By Pastor Stuart Kruse, County Line Church of God (Auburn, IN)
Over the last few years, I have heard staggering statistics regarding Christian youth leaving the faith after graduating from high school. Either we ignore the findings and hope they improve on their own, or we find a holy discontent that says, “We’re going to do something about this.”
The leaders who work with children and students at County Line Church have been digging into the research about this epidemic for some time. I am excited about the changes they have initiated and it has inspired me to embrace a much clearer vision for our church and the way we lead and serve families.
Nine years ago, our elementary ministry embraced a new mission with a bottom line of “What happens at home is more important than what happens at church.” They invested in a curriculum that was fun, applied biblical truth to every day life and, most importantly, had resources to engage the parents in leading their own children’s faith development. After all, two combined forces are more powerful than one. Honestly, it took about three years of beating the drum on this partnership they called ORANGE (red-love of the home + yellow-light of the church) to start permeating the culture of our congregation. Check out thinkorange.com for a free month of curriculum.
Then, five years ago, our student ministries brought us the book Sticky Faith, by Powell and Clark of the Fuller Youth Institute. Our staff studied that together. Their research provided groundbreaking strategies that contributed to our understanding of how to raise our kids with a faith that sticks into adulthood. Through this study, we realized we were shooting ourselves in the foot by continuously separating the young generation from the adult population. If young people always have a separate gathering from the adults, they will never be exposed to the integral life of the church: participating in worship services, leading and serving in the body of Christ. When they go out on their own and look for a church home, they will not find anything recognizable from their separated childhood/youth experiences in the church.
Based on this research, we decided that the second weekend of every month we would suspend the separate young generation ministry from Kindergarten through High School. We would have them join us, with their families, for the service in the auditorium. Kids of all ages would lead congregational prayers, usher beside their parents, read scripture and, some months, participate or observe communion. As an experiment, one month we invited a group of elementary children to be our service planning team. Because of that, I ended up on stage for announcements wearing a Sumo wrestling outfit sounding like a chipmunk. Anything for the kids, right? We include engaging elements but continue with our planned worship and sermon series so that it is a true experience of church life.
In addition to the Sticky Faith weekends, this fall we have begun a new sermon series initiative that is already reaping wonderful results. Recently, I had an unusual dream in which my sister-in-law questioned me about why the sermons did not coincide with what the young generation is learning in their respective classes. She chastised me for missing out on a huge opportunity to foster spiritual discussions at home. To be honest, I was a little upset with her tone in the dream. But when I woke up I asked myself, “Yeah, why don’t the sermons coincide with what the young generation is learning?”
So I began the process of making this happen. Instead of requiring the young generation ministries to change everything to match me, I made the decision to plan our sermons around their curriculum. We take their core scripture lesson and build an adult-targeted monthly series. Yes, I had to swallow a little pride but I’m able to make it my own and relate it at an adult level. God is working through this to challenge us in our daily walk, to comfort broken lives and lost people are coming to know Jesus. I know this may sound crazy and challenging to pull off but if the statistics I shared earlier truly bother you, you will consider doing something radical for the sake of retaining the young generation.
The results have been amazing. Families continue to tell us about the conversations in the car, at mealtimes and at bedtime. A church is only as strong as the amount of engagement of the young generation. If we really believe Christ is the answer to our straying culture, then we must prioritize them in the life of our church. You may have noticed I keep referring to them as “the young generation” as opposed to “the next generation.” That is very intentional. We don’t want our kids and teens to feel like they are some “next” generation that has no place in the current life of the church. We want them to know that the young generation is the church today.
Bottom line is this: Our culture is working overtime to engage the young generation in beliefs and lifestyles that are totally contrary to God’s way of living as outlined in the Bible. Are we going to just let them have our children and grandchildren, or are we going to work even harder to engage them? You are welcome to contact me, or any of our team below, to talk more about this strategy. Sure it might mean getting a little crazy now and then, but I would think we would do almost anything to keep our young people fired up about Jesus. Are you in?
Stuart Kruse, Senior Pastor firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributed to the article:
Mary Ellen Rayle, Children’s Pastor email@example.com
Matt Hale, 5th-8th Grade Pastor firstname.lastname@example.org
Dane Kruse, Student/Young Adult Pastor email@example.com