Getting Our Priorities Straight

In a recent poll of Protestant pastors about priorities for children’s spiritual formation in their congregations, the Barna organization found that 73% of congregations prioritize Sunday School, 37% emphasize participation in worship, 36% focus on camps or Vacation Bible School, 33% concentrate on children’s church or youth groups, 29% work on training young people in spiritual disciplines and 20% accentuate training parents for spiritual conversations at home.  The results of the Barna survey as well as the graphic shown here were taken from an issue of the Presbyterian Outlook, published in April 2019.  

Praise God for all the good things congregations are doing to shape children into witnesses and followers of Jesus.  As a pastor for 13 years in two congregation, I was responsible for the organization and training of Sunday School teachers, leading a team to organize Vacation Bible School, choosing a curriculum for and training leaders for children’s church.  Early in the process it became clear to me that what families do at home with their children is a decisive factor. At church, given an hour or two Sunday mornings and maybe another hour or two Wednesday nights, we could not influence children nearly the way families can, because children spend many more hours with their families throughout the week.  

In a landmark study, adult Christians were asked who were the people who most decisively influenced your faith.  The most frequent answer? “My mother.” The second most common answer? “My father.” Clearly the family is the most effective social unit influencing the faith of young people.  

But if church programming reflects what the market demands, the market demands are not so strong on strengthening the most hopeful and proven approach to shaping young people as followers of Jesus.  Many parents look to churches to do this important work for them. No one can replace the vital role of parents. Things work best when both parents and congregations view one another as partners in this work.  The Barna survey shows that 80% of congregations don’t prioritize helping parents to a better job at discipling their children. It would be wonderful if a larger number of congregations would adopt this emphasis.  

Me and My House in Mission seeks to strengthen families and congregations in this vital task of discipling children and preparing them to become effective witnesses to the kingdom of God in both the local and the global context.  

Donald Marsden

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