Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kids and Church

In a community with so many military families (Fort Campbell is contiguous with the borders of Clarksville, TN), our city and our congregation have a higher number of young adults, young married couples, and young children.  In our late service we regularly have 20 children under school age and a couple of women are pregnant (from those 140 people who normally attend that service).  That is not the case for the majority of Lutherans, not for the Missouri Synod, and, not for the majority of Lutheran congregations.

Some statistics pointed out to me recently show a very different profile.  Statistics can help identity the issues and the scope of the problems but they cannot offer us solutions.

LCMS     # of children    US
70%    no children         65%
11%    one child            13%
13%    two children       13%
  5%    three children       6%
  1%    4 + children         3%

Now how you unpack these statistics is up for debate but it is safe to say it is a combination of an aging population without children and not of childbearing age, of those of childbearing age choosing to remain single, and those of childbearing age who have fewer and fewer children.  None of these is a good thing.  All of them do, however, reflect the general trends in the overall population so it is safe to say that the LCMS is not an exception but a nuanced example consistent with the overall numbers.

If you want to know why church attendance is down or Sunday schools are smaller in a typical Lutheran congregation, it may be due to some of the statistics above.  We are clearly not having enough children to replace those who are currently in the pews or dying and we are not retaining those children.  While some of this may point to a more active program of outreach, I think it should also point us to a more careful effort to address the other causes.  Why are so many remaining single?  Why do couples today choose to have no children or only one child?  Why do we have such a poor track record of keeping the children whom we receive through Holy Baptism and whom we confirm?

I will venture a few opinions although I am not promising any solid solutions.

We treat faith largely as an individual thing.  It seems perfectly normal to most of us that conversion happens one person at a time when the Biblical record speaks more of households.  It has become normal to think of faith as a deeply personal expression to which spouse, family, and even church are optional in the exercise of that faith.  This is not how we began as Lutherans and it is high time we began to speak more corporately, to address the faith and life of the family, and of the essential role of the weekly gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord to our faith and lives in Christ.

We do not address much about marriage and family in sermons or Bible study that speaks of marriage as God ordained and God willed.  It is as if marriage is a personal and individual decision, something indifferent to matters of faith and life in Christ, instead of the God designed building block of life together upon which all other aspects of community and society are constructed.  Did Luther ever teach a catechism class of youth like the church holds?  Or did Luther expect that the primary catechetical training took place in the home from parents and not volunteer or professional teachers?  Lutherans need to hold the family more accountable for its primary role in fostering and preserving the faith among God's people.  Is it not the expectation that a strong family faith will result in strong congregations and strong congregations will also strengthen the faith and life of the Christian home?

We do not speak much of children, much less of children as a blessing from the Lord.  Birth control and family planning have allowed us the strange idea that children are neither normal to or expected within the family.  Surely this is foreign to the Scriptures and to the time of Luther.  We have fewer children only because we desire fewer children -- but why do we desire fewer children?  It is as if we have forgotten the call to be fruitful and multiply.  In one case a family in my parish was hesitant to announce a third child was on the way because they were afraid of what people would think of them (having two small children and a third to come).  Have children become an embarrassment to us?

We seem to complain about small children as if they were an imposition upon the life of the Church.  We provide children's church or nursery care to relieve the parents of the burden of children in worship.  We insist upon entertaining children (even with juvenile activities designed to appeal to their age group ) rather than expecting them to be catechized by the Divine Service and learn from the repetition of the liturgy.  I grew up with pews in the back rows clearly marked as for parents with small children as if the congregation did not want to see them or have their worship interrupted by the occasional noise or movement of a child.  When did we begin to think this way?

We let our children define their levels of participation in the life of the church.  We do not give them the option of cleanliness, school attendance, vaccinations, etc... but we do let them choose at a young age whether or not they want to go to church or Sunday school.  When did that begin?  What happened to the expectation that the whole family will participate together -- fully -- in the Divine Service?  Why do we reward their misbehavior by not taking them to worship or by dumping them off in the nursery?  Parents should not only be encouraged to bring their children to all parts of our life together in the church but the adults of the congregation ought to help parents when things become more than they can handle.

Just a few random thoughts and I am sure you have some more.  In any case, we find ourselves at a place where marriage is optional, children unusual, and faith individual -- then we wonder where have all the children gone. 


jonathanpaulmayer said...

For my parents' generation (going to college in the '70s), there was a line of thinking among intellectuals that it would be an irresponsible use of our planet to have more than two children. Because, of course, the cry had gone out that the world is overpopulated and cannot support any more growth. Even confessional Lutherans bought into this argument because it could be so easily dressed as "good stewardship." But it certainly could explain the demographics.

El Cid said...

We had four!

Rebekah said...

Best of all is announcing another pregnancy to other confessional Lutherans. Hope you like getting ridiculed!

#7 next month, DV.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post. I'm in my 40s, been Lutheran all my life, and now am just finding out the real meaning of marriage/family thanks to these confessional blog sites. It's incredibly sad how most every Lutheran I know has limited their family size as there was never anything mentioned about marriage/family/birth for decades until recently as we are now in crisis mode here. Keep up the great work!