Not a Fan of Church

October 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church. Basically when asked if they affiliated with a church, they checked the box marked “none.”

A few days ago, Ed Stetzer entered the fray and wrote an article entitled: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Cultural Christianity Is

I’d summarize his main point as: We are not seeing a real decline in actual believers, just nominal or cultural Christians who are no longer claiming an affiliation with church.

I’m just really glad that Ed Stetzer has clarified that the church isn’t really losing true believers, just its influence with nominal Christians who weren’t going to heaven anyway. So we should all breathe a sigh of relief—it’s not as bad as we might have thought.

All snarkiness aside, I agree with Ed Stetzer’s explanation.  The primary issue however, is not whether the “nones” are the “nominal” Christians of a previous generation.  The primary issue is about influence. “None” while more honest, seems to be a step in the wrong direction. It means that the church is losing influence with people in the community and it is losing influence at a greater rate and in a more pronounced way with 20-somethings.  That’s a big deal.   

Henrietta Mears was fond of saying, “The church is one generation away from extinction.”  It isn’t alarmest; it is true.  The situation is no less true because it is urgent.

The braver question is not “who?” but “why?”  Why this group now? And what role did the church play in creating this? What responsibility should we take and what changes do we need to make as a church to reach the next generation?

“The church leaders who are seemingly most concerned about the dropout rate of that demographic [18-25 year olds] are the very ones who create the weekend experiences that this demographic finds entirely uncompelling.  To say it another way, the group responsible for connecting eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds to local congregations are the catalysts for driving them away.”

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

I happen to believe that Christianity may be becoming less a part of our culture because many churches have fallen in love with a mid-century, cultural church model rather than falling in love with the mission of the church.  I’m speculating here, but my guess is, it is those churches that will be most interested in this explanation that seems to try and reduce the urgency of our mission.

deep wide andy stanleyYou’ve got a bunch of teachers in your church.  The last thing they want to do is sit in circles with eight children for an hour on Sundays.  But they know curriculum. They know how to organize content. And some of them would love to present the bible story in a large group setting as long as they don’t have to take ownership of a small group. You also have some folks who aren’t afraid of middle school boys, but they don’t know jack about the Bible . . . yet.  They are scared to death you are going to give them Bible lessons to teach. But if they knew their only responsibility was to sit with their kids while a really good presenter did a really good presentation, and then discuss three specific questions from that really good presentation, they would be all over that.  You get the point. If you create a system that divides these disciplines, you are going to recruit a different kind of volunteer. But more to the point, you will have a system that frees your engaging presenters to make engaging presentations.

Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide

In I Corinthians the Apostle Paul compared the church to the human body where every member has a role and altogether make one body.  He said,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

I Corinthians 12:12

I think we readily get this in some areas of the church.  It’s not unusual for us to have people who are worship leaders and we let them worship, and people who are communicators and we let them preach, and people who lead small groups and we let them lead small groups, and people who are great organizers and we let them administrate.  But somehow when it comes to kidmin we have models of ministry that expect one person to be every part of the body.  Generally we call them Sunday School teachers, but “teachers” is really a misnomer, because they are often expected to do lots of things in addition to teaching.  Things like collecting supplies, to crowd control, to storytelling, to singing, to connecting with kids and connecting with parents and wiping noses, to playing an instrument (which is why I think the autoharp was invented—so the musically disinclined could lead a group of kids in singing.).

I admit, that on some planet somewhere there are a rare few who can do all of these things well.  But. . .

Wouldn’t it be better if we simply divided up responsibilities according to gifting, or talents, or skills or desire?

This is one of the main reasons why we do large groups for some things and small groups for others.  We do small groups so we can leverage the gifts of those who are great at connecting, who have consistent spiritual journeys and who have a faith that we want our children to model and embrace. But we don’t expect our small group leaders to be great singers or great storytellers.  We let our great singers and storytellers to do that in large group.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

I Corinthians 12:27


The Gospel is offensive. Unfortunately, we offend people before we even get to the Gospel.

