I went out for lunch with my family after church on Sunday to celebrate the last few days of freedom before school started. While we were eating, I couldn’t help but listen in on the conversation happening at the table next to us. The lady was telling her friend about her experience growing up in a church. The now grandmother age lady recalled a building with hard pews that were uncomfortable to sit in, a pastor who spoke long, and a Sunday morning experience that was extremely boring. The religious experience was all about rules & consequences for breaking the rules. When she was old enough, she decided that she had no interest in this thing called church.
As she told her story, I couldn’t help but think about how many other people have grown up with this same experience. During their formative years, their experience of church was irrelevant & boring.
Parents, Teachers, Pastors & Volunteers wish there was a simple answer to the question: How do you keep kids from leaving the church when they get older? Although there is no secret formula, I do think there are several factors that increase the chances of them sticking around.
Relationships – As I think back to my own experiences growing up in the church, I had many people who greatly impacted me and were great role models. My parents, my parents’ friends, Sunday School Teachers, one-on-one buddies, midweek leaders, youth pastors and summer camp leaders. Note: People who invest time in kids may not see the reward of their investment until many years later.
Regular Attendance – My parents believed in going to church EVERY Sunday. Not just once in a while, or when it worked for our schedule. EVERY Sunday. This taught me that church was a priority, not just optional when it worked for us. We planned our family schedule around our church schedule.
Relevant – I went to Sunday School. I went to the mid-week program for kids. I went to youth. During each stage of my life there was a program available for me to attend that was fun & taught lessons that were appropriate for my age group.
Real – My family didn’t grow up in a perfect bubble. We had our share of challenges. My dad died of cancer when I was 16 and that left my mom to raise 5 kids on her own. The church surrounded our family with love & support. They prayed for us & helped in practical ways. They were doing what Jesus would have done. It taught me that the church sticks with each other through the good times & the not so good times.
Serving – (sorry I couldn’t think of a word that started with ‘R’) – From the time I was a young teenager I was given opportunities to serve. I helped in Kids Ministry & was involved in music. It took the focus off of myself and helped me focus on others. I was using my gifts & talents in the area of my passion. Church was about giving, not just receiving. In those serving roles I built relationships with people of all ages who were happy to spend time with me and encourage me as I served along side of them.
As I look at the lives of those who grew up in the church with me, many of them are still connected in a church today. Many of them would list the same list of things as I did. It’s probably not a complete list, but it’s a good start.