A Shifting Landscape: The Challenges That Lead to the Need for a New Approach to Child Discipleship

Article by Kevin Orris January 7, 2020

Today’s church kids are growing up in both a secular and church culture which is unlike the cultures in which most adults grew up. More importantly, the culture kids are experiencing is unlike the ones that are to come. I fear our assumptions of “sameness”—our cluelessness in the midst of huge cultural shifts—may lead us to be unresponsive to the needs these shifts present in building strong and relevant spiritual foundations for the years ahead.

The Barna Group makes this point as well: “In some ways, the church is not preparing young disciples for the world as it is. Cultural discernment is about teaching them not just what to think but also how to live. We must prepare them for the world as it truly is, not as we wish it to be.”

We are living in times of unprecedented change. The entire world is shifting and tilting towards an unknown future. And when it comes to our children, it is as if we are launching a generation of kids to land in the year 2050 on an unknown and faraway planet. How can we possibly prepare them to survive and thrive in that future and foreign place? This we sense: the adults of the future church will need to be disciples as few modern generations before them have had to be. They will need fearless resilience.

None of us know the future with certainty, but we can look at some growing trends and see how these seismic shifts are impacting today’s kids and foreshadowing their futures.

Shift #1: Screen Discipleship 

This first seismic shift: technology has brought a heightened velocity of secular culture. It points to several troubling emerging issues: a decline in well-being, a rise of addictive behavior among adults and adolescents and an engulfment in secular values.

To summarize…

Today’s kids are becoming screen disciples through secular venues like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and other media. This strong secular-driven culture is ever-present in their lives, addictive and more readily available than Mom and Dad. It’s where they go for advice, what to think, and how to behave. It’s where they go for relationships and identity. Compare screen time with church time and we have to admit: Our kids are screen disciples.

Shift #2: Family Breakdown

The second seismic shift affecting kids today has been the breakdown in family structure. For many Americans the intact, forever family is a fairy tale from a by-gone age.

Approximately 50% of American kids will witness the breakup of their parents’ marriage. This fragmentation of the family has created a fatherless epidemic with more than 20 million American kids experiencing fatherless in the United States today.

To summarize…

The church needs to stand in the gap as the belonging family and the primary influencers for a generation of kids whose parents are “missing” or unable to nurture them spiritually.

Shift #3: Church Decline

Church closures are on the rise. Every week 100-200 churches close. That’s 6,000 to 10,000 churches each year.

What is today’s church kid’s relationship to the church anyway? Some data shows that “church” children are attending church only 1.7 times a month. That equals 24 hours in church per year!

Kinnaman and Matlock made this conclusion in Faith for Exiles and we completely agree. “The data indicates that an hour (or less) a week (in church)—or more likely, an hour or so every few weeks, when a young Christian shows up for church—is simply not a sufficient amount of “weight” to tone a heart bloated with hundreds of hours of content from digital Babylon.”

To summarize…

The greatest challenge to the future of faith is the discipleship of our children.

Challenges & Opportunities

Today offers more than challenges. It offers opportunities … opportunities to examine whether or not we are preparing today’s kids to be the resilient remnant,  the resilient disciples of tomorrow’s church. Will they have the kind of spiritual strength that engages culture with elasticity and flexibility?

Will they stand firm on biblical truth? Or will they break against the weight of culture? Will they be silenced and driven underground or blended into secular culture, Christians—but in name only?

It is time for an awakening of faith in America. We believe a renewal can start in the children’s wing of the church.

Come together. There are mountains ahead of us. The church is struggling. Some say it is in decline or even dying. The family is breaking down. The screen is becoming a powerful disciple-maker of our kids. Each of these mountains challenges the future of faith.

Words from Scripture resound in my spirit now, even as I write the above foreboding words. And it is these “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Our kids. Will they stand firm? Will they proudly proclaim their faith? Will they go about God’s work in the world fearlessly and bravely, unashamed of who they are and what they believe? Will the gospel be their clear loyalty? Will they be resilient?

If the answer is “Yes!” then they will faithfully join those who have followed Christ for centuries. And that, my friends, is the goal.