I am a fan of Tim Harford. He does “More or Less” on Radio 4 . . . which is a little bit of brilliance. He also hosts a show called “pop up ideas” it is just superb – lobbing out there a bunch of “what if” thoughts and ideas. As I was driving to a meeting (16th July 2013!) Gillian Tett of the Financial Times was on the show.
What she said was fascinating . . . her past life (as an anthropologist) helped her to ask questions that no one else was asking of the financial world in the mid 2000s and she predicted the financial disaster that ensued. Prophetic or what?! Listen to it here
I listened and I got to thinking along similar lines, “what are the things that the Church is deafeningly silent on – that potentially have huge ramifications for even our future existence?” Is there anything like that – or do we have all the bases covered?
UPDATE :: I first wrote what follows 4 years ago. I had begun to think and plan for a “Household of Faith” conference which eventually took place in the summer of 2014. Reading back what I wrote then I am more convinced than ever that THIS – what I’m saying in this article – is essential. I’ve added nothing by way of edit to what I wrote in 2013, but if you have read my latest blog posts you might see additional resources, additional thought, additional stats that add weight to it. SINCE that article was written – BRF, New Wine, Care for the Family, Children Matter . . . have all started exploring this and developing resources and support for faith at home. This is EXCELLENT news – I am left asking though, what about the denominations? What about the Church of England?
UPDATE 2 :: My last comment above “What about the Church of England?” was three years ago, and – to be fair, the CofE has made some moves. The initiative, “Growing Faith” began a couple of years ago, and weirdly I have spotted a familiar diagram in that piece of work (three intersecting circles of Church / Home and School) – it looks strangely like something on a blog I wrote in 2016, “The Missing Partnership” – OK, I didn’t use intersecting circles, I used lines . . . WELL, anyway – I’m sharing this blog post again now because we have just had the latest stats from the Church of England and they make grim reading – see them here. The Church of England really doesn’t have a future if it doesn’t FULLY address the challenge I lay out below.
There is MASSIVE empirical evidence around the significance of the “household of faith” – the environment in which children are raised . . . the faith in the home and how that is passed on from one generation to another . . . or rather – how it is NOT passed on. Most of our data around child attendance at church suggests that if parents attend (even just one) church, there is a far greater chance of their children having faith as adults. Is that just because their parents BRING them to church . . . or is it also related to the faith of the parents themselves?
I would contend, that rather than so much effort going into programmes and activities for children at church, so much time spent dividing the family for our segmented “church” activities, so much time spent supporting and sustaining “men’s ministries”, “student ministry”, “women’s ministry”, getting people to effectively sign up for things that mean we spend less time in (and with) our families is counter productive if our aim is to grow the church. Those things would be great “extras” . . . IF we had a healthy church!
Much was said a couple of years ago (and it still crops up – unlike some “trendy” worries of the church, which seem to be all the rage until the time comes to produce the next marketable resource and then these “great concerns” mysteriously take a back seat).that with all we do at church, children still continue to leave . . . still in their hundreds! It is not enough to say “well – they aren’t leaving in their 1000s every week so we are doing better”. That’s like saying 100 deaths doesn’t matter as much as 1000 . . . each loss counts, each loss is a tragedy.
Isn’t it time to shift our focus COMPLETELY towards nurturing households of faith, the places where children still spend most of their time, the place where those closest to them are encouraged and EQUIPPED to live out their faith in full sight of and alongside their children.
Listen to that podcast I mentioned at the start . . . what are the conversations about in the Church, what are our leadership teams talking about, what is most prescient for our today and for our future.
Children, regardless of statistics are poor by a general standard if we consider the following:
the poor are those with no voice, no power and no money.
Children are not heard or listened to . . .
Children have no power to make decisions in the church that will impact their present participation and their future involvement as leaders . . .
Children have no money (maybe that is the biggest issue!) and cannot buy influence or wave a wallet around to get what they want . . .
What are the homes of our children like – are they heard, can their voice influence what we do, sometimes they speak truth to power (whether in the home or the church) are we listening? They may not have money, but BOY do we spend most of our money providing for their needs!! How is that the case in the church. Many parents prioritize the health and well being of their children when money is tight . . . it is just “what you do”. Can the same be said in the Church? Chips are down financially in the church, what do we ensure happens . . . what must be maintained and looked after? Unfortunately, it seems – when money is tight in the church, we prioritise looking after buildings and trying to get more people to become priests . . .
Our children need to know that THEY are our highest priority . . . we must INVEST time in the home rather than in getting people into our buildings, we must EQUIP parents to talk about their faith and share the story or God at home – is this happening? Is it what we do – or do all our efforts related to children’s ministry go into strong arming people onto the Sunday School rota? We must STOP endless activities that keep families segregated and apart (which apparently, we declare is about ministries that will build the Kingdom – go figure!)
Here is a thought, if we kept the children we currently had (who are part of the church), if we invested in these family relationships in such a way that faith was passed from generation to generation, parent to child and that faith STUCK, by the 2060s the actual “membership” of the church in this country, (with no overt evangelism, just faith being effectively passed down the generations through the home . . . ) would be about 8 million. That isn’t those who tick “Christian” in surveys, that would be ACTUAL Christians. That we have raised ourselves. With no external evangelism.
Why not scrap your evangelism budget and create an “invest in faith at home” budget. Rather than Church Army Evangelists lets have Church Household Pastors and Teachers – who will encourage and equip parents to nurture faith in the home . . . no offence intended to my friends in the Church Army, it would be great to have Church Army evangelists too . . . but, if I were to choose – I would opt for 800 Church Household Pastors who would build a partnership between Church and Home.
That “partnership” thing is interesting. The Church (at least the Church of England) encourages Church / School partnerships . . . loads of effort goes in to fostering these relationships – Diocese’ spend money on deanery road shows and all sorts of activity to encourage churches to engage with local schools. Schools foster partnerships with the Home . . . it is an integral part of the education of children, a home / school partnership – this is true across the board regardless of the ethos of the school in terms of any religious affiliation. Why on EARTH then do we not encourage a Church / Home partnership? The spiritual education and formation of our children SURELY sits right up there in terms of our priorities? At least – what we say we value. Rather than the home abdicate spiritual formation of children to the Church (and the Church be complicit) we need to turn this around and create intentional, inspirational models of church / home partnership – for the sake of the spiritual health of our children.
So. Why isn’t this being done then?