Working with kids and families in denominational churches can create unique challenges. I often hear phrases such as, “I loved this when I was a kid,” and “This is what makes the (insert your denomination) program for kids so unique and important.” As rich and important as some of our denominational traditions are, they can also prevent us from making the changes necessary to influence the lives of young people.
When we look at moving from a denominational curriculum or strategy to adopting an Orange Strategy, casting vision and getting support can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips that I hope can help those in denominational settings to understand what is at stake and what must change if we are to turn the current trends around.
Start with Statistics
Nostalgia is a common and powerful reaction to denominational methods. Many of our parents may have imagined raising their children in the same church and same church program that they grew up in. But today is not the same church or even the same culture they were raised in, and it is important that we find a way to show how things have changed. We can do this by starting with statistics.
Young people are exiting our churches in droves. The low-end estimates of young people who leave faith nationwide range from 50 to 60 percent. The denomination in which I minister is currently estimating a loss of 70 to 80 percent! It is critical that we communicate the crisis that currently exists between young people and faith. The best way to do that is to find the facts. The numbers, when presented regularly, provide a reminder that there is a crisis going on and what we have been doing in our denominations has not worked in bringing our kids into a lifetime of faith.
Make the Statistics Real
While we want to start with the numbers, it is important to put names and faces to those numbers as well. We can leverage the families in our communities by sharing stories or pointing out that no grandparent wants half of their grandchildren to walk away from faith. Something must be done. These are more than just statistics, they are names, faces and family relationships that are at stake. It’s important for everyone.
This also gives an opportunity to point out the various reasons why young people have walked away from church. Rarely is it because of disagreement with lessons or doctrine. Most often, it’s a relationship (or lack thereof) that was at the heart of it all. Since studies indicate that a teen with two or more healthy adult (non-paid, non-familial) relationships in the church is significantly more likely to continue to pursue faith, maybe a different strategy could help. Maybe there are ways to find more leaders and not focus so much on more lessons.
Cast Vision to One Leader
If the statistics are communicated and faces have been placed to the numbers, then it is easier for those who are nostalgic about denominational methods to see the need for change. Casting that vision, however, is rarely best done in large groups. In fact, most often the most effective approach is to simply recruit one leader at a time.
When we take our time recruiting leaders and casting a new vision, we model the importance of the relational method that we are promoting. We show that they are valuable as a potential leader, and they can then show that value to other leaders or to the kids or teens they will be leading.
Use Creativity to Preserve Your Unique Qualities
There are still plenty of ways to incorporate denominationally unique traditions or doctrines within the framework of the Orange Strategies and curriculum. A small group leader might find the time to walk through unique beliefs before a baptismal celebration. A tradition that is important to your community might be infused with an element that makes it more relational, or in a way that connects small group leaders and parents.
In the end, change is never quick and easy. But when we communicate what is at stake with statistics and stories, and when we cast the vision for something better to one leader at a time, we can find ways to promote a new strategy for the sake of our kids, and still fit in the qualities that make our denominations unique.