Monday, July 28, 2014

And Out the Door They Go

I stood I the foyer as kids and parents walked through the main entrance of the church. The kids stopped off the VBS check-in table where they answered a few questions and then made their way into the auditorium. The parents stood in the foyer with me for a short time, watching to see that their kids got to where they needed to be. They talked with a few of the other people in the foyer. But then, they turned, walked back through the crowd gathered around the check-in table and out the door. They would return a couple hours later to collect their kids.

Missed Opportunities

Time and time again I saw this scene repeated with family after family. This is the age group that we’re not reaching. When you look at our church attendance and when you look at the professions of faith in our church, you see a gap between the young and the old. It isn’t that we don’t people in this age group, but the numbers are down in comparison to other age groups.

Some people say that young adults just aren’t interested in church. That’s one way to look at it, but I saw these people bringing in bags of clothes and canned goods to donate to Texas Baptist Home for Children. These people gave their kids money to give for the cause. That doesn’t seem like “lack of interest,” but they turned around and walked out the door.

What I find disturbing is that we got these people through our front door and they didn’t stay. Let me repeat that. We got these people through our front door. But where are they now? We talk about people who wouldn’t darken a church door. These aren’t them. We got them inside, but couldn’t keep them.

Baby Sitters and Social Clubs

Realistically, many of the people who came and left attend other churches on Sunday. They brought their kids to VBS because we invited them. But to me, it highlights a problem. We want to reach kids and teens, so we have programs for them. We have this idea that we might reach their parents by reaching the kids. The problem is that these parents don’t see it that way. These parents see value in these kids programs because it teaches their kids about God, or because it is a free babysitter. While we’re teaching their kids about God, they may be at Wal-mart doing the weekly shopping.

On the other end of the scale, we have the old folks. While we do have a few programs for them, they get something else out of church. I’ve often heard older folks say things like, “even if a song wasn’t sung, or a sermon preached, I would come to church just to be with God’s people.” That sounds more like a social club. And it makes sense, because when people get older their kids have moved away, they may have lost a spouse, and they’ve retired, so they don’t go to work every day. Going to church staves off the silence.

Something More

There is great value in kids programs. There is value in giving parents an opportunity to have time away from their kids. There is value in providing empty nesters with opportunities to around other people. But if we want to reach young adults, we need to do something more. If we aren’t preaching to these people, how can we hope to see them saved? And if the longest time they stay in our church building is during VBS wrap-up, Awana closing ceremony, and when their kids are in a Christmas program, we’re not doing much preaching to them. We need to do something more.

We can’t bribe young adults with candy and pizza like we can with kids and teens. Young adults have jobs and can buy more candy and pizza than they need. And we can’t get them by being a social club, because their jobs put them around people all day, and if they have kids they are around people at night as well. If we don’t find something for young adults to stay for, we’ll continue to see them walk in but head right back out the door.

Why I Stay

I can’t speak for all young adults, but I’m pushing the upper edge of young adulthood, so I’ve had lots of experience as a young adult. So, why do I stay? Why don’t I turn around and walk back out the door?

Honestly, I’ve considered it a few times. Come to think of it, I’ve done it a few times. Never when there was preaching, but I’ve skipped some services when it was just going to be a movie, or a concert. And I have a real hard time attending Wednesday night services during the summer. It isn’t that the lessons aren’t great, but after I’ve spent all day at work, I don’t have the mental fortitude to listen to all the prayer requests for people who are going through health problems and then to listen to a lecture.

But when Awana is going on, it is totally different. With kids running around and things to do, it is invigorating. I much prefer to be doing something. And when I look at the young adults who come through our doors and stay, they are the ones who are doing stuff. I remember when I first joined our church that it was a struggle for me because I wanted to be much more involved than I felt like I had the opportunity to be.

