Category Archives: Children in Worship

One way for Dads to shape their children’s future

In 1994, the Federal Statistical Office of Switzerland did a survey on correlations between family activity and faith practices. The conclusion of the Swiss study was that the religious practices of the father of the family most determines the future of their children’s faith practices. Robbie Low, a minister in the Church of England and an editor of that church’s New Directions magazine, summarizes the findings as follows:

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve times the yield where the roles are reversed.

Where neither parent practices, to nobody’s very great surprise, only 4 percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent irregulars. Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.

The results suggest that a father’s participation in the life of worship is extremely important in predicting a child’s adherence to the faith in adulthood. Granted, this was a Swiss study, not a US study. My early childhood included both my father and mother attending worship, but as I grew older, my mother attended worship more regularly than my father. Most of us, who think back to those who had the greatest impact on our faith, will most likely recall the spiritual mentorship of a mother, grandmother or aunt. That certainly was my experience.

Our culture has long sought to meet the unique needs and desires of people through fragmenting and categorizing us in groups by gender, interests, and age. The church has been following this same paradigm for decades. Women’s groups, men’s groups, and youth groups are assumed norms of the church, yet they find no precedence in Scripture and we are beginning to discover that such divisions are having a negative impact on future generations. This was not the case in the context of either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Instructions for worship in both the Old and New Testaments assume the participation of men, women, and children in worship (see Deuteronomy 29:10-11; 1 Samuel 1; 2 Kings 22; Psalms 148:12; Joel 2:16; Luke 2:22-38). Children are influenced when they see their parents worshiping together. They watch us as we pray, assist in reading Scripture, pay attention to sermons and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In these moments, our children are witnessing the importance of faith and worship.

Many men may feel like matters of faith are best left to mothers and church staff, but after almost 50 years of increasingly absent fathers in matters of faith, our children are the ones paying the price. Children look to their parents to help them understand what is important in life. The number of men attending worship has continued to drop over the past several decades. It is time for the church to discern ways in which we may have pushed men to the background. Even the culture of the church has demanded less and less of our fathers and men, to “go easy” on them, which has pushed men out of good and right ways of spiritual leadership and service. On the other hand, placing blame isn’t helpful. My Brothers in Christ, you are essential to helping raise up the future generations of Christian men and women.

Children in Worship

A quote dubiously attributed to Mark Twain goes like this: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Lutheran Pastor Tim Wright created quite a firestorm in August 2014 when he released an article entitled, “Sunday Schooling our Kids Out of Church.”  I read his article with regret and angst. It described my education, experiences, and results of my almost 20 years of ministry perfectly.  You may access the article here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/searchingfortomsawyer/2014/08/sunday-schooling-our-kids-out-of-church/

In short, the article reminds us of a profound shift that occurred in church almost 40 years ago.  For varying and debatable reasons, the church began to shift from kids worshiping with their parents in the normal, traditional worship service to extended services and children’s church that run concurrently.  Kids and their parents worshiped in separate spaces and in different styles.  The result? Tim Wright argues that we have raised the largest unchurched generation in the history of our country.  He goes on to identify that the generations that are now adults with kids of their own are, essentially, not assimilated into the life of either the congregation or the heritage of Christian worship.  They have no connection with the worship style, hymns, or rhythm of Scripture readings. Nor do they understand the culture of worship as active participation instead of receiving an aesthetically pleasing experience. In the church of my childhood, we boys endured the worship service sitting next to our parents while drawing war scenes on offering envelopes while the girls….well, I don’t know what the girls were dong. I was too busy drawing tanks and fighter jets on the pew offering envelope and bulletin cover.  While I was a student minister serving First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Millersburg, Kentucky, we only had one little boy around the age of 3 years old.  Granted, it was a small rural congregation of about 30 people, but during worship, the sanctuary doubled as the little boy’s playroom.  He would climb under pews, play with his trucks next to the Communion Table and from time to time, would come up and pull on my pant leg wanting me to pick him up.  I would reach down, pick him up and keep right on preaching.  No one ever complained.  A few years later, a family joined with a little girl. The attendance of children has doubled, and as a result of my experiences in seminary in worship and preaching classes, we decided to offer a Children’s Church for our two children.  Ironically, the seminary’s Christian Education professor was adamantly opposed to Children’s Church and Children’s Moments. She was, of course, ahead of her time.  Thankfully, after I graduated and moved away, the little church disbanded Children’s Church and both children are still active in the life of the church today.

A study in Switzerland discovered that 60 percent of children who do not worship with both of their parents in the “grown up” worship service will eventually fall away from the church.  Yet, studies like this one and others by Barna, Pew Research, and denominational research are all beginning to discover the profound importance of children having an experience in an intergenerational, “grown up” worship service.

At the church I serve, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Ashland, Kentucky, we are conscious that for many parents, the time in worship is an essential part of a Sabbath rest.  However, we also believe that children need to be integrated into the life of our community of faith.  This is one of the reasons we invite and encourage children in Kindergarten-2nd grade to worship with their families during the first portion of the service.  “But children are bored and they don’t get anything out of it.”  I understand…and remember. But, I am finding that, like Mark Twain, our parents and grandparents in the faith may be astonishingly smarter than we first thought.