In my church, kids pray with heads bowed, chubby fingers pushed against fluttering eyelids. When the pastor pauses to make a children's application, they square their shoulders and sit taller. And at the service's end, they sing with gusto, "praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." I guess no one told them that young Christians are disillusioned with the church.
The sanctuary door swings both ways, and as many 20-somethings exit Sunday worship, scores of children are toddling in. They hold their parents' hands as they experience for the first time the privilege of being part of Christ's church. When we talk about how to increase church participation among the millennial generation, are we looking over the heads of the youngest one?
More than a third of regular churchgoers have kids under 18, according to the General Social Survey. Now is the time when these kids begin forming ideas about what church is and whether it is important to them. Now is when Christian communities should welcome them, not merely into child-focused activities, but into the authentic, multifaceted life of the church.
To do so, we must first look at our own hearts. In American Grace, sociologists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell propose that "the most important factor predicting religious retention is whether a person's family of origin was religiously homogeneous and observant, or not." If we want the next generation to embrace the faith, parents and extended family have to believe and faithfully practice it themselves.
We have a biblical example of this in Timothy, whose faith "dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well" (2 Tim. ...1