaving the church at an alarming rate. In fact, the 20-year youth ministry veteran interviewed in the article mentioned that good research indicates that at least half of students leave church and faith in young adulthood.
Something about the way most churches approach student ministry isn’t working.
What was the youth ministry veteran’s #1 reason?
The number one reason, in her words, was lack of intergenerational relationships. Connections to people who were not in the same age or generational bracket.
Indeed, it takes a village to raise children. Instead of thinking about how many kids per adult in youth ministry, churches needed to think about how many adults per kid. Research shows that relationship with 5-6 adults is a significant marker for continuing faith in young adults.
This is why the extended family, missional community environment is so important for developing kids spiritually. It’s there that they see faith practiced and embodied by adults and different generations. It’s also why our missional community has “all together” conversations about the Bible at least once a month, where adults and kids come together to talk about following Jesus at a level that’s accessible to everyone. The adults serve as mentors — spiritual aunts and uncles — to the kiddos.
There’s a story about Jesus in the gospels where his disciples are bickering about who is most important. He overhears them and then challenges them by putting a child on his knee and saying, “You have to become like a child to enter the kingdom of God. Whoever welcomes children welcomes God.” Jesus called his disciples to humble themselves and become servants. He knew that welcoming children was inherently stretching and humbling for “big people”. There was nothing prestigious about serving children.
The great thing about Jesus is that he never asks his disciples to something that he hasn’t first done himself. The truth is that we are all like children — we are often weak and helpless; we need someone to give us wisdom and resources; we need to be cared for and rescued and protected. So God in Jesus…
…made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil 2:7-8)
And so we welcome children, we serve children, we invest in children — because God in Christ first welcomed us as children.
By doing so we are raising up a generation of kids in the way of Jesus. All of us have a part to play, whether we’ve got kids of our own or not. We are all aunts and uncles and grandparents to kids in our missional community.