church + family (does not always) = faith

what does it take to really impact a child’s faith for a lifetime?

i used to think a formula like this was the best strategy:

great church experience + strong family experience = faith for a lifetime

but this weekend, i had an experience that reminded me once again that a simple formula doesn’t guarantee a child will chose faith for his whole life. i continue to be surprised by the number of college students and young 20 year olds who i know had a solid, strong childhood church experience and a faithful family life who are choosing to live without a traditional faith.

david kinnamen & gabe lyon’s book unchristian highlights the research that supports this:

spirituality is important to young adults, but many consider it just one element of a successful, eclectic life. most young people who were involved in a church as a teenager disengage from church life and often from christianity at some point during adulthood, creating a deficit of young talent, energy and leadership in many congregations. our tracking research suggests that today young people are less likely to return to church later, even when they become parents. (p.23)

this sunday, our pastor asked the congregation to think about what influences us to become who we are. i was fascinated by the responses given by both adults and children: our dreams, our talents, our opportunities, the books we read, the schools we attend and the influential people around us. it was interesting to me how holistic the responses were, leading me to believe that for my particular faith community – a strong personal faith is a culmination of our entire lives.

could it be possible that our children’s faith, and our own faith for that matter, is a combination of our whole lives? of course, our church experience matters, and our family experience matters, but i’m also wondering if our pain, our hopes, our disappointments, our careers, our neighborhoods, our education, and our personalities influence the choices we make day to day for our faith.

i’m curious what you think – what will it take for us to approach a child’s spiritual formation from a holistic approach, and can we really change the statistics – can we really inspire childhood faith for a lifetime?


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Diane Runge on December 7, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    When you sit back and think about what it is we’re really doing in ministry, what is OUR job vs. what is GOD’S job, how God works in the lives of people, how we can provide experieinces to allow that work, and define “success” or what the desired “goal” or “end” is, we find that what has been traditional is in need a serious overhaul. Especially when you add in the conclusions found in “Unchristian”! The answer is to hold firm to the timeless Truths we need to communicate, but take serious looks at HOW we communicate them, the experiences we promote, whose repsonsibility it is to transform hearts, who’s responsibility it is to influence kids, and who’s responsibility it is to influence parents…and yes, it isn’t a checklist, it’s not about covering the Bible in 3 years (think about how Jesus responded to the most knowledgeable!)…but about relationship. Relationship with God, ourselves in light of God, and with others. So, it’s more of a story…a story that HAS to have parents involved…and to engage them in not just ONE catalyst…hearing Biblical truth….but engage them in the other 4 too!


    • Posted by amyedolan on December 9, 2009 at 4:50 pm

      diane –

      great thoughts! i agree with you that what we have traditionally done needs a serious overhaul, and i think the focus will be around the way we engage children in the story of god. instead of always telling them what the stories mean for their lives, i’m excited for new ways to inspire children to find themselves in god’s bigger story.


  2. Posted by Sean Miller on December 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    As I considered the same question, and heard the same answers, I was struck most by the 4th grade boy who, when asked what matters most to his spiritual life, answered, “my dreams.”

    Why do older youth disengage from the church and never return? Because we don’t take their dreams seriously anymore, or even really listen to them, like we did when they were the sweet little fourth graders. The dreams of young adults, dreams about confronting injustice, about serving the underserved, even dreams about their own identities and who they are becoming…these dreams are a little messier, a little less neat and clean, a little more challenging to those of us on the other side of young adulthood.

    We need to be better dreamcatchers, I think. If a fourth grader can freely say during worship that his dreams are the most important…how can we make space for him twenty years from now to say the same thing, and know that it matters, and know that it will be respected, heard, and nurtured, too?


    • Posted by amyedolan on December 9, 2009 at 4:54 pm

      yes! inspiring youth to dream again – and for us as leaders to encourage their dreams to come true! i can only imagine the possibilities of a generation fully inspired to change the world for good.


  3. You are definitely on to something, Amy! We must approach spirituality from a more holistic mindset, and we have to help children discover God in all aspects of life. Spirituality is so easily compartmentalized, and I think we (the Church) have facilitated that to a great extent. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to be real in the lives of children (and everyone else) to the extent that he is a part of all that they experience–the good and the bad. We have to stop coaching children in pat answers to life’s questions and allow for some mystery. I have been really inspired by recent conversations to see life and spiritual growth within the context of story… seeing the entirety of the Word of God as a single Story… finding our place in that Story… and looking at our growth through the lens of writing/editing our life story. We need to engage the entire child, not just her intellect, if we are to have any hope of helping people commit to Christ for a lifetime.


    • Posted by Diane Runge on December 8, 2009 at 7:36 pm

      Heard Don Miller talk about life story like you’re talking about Henry! I was kind of leery about Don from the negative press he’d gotten in some Christian circles until I heard him speak and understood his heart…he’s got great thinking and fresh perspective on God’s big story and how we can encourage students to write the greatest adventure story when they become part of it….and become a hero in their chapter. Complete with challenge, adversity, overcoming and purpose…God’s purpose for their lives. Good stuff. Really good stuff.


      • Posted by amyedolan on December 9, 2009 at 4:57 pm

        henry –

        yes! i couldn’t agree more with your thought that we must “stop coaching children in pat answers to life questions” – why do we do that? does it help us feel better, like we have more control over their decisions in life?

      • I wish I could’ve gone to hear him and Susan Isaacs on the Million Miles tour! His latest book is great on seeing life as story. One key thing I think we need to do is to help kids realize that God continues to write his Story of redemption and we can be a part of it. We’ve spent too much time telling kids about God’s Story and then ending the Story. We, then, tell kids to follow the Story or do what the Story tells us to. How cold is that. How much more engaging for kids, and anyone of any age for that matter, to realize that they can actually enter into God’s Story that is taking place and be a part of it! That’s something I can commit my life to… That’s something I think many people could commit their lives to–a dynamic world changing story rather than being an outsider trying to imitate a story or pull life lessons out of.

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