By Bob Bever
The following story is provided by our INCM/CPC Partner Gospel Light.
“Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Mark Twain’s words, written in 1897, remind us that what may be reported as truth may well be exaggerated. Just as Mark Twain was not dead in 1897, God was not dead when Time Magazine posed the question on its April 8, 1966 cover. Today, Christianity is neither dead nor near death in America despite editor Jon Meacham’s assertion that America has moved into a “post-Christian” phase in Newsweek’s April 13, 2009 edition.
To make matters worse, some now suggest that Sunday School, of all things, has been a key factor in youth and younger adults leaving their faith in the U.S. According to one alarmist, “Sunday School is actually likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of our children.” (1) Don’t believe the rumors! They’re hyperbole and there’s a lot the Church – and you – are doing right. Blaming Sunday School (and by association Children’s pastors) for people leaving the faith is like saying that cars are bad, because people use them to drive to places where they eat poorly. The conclusion doesn’t follow the evidence at all. We can use the same car to get us to a place that serves good food as we can to get us to a place that serves bad food!
According to 2008 Barna Research on the State of the Church, nearly 100 million adults in the USA attend church each week, along with their children and teens, with 86% of adults openly describing themselves as “Christian” (up from 83% in 2007). And while some have recently declared that the majority of those who attended Sunday School have left the faith, research actually demonstrates that 65% of those raised Protestant, who attended Sunday School regularly, are still in their childhood faith. (2) In fact, a July 2009 Barna Group poll showed 76% of adults, still active in their faith, recall attending Sunday School at least 2-3 times per month.
Christianity is not dead in America. The Church, and Sunday School in particular, have made and continue to make a difference. There is a high retention of faith for those who attended worship weekly and for those who attended Sunday School and youth groups. When combined with active faith at home, we build a solid foundation for children’s lives on Jesus. And kids built on Jesus are kids who will last!
While it is true that some people leave the Church and their faith, let’s be encouraged by the fact that the vast majority of those who attended worship services and Sunday School regularly as children remain active in their faith. They have had their hearts imprinted with the Word of God that “will not return to Me empty” (Isaiah 55:11, NASB).
God promised that the faithful teaching of His inspired word about the Incarnate Word will result in lives that are transformed into living words for the world. Take heart, Children Champions! We are the keepers of the faith for our future when we invest our lives in children – children who will, in turn, become those who replace us and champion the next generation.
Pastors surveyed by Barna Research report that over 90% of churches provide a Sunday School discipleship ministry every Sunday. And over 70% of churches provide a VBS outreach ministry to children every summer. Children’s ministers and churches remain strongly committed to consistent, age-appropriate and trustworthy Bible truth and leading kids to Jesus in their churches and communities. The Bible – pure and simple – can be and is being taught. The Church can prevail and reclaim those who have been taken captive. And thanks to committed Children’s pastors and leaders like you, we are continuing to build kids who will last.
So what are we doing right? Here are just a couple things for you to consider.
Focusing on Jesus
We all know this but it helps to be reminded. It’s all about Jesus. After all, He is the central character in the Book. None of us can live a transformed life unless our life has been transformed by Jesus. None of us can be in a life-changing relationship with the world without first being in a life-changing relationship with Jesus. There has never been a person on Earth with greater impact on this world than Jesus.
In his book, What’s Right with the Church, Elmer Towns states: “When the church gets right on Jesus Christ, it is the most unique, transforming power in the world and the church that preaches Him becomes a transforming institution.” (3) So, let’s keep on leading our children and grandchildren to Jesus. Point them to Jesus! Lift Jesus high! For only when we see Jesus do we see God (John 1:14) and only when we know Jesus can we know God (John 14:6).
Teaching the Word
Jesus is the incarnate Word of God (John 1:14). The Bible is the inspired word of God (II Timothy 3:16). We all know this as well. By teaching the Bible faithfully we keep a child’s mind and heart focused on hearing the very words of God and hiding them in their hearts – and we get it right. As champions of our children’s faith we are passionate about helping them know God and live a life reflective of His glory. And to do that we must lead kids to Jesus, but we can only do that by engaging them in the Word of God in ways they can understand and access.
It was the Apostle Paul who said, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB). Teach the Bible, the whole Bible to our grandchildren – teach it to my grandchildren – so that they too may be strengthened by those God-words as they go through life. Institute a plan for consistent, comprehensive, age-appropriate, engaging, uncompromised teaching of the Bible to our children. Read it to them. Teach it to them. Sing it to them. Live it for them. We must keep doing all we can to hide His word in their hearts.
Thank you for having a passion and for allowing that passion to drive you to embrace newer, better and more effective ways to draw kids into a life lived for Jesus. I have the opportunity to see and hear stories of how we are reaching out to children and bringing them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. I am continually in awe of the passion, creativity and tireless commitment to this task. It comes as no surprise that reaching children offers the greatest opportunity for life-long faith. Will some fall away from the faith when older? Yes! But the “faith drop-out “syndrome among young adults cannot be attributed to Sunday School.
Develop a plan to reach kids in your community. Cooperate with other churches in your community to discover new ways and ideas. Don’t just bring kids to your church; look for ways to take the unconventional love of Jesus to them, where they live, in practical ways that can impact how they live. Christianity has always been focused on others, people who need a covering (Matthew 25:35-40). Kids need to be reached. We have the passion. Let’s get ’em!
There are other things we’re doing right! Do we still have serious challenges in front of us to reach the world, our communities and our kids for Christ? Certainly, we do. We can do better. We can do more. We can always discover more creative ways to introduce and reach our kids with the Word of God. And it is up to us as Children Champions to continue to make children our #1 priority in our churches.
You are not thanked enough for what you do – week after week after week. America would be a post-Christian nation in a few generations if it weren’t for people like you. Christianity is not dead in America thanks, in large part, to Sunday School! Do not be deterred from your calling to build lasting faith in our children by those who would tell you that “statistics show that not going (to Sunday School) won’t hurt kids one bit. In fact, they might be better for it.” (4) Take heart, you are making a difference! Be encouraged. We are building kids who will last!
1 Ken Ham, Already Gone (Green Forest, AK: Master Books, 2009) p. 38
2 “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.”, The Pew Forum on Religion& Public Life, April 27, 2009, http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=409
3 Elmer Towns, What’s Right with the Church, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2009) p. 14
4 Ken Ham, Already Gone (Green Forest, AK: Master Books, 2009) p. 52
Bob Bever is currently VP of Business Development for Gospel Light and has also worked for David C. Cook and Group over the past 16 years. For 19 years he served as associate pastor and teaching pastor in the EFCA and also as Promiseland Director for Willow Creek Community Church.