I have an unusual family. Allow me to explain before any family members reading this get offended. We are unusual because we’re so, well… normal. Take my dad’s side of the family. He is one of six children. That generation married and had kids, so my cousins and siblings and I total eighteen. Now our generation is getting married and having kids, and so far there are thirty and counting in the next generation. Here’s the thing—of all of us, there are no black sheep, no rebels, no skeletons in the closet, and all of us get along—no family feuds or rifts or anything. And we are all actively living out our Christian faith.
Now imagine what would have happened had my grandparents not raised their children to know Jesus. What would have happened if they hadn’t made church a priority, both on Sundays and at home throughout the week? Think of the difference they made in the lives of generations to follow. Counting spouses, that’s roughly seventy people so far. If my grandparents hadn’t passed on their faith, that’s seventy less people active in the kingdom of God. Parents, take note of this. You are affecting countless future generations by your example (or lack thereof) in teaching the Christian faith. Yes, children can grow up and decide on their own to leave the church, and I know people whose adult children have done just that. It grieves them to no end. But that’s on their children, not on them. In the meantime, parents, teach and live the faith while your kids are at home. Make it so natural that they continue in their own faith when they leave home.
So here’s the secret of church growth: the family. Not flashy enough? Maybe not, but it’s true. Think back to your confirmation class. How many of those classmates are still active in church today? To the best of my knowledge, 80% of my classmates no longer regularly attend church, and probably haven’t for years. That’s tragic. And I’d bet the statistics from your class are probably similar. Consider how much bigger the church would be if those confirmands who vowed in front of the entire congregation to remain faithful unto death actually meant those vows. Sadly, most of those who have fallen away were those whose parents dropped them off each week for catechism class but never actually went to church themselves. Parents, this is serious business. Do not expect the church to do in an hour a week what you refuse to do in the remaining 167 hours. Kids learn more about the faith by watching you than they will during church or Sunday School. That’s not to say the church is irrelevant. Not at all. But you, parents, have the biggest impact. If church isn’t a priority for you, it won’t be for them either. If you go to church casually and do little at home to pray, learn Bible stories, memorize Bible verses and the catechism, chances are they’ll follow suit. Like I said, this is serious business.
So what’s a parent to do? Teach your kids Bible stories from the time they are babies. Read age-appropriate devotions with them. Ask them for prayer requests and pray with them often. Teach the catechism so that when they get to confirmation class the memory portion is review. We used to go around the table each night and my brothers and I took turns quoting the Ten Commandments and meanings after dinner. It was invaluable. I still remember them all today. When my dad (a pastor) was teaching confirmation class one day, the confirmands were complaining that they had to memorize the entire Apostles’ Creed. My dad brought in my first-grade brother, who quoted the whole thing without blinking an eye. One student grumbled, “Yeah, well, that’s because he’s in church every Sunday.” Exactly. Play Christian music in the car and at home. I’m a classical church musician, so I want my kids to know the rich hymnody of our church. I play CDs of hymns in the car, and just started doing so with the carpool kids as well. (I’m not sure what the 8th and 9th grade boys think of that, but it’s good for them as well.) CPH has some great resources in this category. They have a Hymns of the Church Year CD that has hymns for all the seasons, sung by children. They have Evening and Morning, a CD that includes the music of the liturgies found in Treasury of Daily Prayer. CPH also has the catechism set to music in a CD called Sing the Faith. Just the other day my friend’s five-year-old sang me the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Kids have an amazing memory, especially when things are set to music. Use that to your full advantage. Listen to Lutheran Public Radio, a great free resource available on the internet and via app for your phone. Teach your kids these things while they are young. Remember, your faith isn’t just about you. It’s about the next generation, and the next, and all those following. Do everything in your power (with God’s help, of course) to see that the faith doesn’t stop with you. This is the kind of church growth that produces solid, mature Christians. It’s a huge responsibility, but God is by your side the whole way, nurturing each precious soul to grow His Church.