At the village church in Kalonovka, Russia, attendance at Sunday school picked up after the priest started handing out candy to the peasant children. One of the most faithful was a pug-nosed, pugnacious lad who recited his Scriptures with proper piety, pocketed his reward, then fled into the fields to munch on it.
The priest took a liking to the boy, persuaded him to attend church school. This was preferable to doing household chores from which his devout parents excused him. By offering other inducements, the priest managed to teach the boy the four Gospels. In fact, he won a special prize for learning all four by heart and reciting them nonstop in church. Then, 60 years later, he still liked to recite Scriptures, but in a context that would horrify the old priest. For the prize pupil, who memorized so much of the Bible, is Nikita Khrushchev, the former Communist czar.
The over used cliche goes "Going to church no more makes you a Christian than sleeping in a garage makes you a car." Question number 2 on our questionnaire sent all across the country to independent Baptist Teens was:
I Attend Church each week: A) 3 or more times a week; B) 2 Times a week; C) 1 Time a Week; D) Because my parents/school require it.
Again, this questionnaire was given to our teens. You would assume the answer to be A) 3 or more times a week. And, for the most part, it was. The results were as follows:
A) 70%; B) 18%; C) 5%; D) 7%
Well, we got one part right. The great majority of our teens are going to church faithfully...7% for the wrong reason, but at least they are going. But again, going to church doesn't make all things right.
Sadly, there are parents that "send" their children to church when they should be taking them to church. I encourage every father and mother to take their children to church with them.
So, if our children are at church, why are we losing them? I believe this is for many reasons. I will address the following and let Pastor Carr address as the Lord leads him.
I believe we major on the entertaining and minor on the discipling. Let's see how little Baptist Betty, born just 3 weeks ago will experience church for her first 18 years in the typical independent Baptist Church.
Betty will be brought to church and dropped off in the nursery until the age of 3. In the nursery she will play, eat, and occassionally make enough noise to be heard in the auditorium. Then Betty will start going to Sunday School. After Sunday School she will then go to 3-4 year old Jr. church, where she will play, draw, eat, sing fun kiddie songs and hear a 5 minute lesson. Sunday night, she will struggle through a service; the entire time being quieted by a pen, 3 bulletins, 2 tithing envelopes, a sucker, and three bathroom breaks. Oh, and don't forget the 4 rows of adults sitting behind her, waving and laughing and playing "Peek-a-boo" while the preacher is sharing the message the Lord gave him. Then, of course, 4 year old Betty goes to Patch Club/King's Kids/Awana or whatever is the flavor of the year during mid week services. There she will sing fun songs, a craft, say some verses, play a game, and of course eat a snack.
Soon Betty is in elementary. She now goes to Sunday School, Jr. Church, only 2 restroom trips during evening service and 1 bulletin, and midweek program as well. Then, Betty hits the big time. She goes to the youth group. Her Sunday consists of teen class first, where they will play a game, have a snack, gather with friends, and doze off during the lesson. Oh, she is involved. She can quote 100 verses (thank you midweek program and Christian academy). She is dressed right, matter of a fact, she has her eye on the deacon's son, Tom. He is a hottie. Soon she is sitting next to him in class and church. They pass a few notes to remind each other how great they are. She never misses an activity with Tom...I mean at her youth group. They sit on the back pew and leave quickly to go to their "talking spot" in the parking alot...alone. She loves the youth group and the activities. They are soo much fun...scavenger hunts, camp trips, volleyball, bowling....they all are great as they eat a snack, play a game, socialize, and a 5 minute devotion of course. She really is a "good girl." I mean, she isn't out getting high or drunk. She isn't losing her virginity. Dad and Mom are proud of Betty; struggling a little with attitude and her wanting to wear clothes that are a little questionable, and they did find that music CD; but she is a "good girl." Could be worse, right? Soon Betty graduates from her Christian Academy. We are excited for her.
Then Betty goes to her first post-teen class Sunday school. There are no snacks, no kiddie songs, nobody having fun...and wait, Betty is 18, she is an adult now! She can make her own decisions. Soon Betty is wearing her pants she always dreamed of. Rocking to her favorite music. Still dating Tom, and Tim, and Rob is cute too. Goes to church a few times a month. Dad and mom are praying. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it." The teaching that is. I mean, we taught her right, had her in Christian school, youth group...she will return.
Soon, the servies at her OLD church are just not "meeting her spiritual needs." She is invited by a friend to the East Side Community Church. There, she finds it. What was missing...the snacks, the kiddie songs, the socializing, 10 minute devotions, the FUN that she was raised with...the way her church used to be. Dad and mom are glad she is in 'church,' it could be worse, right?
Another one, lost. Story varies some with each, but oh to familiar isn't it?
We are entertaining them, but not discipling them. They are loving church, until they are 19.
One area I believe we can improve this is by ceasing to separate our young people from their parents and church services. Scripture teaches that children are to be under the Word of God and its teaching with their parents:
13And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation; And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's. 2 Chron. 20
There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them. Joshua 8:35
When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: Deut. 31:11-12
Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. Ezra 10:1
In the New Testament, children were brought to Jesus and He welcomed them in His presence.
Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Mark 10:14
The New Testament Epistles were written to local churches and it was expected that the children would be in the congregation listening to the letters read aloud.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Eph. 6:1
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Col. 3:20
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 1 John 2:1
Point is, they weren't in jr. church, teen class, kid's club, or anyplace else...they were sitting in the service. Rather than being surrounded by a majority of children their age, learning their traits (most bad), they, in the early church, were sitting in the congregation where the majority were adults who were matured in the Lord, who showed a love for the Word of God, who showed them what the Christian life was truly about.
I know it goes against "what we've always done." But as Pastor Carr said earlier, we need to get back to the Bible! Therein lies the answers. There is so much more (ie, what is taught in church, where they sit, who their friends are, if they pay attention)...another time perhaps.
Fact is our children are in church. We got that part right, but we still are losing them at an alarming rate. This is not God's plan!