Thinking Out Loud

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

February 25, 2013

Support Your Local Youth Pastor

Last week at the Hemorrhaging Faith seminar, presented by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we were reminded that the youth pastors in local churches sometimes are at the bottom of the totem pole or church hierarchy, but in fact are most critical to the future survival of the church. Even the churches that are the best at retention of their young adults — losing only a third of them — will be, in two generations, one-sixth of their present size if the trend does not reverse itself. 

Then on the weekend, I dropped in for just a few minutes at the Today’s Teens conference in Oakville (outside Toronto, Canada) where I picked up a brochure containing a document representing a pledge of support from local Canadian churches to their youth ministry worker(s).  It’s based on a similar program in the UK for which you can download the .pdf booklet here.

Youth MinistryThe Canadian organization that drafted this is headed by Marv Penner. Marv was a fireman who went on to serve the youth at Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto and later went on to write youth ministry curriculum for Zondervan, and get a graduate degree in counseling. He was one of the featured speakers at the conference. 

I tried to locate some of the Canadian document online to link to and include here, but I will simply have to summarize it:

  • churches pledge to give youth workers prayer and spiritual support
  • churches pledge to give youth workers space for retreat and reflection
  • churches pledge to give youth workers ongoing training and development
  • churches pledge to give youth workers at least one full day of rest per week
  • churches agree to share responsibility towards youth
  • churches pledge to strive to be an excellent employer
  • churches pledge to celebrate and appreciate what the youth worker is doing

…A few weeks ago I was helping someone who was experiencing problems with their telephone service and the call got transferred briefly to a department called “Win Back.” I thought it interesting that this rather monopolistic telecom had a department devoted entirely to customer retention.  Middle aged and older adults are not leaving church at the rate that young adults are. The youth pastor of your church is, in fact, the “Win Back” department; the person in charge of church member/adherent retention.

Staff turnover in youth ministry is abysmal, yet each staff transition represents an ideal exit time for young people which they frequently seize. So in a way, this is also all about youth worker retention. Keep the youth pastor happy and engaged, and he/she will stay. When the youth worker stays, the local church has consistency in that ministry department. Where there is consistency, kids, teens and young adults don’t drop out.

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

January 3, 2013

Helping Youth Attain College Education

University LibraryThis fall our youngest son began attending a Christian university. In the process, we are quickly learning that higher education really means higher priced education. Dang, this is costly.

When were helping him transfer some funds in September, I really though he was paying for a full year, only to realize later that we had only covered the first semester.  Double dang.

But as hard as this probably was for some of our local acquaintances to believe, I didn’t have Kid Two in mind when I drafted a letter to some of our local clergy suggesting that university and college education is priced out of reach of many kids leaving high school, and where these students are a part of our local churches, if we are really family, we should rally together and offer to help.

By rally together, I’m forming a mental image of some ethnic groups where, when one family wants to buy a house, everybody contributes to help maximize the down payment. That sort of thing.

The actual students I had in mind are difficult to pin down here, since I have a handful of local readers  at a blog that is written with a worldwide audience in mind. So I’ll use initials:

  • R. wanted to attend an out-of-town two-year business program this fall. But in the process of getting housing he was, for lack of a better word, swindled out of much of the money he had set aside and is now working a lackluster job to try to gain enough from scratch to revisit the process next fall. R. has so much potential; I feel like he was simply born into the wrong family, and wish I could just hand him the life he wants.
  • N. has actually completed almost half of a four-year degree program at a Christian college. Her major is her passion and her giftedness in this area is renown among students her age. She would love to go back to this Christian college, but as the days tick by, it seems less and less likely.
  • T.’s story is the one I am least familiar with. Essentially, he was among the brightest and the best in his high school, but university remains just a dream, though I keep thinking that whatever he winds up doing, he’s going to excel; but right now probably feels a little lost with most of his cohort off to school while he works a low-paying job.

So on September 5th, I asked our local clergy if we couldn’t borrow a page from the ethnic house-buyers and have money pooled together to kick-start education (or return to school) for at least one student per year.

…This is a community that stands behind people in crisis.  Is there something we can do for kids in our local churches who need a ‘leg-up’ in the area of higher education?

Currently, a couple of churches offer a small scholarship for kids pursuing Christian education, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in the three stories I described above.

I now know this first-hand. [However,] the program that I am envisioning would not be something [our two kids] would subscribe to; rather, I’ve tried to approach this with some objectivity and with a vision for students like the ones I described, two of which find it impossible to get started

Furthermore, I want to recognize that there are young men and women out there who desire to serve God with all their hearts, but have an education vision that does not necessarily involve [various Christian universities].  I also believe that if something were established long-term, there are recipients of this type of help who would be willing to give something back after they graduate.

