Empty Pews?

lonechildinpewsIt’s been awhile since I’ve written here; I’ve been busy writing and editing some great projects coming out this Fall and early 2017. Stay tuned on that front.

Meanwhile a new “program” year has begun in our churches, with families returning after a summer hiatus of skipping worship to sleep-in, vacation, or simply doing other things. And hopefully they have returned, along with all the others who have been absent the past few months as October rolls around. With the oncoming Fall and schools back in session, everyone is eager to “begin anew,” making a commitment, at least for a few months to come to church on a more regular basis.

One of the projects that I have been working on (which has taken much longer than I anticipated) is the dissemination of a Curriculum Survey that was distributed across cyberspace in June 2016. Almost 900 individuals took the survey, with 270 taking the time to also share their thoughts in the comment areas provided. And wow – there was a lot to be said.

A few stats first: 70% of the respondents were associated with an Episcopal church, 30% from other denominations; all shared the same themes, needs, and concerns. 87% have some sort of children’s ministry program (75% youth and 75% adult). That sounds amazing. However, 82% of the congregations have 50 or fewer children who regularly attend a Sunday school program. And 50% of the churches have less than 10 middle schoolers and less than 10 high schoolers participating in youth programs. 68% of the congregations who offer adult education programming reported to having less than 30 individuals who regularly participate in those offerings.

Some quotes from the survey respondents, of which over 75 spoke of attendance and commitment “issues”:

  • Consistent participation is always a challenge. Sunday mornings work for many older adults, but not as well for parents with younger kids.
  • Inconsistent attendance due to sports schedules for youth is a constant challenge as is the perpetual issue of enough volunteers to run our programs. 
  • We are struggling to find a model for children’s and youth ministries that works better than traditional Sunday morning church school, when we have great difficulty getting kids to come with any regularity. 
  • How do you get people (adults, mainly ) to WANT to be part of formation/education ministries? … that’s the main question.

How are we (children, youth, and adults) growing in the faith and knowledge of Jesus? Yes, this doesn’t have to occur in a church, let alone education setting. Yes, the Church is changing and fewer people are attending worship in the United States, especially on the East and West coasts. How will these shifts impact the passing along of faith to the next generations?

I don’t have any answers, although I have shared previously how our education models need to change. For the most part, what was most encouraging from the survey was that most of the respondents are dedicated and trained individuals who wish they had more time to plan their lessons and programs, now spending between 30 minutes and 2 hours per week on preparation. They are experienced (99% have over one year in the books for educational ministry), educated, and connected; seeking out local colleagues for ministry support was ranked higher than social media, websites, and denominational or judicatory staff.

And our leaders are trying to think outside the box, knowing programming cannot continue the way it has for the past twenty-plus years. They are trying:

  • Intergenerational options
  • Resources for families to use at home
  • Focusing on the surrounding community with outreach and less study
  • Interfaith youth groups
  • Launching new programs that include meals, discussion, and service projects

So stay tuned for the survey results later this week. And join the conversation about how you feel educational ministries need to change to meet the needs (if there is even a perceived need) of all ages in our congregations.

Perhaps we need to let all of this die so that there may be a rebirth and resurrection?

Image: Creative Commons

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