So, if I had to guess what it would take to keep young adults from walking out the door, I would say we need to invite them to do stuff with us. Of course, we have to be careful about what we ask them to do. Some tasks should be reserved from church members. And they may really need the time to run to Wal-mart without their kids. But if there was a project they could work on instead of driving back home and turning on the TV for an hour before driving back to church to pick up the kids, they just might stay, even if they won’t stay to listen to a lecture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When It Ain't Obama's Fault

The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Texas as 47 of 50 when it comes to the quality of family and community for children. One of the driving factors in that is the percentage of kids who live in a single parent home, which contributes to the education level of the head of the home, the wealth of the bread winner, the education level, etc. In Texas, 36% of children live in a single parent home.

Of the four factors Annie E. Casey looked at, Texas could use improvement on all of them, but Family and Community is the one that hurt our ranking the most. This got me to thinking. I see a lot on Facebook about how terrible the government is and how Obama needs to be impeached and all of that, but you can’t blame Obama or any other government leader for two and a half million kids living in single parent homes. There isn’t much the government can do about that and it isn’t their responsibility.

So, whose responsibility is it? The kids parents, obviously, but only if you look at individual families. When you look at the figures statewide or nationwide and ask who should be trying to do something about it, it is the churches who ought to be doing something about it. Even though the government likes to stick its nose in, it is the churches that have a responsibility to teach people the difference between right and wrong. It is the churches who ought to be looking for ways to help couples resolve their differences. It is the churches who have a responsibility to tell people of the man Jesus, who is able to change their selfish heart to a heart that loves others and especially their spouse.

It ought to wake us up when we see that a Bible belt state like Texas is one of the worst states when it comes to single parent homes. We Christians are falling down on our job. While the primary blame must rest with those who are creating single parent situations, I can’t help but think that part of the problem is that we aren’t telling them that what they are doing is wrong. At one time, women were shunned for having a child out of wedlock, and that might have been too much, but today we bend over backwards to tell people that whatever their sin is God loves them anyway.

While I don’t have all the answers for what we can do to correct this problem, the numbers speak for themselves. What they are saying is that we Christians in Texas have some work to do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Church, Kids, and Numbers

A friend of mine quoted the following statistic, “85% of the people saved in the United States are under 17.” Okay, but what do we do with that? Often, we hear things like that when someone wants to encourage people to work in youth ministry. I see nothing wrong with that. I work with kids in Awana and I can say that I’ve seen far more of them accept Christ than the adults I’ve taught in Sunday school. What I don’t like is when people take that statistic and say, “If we don’t reach them when they are kids, we’ll never reach them.” Is that really what we should take from this statistic?

To answer that, let me ask you, what percentage of the people saved would we expect to be kids? Someone might mention that 18% of the population is between 5 and 17, while 76% of the population is adults, so anything over 18% is pretty good. But is it? Let’s use easy math and say we have an average church with 100 people in attendance. There are 6 children under age five. We’ll assume they aren’t saved, but we don’t expect they’ll accept Christ until they are at least five. There are 18 kids between 5 and 17. We don’t know how many are currently saved, but there were 18 lost at age five.

Now, how many lost adults does this church have in the services? Most of these people are church members, but perhaps there is a man who attends with his saved wife. There’s a girl who used to be in the youth group and still comes, but she isn’t saved. There’s a woman who thought she was saved as a child. And maybe one more. Three or four doesn’t sound like an unreasonable number.

By my count, that means there are 21 or 22 lost people in the service and 18 of them are kids. (It is more complicated than that, but statistically speaking it will do.) Divide 18 by 21 and you get 86%. Divide 18 by 22 and you get 81%. What that tells me is that 85% of the people who are saved in America being under 17 is right in the ballpark of what we would expect if the only people we are reaching are the people who come to church.

And I don’t know what to do with that. There are churches that are reaching people other than those who are in the families of church members, but most of the programs are geared toward reaching kids. So, that will tend to retain the “85% are kids” statistic. I’m glad churches are reaching kids, but when I realize that 76% of our population is adults, I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t failing to do enough to try to reach adults.