Is there something more we can do as the body of Christ … to come together to support students in a significant way?

I hope you’ll pray about this; and I would hope that pastors receiving this would be willing to discuss this at the next … ministerial meeting.  While we are often ‘tapped out’ in our giving, and while it would be easy to say we don’t need one more ’cause,’ I believe that this is the kind of project that is worthy of our consideration and viable, but only if we work together.

So that’s what I wrote. And that’s what I believe. And I would love to be able to report that our community established a scholarship fund and this fall one or two students will be able to create a proposal and receive some significant help. And that we now have a structure in place that is going to be of benefit to students for the next decade and beyond.

But it never happened. The response was under-whelming. As in nil. Another email from Paul that got quickly deleted.

There is a saying that “if a man thinks he is casting a vision that nobody is actually catching, he is merely throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall.” 

Well, it should be a saying.

I’ve been tossing visions in our little corner of the world for years, but few have been caught. But maybe, just maybe, someone in some other part of the world is reading this and will adopt something similar that will brighten the corner where you are.

It may not help R. or N. or T., but it may change a student’s life, and that student may change the world.

September 15, 2012

Why They’re Leaving The Church: A Canadian Study

“When it comes to the faith commitment of parents, it is hugely important that children observe their faith as a lifestyle throughout the week if it is to make a statement about its vibrancy and authenticity.  ~John Wilkinson, Canadian youth ministry specialist

“The most effective faith instruction takes place organically.” ~Hemorrhaging Faith

This month’s cover story at Canada’s national evangelical magazine Faith Today is titled Why They’re Leaving, and appears in connection with the release of a study titled Hemorrhaging Faith which was co-sponsored by EFC (publisher of Faith Today), InterVarsity and others and compiled by James Penner Associates. The study is in ‘pre-print’ stage and is available for $15 CDN as a .pdf download.

The website notes:

  • Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.
  • Of the young adults who no longer attend church, half have also stopped identifying themselves with the Christian tradition in which they were raised.
  • There are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.

The Faith Today article, in a sidebar, notes four categories of youth:

  • Engagers (church is good) 23%
  • Fence Sitters (want church on their terms) 36%
  • Wanderers (church is not for me) 26%
  • Rejecters (church is bad) 15%

For more, I guess you’ll have to buy the report or at least read the article (first link above).

April 17, 2012

Short Term Mission Trippers as seen by Full Time Missionaries

Jamie Wright calls herself “The Very Worst Missionary,” but she’s in prime form when it comes to seeing short term mission projects through the eyes of someone serving as a full-time worker. 

I linked to one of her articles on the link list a few Wednesdays ago, and I have another one scheduled for tomorrow; but I’m sorry; you guys don’t click; and I know if you’re clicking or not because WordPress tells me. 

And this stuff needs to be read.

So help me legitimize today’s cutting and pasting by doing three things:

  1. Read these at source
  2. When you’re done, click the banner and read more of Jamie’s writing
  3. Consider subscribing to her blog

So first of all we have the one from a couple of weeks ago.  There’s a several paragraph set up, but for you non-clickers, a group of kids are in a downtown square ‘handing’ out free hugs when Jamie and her friend — who was shooting a documentary — decide to engage them in conversation.

We asked them, “If someone accepted a hug and was so moved by said hug (and subsequently knowing that Jesus loved them) and they wanted more information, what would you do?”

And they weren’t really sure.

So we helped them out with a suggestion, “Would you, y’know, maybe refer them to a local church?”

“Oh, yes! Yes. For sure. We would refer them to a church.”

Cool. Which church?

“Oh. Costa Rica has tons of great churches.”

OK. Do you know what any of them are called? Or where they are?

“Well… No. But, they’re everywhere around here.”

Oookaaay… Do you go to a church here? Like, a church that you could invite people to attend?

“Um…yeah. Hey, you guys? What’s that church we go to? Like, on Sundays. What’s it called again?”

So you don’t even know where YOU go to church?

And then, a leader came up and tapped her watch and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got to go do… a…thing…” And then they split.

Arrrgh!
Yikes!
Sigh!
All of the above!

She concluded, “Perhaps the first step to creating healthy short-term missions can be found in stripping them down to their most basic form, creating them to look more like part of the discipleship process. What if we unashamedly refocused the dynamics of a “mission” trip onto the one being sent, and removed pseudo-humanitarian efforts (which are often more harm than good) altogether? “

…And then, after a couple of posts that actually aren’t all that profound, she comes back to the subject with the one a few days ago.  (You’re supposed to click the underlined thing, okay?)  After quoting the section of Luke 10 where Jesus sends out the disciples, she observes:

Where Jesus appointed, we take volunteers.