The Gospel is offensive

deep wide andy stanleyI warn people in our community not to bring their kids to our church until they’re sure they want to attend on a regular basis. When they ask why, I tell them that once their kids “come and see” the environment we’ve created for them, they’ll never be satisfied anywhere else.

Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide

Wouldn’t it be great, before a child even interacted with a small group leader or heard a Bible story that they were hooked on the environment?  Or wouldn’t it be great if the environment paved the way, or set the stage, for what the child was going to experience on Sunday Morning at church?  What if the environment prepared the way for the small group leader or the storyteller to create a life changing encounter with the Bible and a relationship with Jesus?

Sadly, our environments in many churches do the opposite.  For skeptical 5th graders our environments are the first obstacle they see when coming to our churches. Worse, they become further evidence in a long list of experiences that reinforce most modern kids’ perspectives that church is not relevant.

I’m not suggesting that we replace the Gospel with entertainment or flashy environments.  What I’m suggesting is that we leverage our environments to surprise and delight, to create the unexpected, and ultimately disarm the kids who come to church.  In so doing, we set up what we really want to do, lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

This isn’t a new problem. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Henrietta Mears from the early 50’s.

The Church must be prepared to reach out and get the many millions of boys and girls who are still without religious instruction of any sort.  Compare the marble halls of our modern school buildings with the worn out carpets of the Sunday school department, and the up-to-date books, well bound, on every school desk with the ragged songbooks and Bibles, the fine hardwood desks with the dilapidated chairs relegated to most Sunday school departments.  No wonder youth thinks that the three R’s are more important than the fourth–Religion, when he goes on Sunday to a room poorly lighted and miserably furnished.

Henrietta Mears, Sunday School Changes Everything


What do you do in your environments to surprise, delight, or disarm kids when they walk through the doors of your church for the first time?

When we lead small we simply make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith.

from Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas

Lead Small


Lead Small is one of the best summaries of what it means to be an invested leader. I created this prezi for use in a small group leaders’ training I did a few months ago.  Feel free to use this as you develop small group leaders.

When we lead small we simply make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith.

from Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas


deep wide andy stanleyOn the family ministry side of the aisle, our commitment to create environments conducive to providential relationships caused us to make several strategic decisions.  The most significant was our decision to keep group leaders with their small groups as long as possible.  The longer a group leader was with a group of kids, the more likely it was that a relationship would develop–and thus the greater chance of God using a group leader in a significant way in the life of one of the kids in his or her group.  So when adults volunteer to lead a group of first graders, they stay with the group of children (and their parents) all the way through fifth grade.  Not only does this create the potential for long-term relationships, it creates a degree of accountability that goes way beyond the weekend experience. It’s not unusual for group leaders to stay with their groups as they transition into our middle school ministry.  That provides them with eight years of influence during what is arguably the most important time for a child developmentally, spiritually, and relationally.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

Providential Relationship: “Two things make a relationship providential: when we hear from God through someone and when we see God in someone.  When either of those things happens, our faith gets bigger.” (Deep & Wide p. 132)

8 Years ago I would have believed the idea of finding small group leaders who would invest in the lives of a group of kids week in and week out even for a school year was impossible, much less several years.  Then I met Craig Jutila at a Purpose Driven Children’s Conference.  He talked about elevating the commitment of volunteers–moving off of rotation to getting people who were willing to invest in the lives of a small group of kids on a weekly basis.  Since then I have led two kidmin environments in two churches and coached several others to transition from large rotations of volunteers to a core group of small group leaders deeply investing in the lives of kids on a weekly basis.

Here’s a few things that I think only invested leaders can do:

  • Only invested leaders can help connect a child’s faith to community.  There is more childcare than community when volunteers are on rotation.
  • Only invested leaders are able to show how God’s truth intersects with real life because they invite kids into their own lives and inspire their faith by example.
  • Only invested leaders can create a place where kids can be known and belong.
  • Only invested leaders know enough about a child’s spiritual journey to know their next spiritual step.
  • Only invested leaders know about what’s going on in a child’s life to layer God’s truth into their lives in a relevant way.
  • Only invested leaders can effectively partner with parents.
  • Only invested leaders can create environments that supply the relational ingredients of spiritual growth: care, accountability and belonging.

