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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?

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Happy Advent, everyone.

For those of you who didn’t grow up with the Christian calendar – I didn’t either – Advent is the four-week season starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving and culminating on Christmas day. It’s a season of anticipation and waiting for the arrival, or advent, of King Jesus into the world. It is preparation for the incarnation that is celebrated on Christmas.

As a way of teaching our kids about the season of Advent – and also to teach them that Christmas is not primarily about getting a Star Wars lightsaber or a princess doll that burps after feeding – we borrowed a great idea from our friend Summer Newman called the Jesse Tree. You should read her great post about their Jesse Tree last Advent if this interests you.

We set up a little tree on our dinner table with four purple candles around it (a symbol of Jesus’ royalty). Beside it sits a our kids’ Bible and a little box. In the box is a white candle (to be lit on Christmas day), four pieces of candy (because chocolate is delicious), a lighter, an ornament for that day, and a little card with a Bible story and prayer for the day. The daily Bible stories walk through the major moves of God’s story in Scripture that anticipate the arrival of the Messiah. You can see a PDF file of the ornaments and daily prayer cards here.

Each day after dinner during Advent, we’ll open the box together, light the candles, eat some chocolate, read a Bible story that anticipates the birth of Jesus, color and hang an ornament on the tree (each day’s ornament corresponds with the Bible story), and pray together.

I think the Jewish Community is really on to something in the way they train their children in the faith with hands-on spiritual practices. It’s fun and enriching – not just for the kids, but for the parents, too.

What does your family do to prepare for the birth of Jesus in the Advent season? Share your family traditions (so we can copy them)!