Where Jesus sent pairs, we send herds.

Where Jesus admonished for danger and quiet humility along the road, we opt for vacation destinations and loud self-congratulations.

Where Jesus asks to be bringers of peace, we often bring chaos.

Where Jesus designed an opportunity for a disciple to lean into a new family, learn a new culture, and serve under the head of a household (who best knows his own need), we march in with a plan and the resources to git’er’done – completely missing out on the gift of being “a worker worth his wages”.

What if the original picture of “short-term teams” was meant to show us this valuable step in the process of discipleship, where we can learn dependance on God, love for others, and how to serve

And what if we’ve taken that picture and turned it into a billion dollar industry, creating dependance among the poor – not on God – but on the ourselves, damaging Christ’s image in the world, and missing the point entirely?

Again, before you question this, remember they are working on the mission field and you’re not.  They are seeing this through a lens that is completely different from how missions trips look when they’re announced at your weekend services or youth group meetings

If you dare, forward this to the short-term mission trip coordinator at your place of worship. Comments can be left here if you wish, but leaving them at Jamie’s blog would be even better.

March 22, 2012

Three Conversations and a Wedding

Today’s post is written by Carlo Raponi who is Evangelism Outreach Director for Kawartha Youth Unlimited based in Peterborough, a city about 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada; with a population of 80,000 or 115,000 depending on your sources.

This fall I attended a wedding as a +1 to a friend of mine. Weddings are always a great time. Even when it’s the wedding of someone you don’t know. Technically, its like crashing the wedding only there’s no threat of getting kicked out. You get to dress up, eat, drink and cut a little rug on the dance floor! I personally think that there should be open wedding-like parties you can attend on a weekly basis. I think the world would be a cheerier place for it.

At this particular wedding I was expecting to be the mystery guest. I didn’t know the bride or groom, I didn’t grow up in the area nor do I have relatives that live here. This was going to be my night to sit back, relax, eat some hors d’oeuvres and be, for the most part, anonymous. However that wasn’t the case.

Upon arriving at the reception a young man came up to me with an excited and surprised look on his face. “Carlo, wow, do you remember me?!” he asked as he cornered me at the coat check. In scenarios such as these your mind does one of three things. Either it searches it’s database for every possible instance where you might know this person, or it looks and listens for clues that could give insight into who this person is, or it looks for the best, and most vague, manner of saying hi that gives the air that you recognize the individual while seeming both genuine and credible. While I began with number three, suddenly number one kicked in and in a flash I recognized the now grown up individual that stood before me.

He called his friends over to introduce me. “Hey, this is Carlo. We used to skate together all the time at the skate park…man, you’ve helped me out with so many things!…” He went on to tell of how we would skateboard around and then just talk. While I remembered it all, I stood bewildered that those times we spent meant that much to him.

Later that evening the brother of the groom approached me. “Hi, do you remember me?” he asked. Ok, this time I really had to call upon brain function number three. He filled in the gaps for me telling me that he and I had a conversation one day that changed the course of his youth; that the words I spoke to him while we hung out in the streets of Peterborough significantly impacted his life and that he wanted to thank me.

I spent the rest of the night in amazing conversations with these two young men; and when I got home I was quick to share this story with a friend of mine who also volunteers at The Bridge Youth Center. After telling him about how stunned I was at the words of these two boys and how incredible it was that my words had has such impact, my friend commented saying, “…wow, I wish my night was that great. Instead I all I did was hang out with a bunch of rowdy kids at the youth center…” It was here that I turned to correct him. He missed the point. All that time I put in skateboarding or hanging out downtown was time setting the stage for those poignant conversations. All that time spent was time relationship building, time leading up to the moment at which something clicked inside of them.
 
People are not machines, they take time to change and grow. The work we do at The Bridge Youth Center is not just about playing pool or hanging out at the canteen. It’s time invested into actual lives that are actually transformed by Christ through the relationships established. That night was both an eye opener for this volunteer and a reaffirmation of the value in what Youth Unlimited does through it’s staff and volunteers. May these kinds of stories never cease.