Keeping children and students with the same small group leader for several years creates a healthy relational dynamic. Children and students are particularly susceptible to misinterpreting negative events. Having a mature adult in their lives in addition to their parents can make all the difference when grappling with challenging circumstances.

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

At the end of the day without invested leaders what’s left on the table is life transformation. That’s unacceptable to me.


Loved thinking about how this video on education by Seth Godin should also challenge the way we do kidmin.  Here’s Seth’s book called Stop Stealing Dreams for those of you who want to read about it.

Here are some provocative quotes:

“What is education for?”

What is Sunday school for? or kidmin or church? Is it for creating reverent kids who can sit through children’s church without disruption who will some day grow up to be good Sunday school teachers who show up to church 40 times a year and drop a few dollars in the plate? Or is it to create revolutionaries who will radically pursue the expansion of the Kingdom of God–people like the Apostle Paul or Timothy, or . . . Jesus?

“If you wanted to teach someone to be a baseball fan would you start by having them understand the history of baseball . . . would you say, okay there is a test tomorrow, I want you to memorize the top 50 batters in order by batting average . . . and then rank the people based upon how they do on the test. And the ones who do well get to memorize more baseball players? Is that how we would create baseball fans?”

In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church.  If we wanted kids to be a fan of Jesus and His body, the church, where would we start? Memorizing the books of the Bible in order?

“Are we asking kids to collect dots or connect dots? Because we are really good at measuring how many dots, how many facts, they collect.”

It’s a lot easier to count attendance, how many verses were memorized, or how quick kids are in a “sword” drill.  It’s also easier to fill in the blanks on a student paper, mark up a coloring page than it is to create an experience or have a conversation or invest deeply and consistently in the life of a child. We are in the business of transformed lives–not as easily measured and a lot harder. I’m grateful to be part of a generation of kidmin leaders and a legacy of people like Henrietta Mears, Lois LeBar and their modern counterparts like Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller or Jim Wideman who are dedicated to finding a better way to lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.



deep wide andy stanley

I agree with Howard Hendricks, who was fond of saying, “It is a sin to bore a child with the Word of God.” To present the Scripture to a child or a teenager in an unengaging manner is to teach the very opposite of what is intended:

Lesson #1 The Bible is boring.

Lesson #2 The Bible is irrelevant

Lesson #3: Church is irrelevant

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

For the most part, the Bible isn’t boring.  Which just means the Bible isn’t the problem.  For my piece, here are some common ways we make the Bible boring and its results.

  • We teach in a way that ignores basic age-characteristics of children (We use words like “mortification” with High schoolers) They think the Bible is confusing.
  •  We teach Bible content that is inappropriate (Maybe because we want to teach the same things everyone else is learning at the same time.) They think the Bible isn’t written for them.
  • We don’t leverage a child’s felt needs to lead them to their real needs. They think the Bible isn’t relevant.
  •  We don’t teach from a context of deep, meaningful or consistent relationships that model a life under Biblical authority. They don’t think the Bible intersects with their lives outside of Sunday morning.
  •  We don’t build common ground when teaching. They think the Bible is moralistic and feel preached at.
  •  We teach the facts of the Word, but don’t introduce them to Jesus who is the Word. They think Christianity is a religion and not a relationship.

I wonder what would happen if we took the time we spend bemoaning the entertainment industry’s affects on attention-spans and behavior and spent that time more introspectively examining the role we play in engaging or boring children.  What if we invested our time in communicating in a way that captures the imagination of child with the radical truths of the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ? We might see the church drop-out rate decline. We might see unchurched people come to our churches and the de-churched, burned-by-church or anti-church people return.

“It is a sin to bore a child with the Word of God.” Howard Hendricks