My doctoral project rationale #2:
The second rationale behind this project is the significant investment that is made in church ministries geared towards children and youth that are providing a minimal return. While these students are very active in church when they are at home due to sincere desire or parental prodding, once these students leave home for college, churches will lose a huge portion of these students. While the research varies slightly, most records indicate that between seventy and eighty-eight percent of Christian students are absent from the local church by the time they enter their second year of college. Every dollar spent on nursery cribs to youth trips to graduation Bibles seems to be in vain when these students seem to vanish from church association for years.
Many people will simply claim that the temptation in college are too great and it is simply too hard to live for Christ on those campuses anymore. In actuality, many of those students stop growing in Christ because a walk with Christ was not witnessed in the home. Instead of parents modeling that type of relationship with God, they hope that by bringing them to church, someone will take care of their children’s spiritual health.
In 2003, the Barna Group conducted extensive research on the children of America. From this study, this group discovered that ninety-one percent of thirteen-year-olds pray to God at least once a week, sixty-one percent attended weekly worship services, and forty-five percent read their Bible on their own outside of a church context. While those statistics seem encouraging, the reality is those religious activities do not magically produce disciples. For all of this church activity, seventy-five percent of those students believe that someone can gain entrance into heaven by simply doing good works.
Bringing children to church will not save them. While bringing children to church does not need to be neglected by parents, the probability of children remaining involved in a church once they leave home based upon mere church exposure once or twice a week during childhood is minimal. So many children in America are so busy with activities to make them succeed in academics, athletics, or some other endeavor, that many children’s spiritual lives are not valued or prioritized by parents.18 While it is a lofty goal for a child to receive a great education and have a financially secure life, that ambition is not God’s most important goal for parents.
No matter how much parents “dropped their kids off at church,” children are still walking away from that very institution once they enter college. Emotional parents beg church leaders to provide more programs for their college students in hope that their children will return to church. The irony associated with this recurring theme is if programs could not keep their children, programs will not be able to reach their children either. Parents must take the lead because when parents are involved, any emphasis in the child’s life makes a significant impact. Boys who had fathers overwhelmingly invest in them concerning making them a better ball player continued to thrive in athletics in college. When that same child stops following God in college, parents often blame the churches for lack of programs when actually the parents are the ones who failed to take the same intention with the areas of faith that they took with a trivial sport.
In my ministerial experience investing in college students, I have attempted numerous programs in an attempt to stimulate college students attending church. Once testimony is repeated more than any other testimony I hear. Students say they were really involved in church, especially their youth group, but when they got to college, they stopped growing in Christ and connecting to a church. Once that children’s ministry is no longer there or that youth minister is no longer in close proximity to that specific student, that students does not know how to survive spiritually. If a relationship with God had been nurtured by a student’s parents, even when ministries and ministers are no longer available, that student still has access to their spiritual mentors when those mentors are none other than his or her parents.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.