Carlo Raponi

June 22, 2011

Wednesday Link List

To link or not to link, that is the question…

  • This is a real masterpiece, and if I could, I would steal the whole thing and post it here.  Perry Noble has written a list of ten things he desires for each and every person who calls NewSpring Church home.  Follow the link to the first one, watch any related video, and then click the arrows for each of the other nine.  Sample: ” #6 – I want every owner of NewSpring Church to know how to lead someone to Christ and feel the calling/responsibility to do so.”
  • TBN refused to air an episode of Jack Van Impe‘s weekly rant because it slammed Robert Schuller and Rick Warren, so Van Impe has decided to take his ball and his bat and go home, and has pulled his programs from the TBN schedule. “Although I understand, and actually agree with, your position that you ‘will not allow anyone to tell me what I can and cannot preach,’ I trust you understand that TBN takes the same position with its broadcast air time as well,” TBN President Paul Crouch wrote in a letter to Van Impe. More on this here tomorrow from a different perspective…
  • Here’s a great article for this time of year published a month ago at Leadership Journal, for people involved in ministry to young people who are leaving the local (church) area to go on to college.  Love what this Texas pastor says, “Our job doesn’t end at graduation, we call that ‘Day One.’  Each graduate leaving for college receives a $10 Starbucks gift card with the following instructions: go find a spiritual mentor on campus to take out for coffee.”
  • “Something good is going to happen to you.”  Remember that phrase?  I found this tucked away in a remote corner of the net, and even though it’s a full year old, someone here might like to have a look.  Randy R. Potts is now in his mid-thirties, he’s the grandson of Oral and Evelyn Roberts and he’s gay and estranged from the church.  If you’ve got 8-10 minutes take a look at life from his perspective.
  • The whole Xtra Normal text-to-animation method of making a point is awesome.  My son made one for a school presentation that he did, and here’s one I found on How to Be Really Terrible at Interpreting the Bible, aka “How To Show”  part two.
  • Two Perry Noble posts in one link list?  This is a must for singles; some of you may want to cut/paste and send this out as a FWD.  Check out Ten Reasons I Should Not Be Dating Him/Her.
  • On the one hand, I can’t believe Pete Wilson posted this video of a mother/daughter discussion on heaven and hell and religion in general; on the other hand, it’s probably more true to life than we realize.
  • On the weekend’s U.S. Open golf tournament, NBC-TV ran a video of a somewhat edited U.S. Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase “under God” edited out.  Twice.  What were thinking?  Apparently they are ready to admit they weren’t. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has decided not to hear another appeal to delete the clause from the pledge.
  • Canadian Anglicans in four churches that split from the apostate Anglican Church of Canada have decided to give up the fight to keep their buildings.  They will revert to the denomination which in fact is one of the largest holders of real estate in the country.  Legally legit I suppose, but morally wrong.
  • And speaking of Canadians, here’s a cold and snowy edition of one of the classic “religious” Peanuts comic strip — featuring Linus, of course — which actually isn’t the first time we’ve included Peanuts here in a Wednesday Link List.

July 15, 2010

Currently Reading: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites

Since this is a book about statistics, may I begin by saying that I am about 64% through this book, having just started yesterday.

Whereas unChristian by David Kinnaman is a book about those outside the church, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told by Bradley R. E. Wright, PhD (Bethany House, 2010) is very much a book about those inside the church, especially Evangelicals.

But there the similarity ends, because while Kinnaman is a researcher for Barna Group, Wright, a sociologist, takes direct aim at many Barna Research studies, the manner in which they are published, and the spin that alarmist Christians and headline-hungry press put on them.   (And since one of the bullet points in my recommendation of unChristian was its affiliation with Barna, it really undermines the credibility of that book by default, even though isn’t footnoted in the chapters I’ve covered so far; the author does reference Barna Group’s Revolution several times.)

In Bradley Wright’s view, the sky is not falling, the church is not necessarily decaying, and there no substantiation for giving up hope.   This flies in the face of people like Josh McDowell, author of The Last Christian Generation, a book and writer that Wright refers to, but not by name (you have to read the footnotes.)   Wright’s detesting of statistical manipulation is evidenced from the opening chapter.

This is probably the best book I’ve seen for North American Evangelical pastors who want to better understand who exactly is sitting in the pews on Sunday (and who is away that week!)  But it’s far from a leadership book; anyone who wants to be conversant on where the church is heading, or has a concern about the so-called “last generation” should read this.   There are many graphs and charts and explanation of the sociological method, but it should not deter anyone from getting some benefit from this thorough work.

I did some post-review research here to see if David Kinnaman and Bradley Wright are linked anywhere in the blogosphere; one writer connected the two in passing back in 2008,  the same year Wright himself reviewed Kinnaman’s book.   More recently,  Louis McBride tries to connect some dots in a July 4 blog post at the (biased) Baker Book House Connection blog, and a day later, an excellent review is posted by Scott Sidusky.   You might also enjoy the 18-minute interview at the Drew Marshall show; click here and scroll down to May 22.

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