Sunday, September 20, 2009
The Barna Group
In the words of Monty Python, now for something completely different.
Several times a year since I started this blog in 2006, I like to highlight the work of George Barna. Quite simply, anything the Barna Group publishes is worth reading. They are the Gallup of the N. American Christian/Social Trends scene. George Barna is not a children's pastor, he is a researcher. He is used by God, I believe, in a very practical sense as well as in a prophetic sense to herald things for the church to sit up and take notice of.
I am preparing for my annual Vision Day - why work with children? How can I help children's leaders and church leaders to carry the flame unflinchingly for the necessity of developing children's faith development at the heart of any plan to grow the church? Growing the church starts with nurturing the faith of the very youngest and discipling them to play their fullest part of the ecclesia, the called out, chosen ones, under the guidance and nurture of the family. I have written more on this in previous posts such as here and here.
[If you wish to come to this day on Saturday 26th Sept, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for further information]
It's far, far too risky to leave this task to chance, to whoever will look after the kids, "fingers crossed" that they will hopefully do an OK job; or to assume that parents new to faith coming out of postmodern vacuous spirituality will know how to disciple their children.
History shows us that the enemy is seeking to - quite simply - get rid of children - in lots of different ways such as high levels of infant mortality in times past, and also through specific events such as the slaughter of Hebrew boys in Moses time, Herod killing children in Jesus time, through "social trends" such as infanticide commonly practiced by Roman fathers, in communist regimes such as China at the height of the One Child Policy ...I need not elaborate further.
“Children are central to the health and future well-being of the church. Reprioritizing ministry to children is the beginning of a revolution.”
So said researcher and cultural analyst George Barna before a strategic two-day session attended by 94 Christian leaders representing 54 organizations, including churches, parachurch ministries, media, and academia, at AWANA Clubs International headquarters in Streamwood, Illinois.
Barna’s clarion call to churches was doubly strong toward parents, as he claimed his recent research shows that “while 85% of parents believe they have the primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their children, more than two out of three are abdicating that responsibility to their church.”
“And very few churches” Barna continued,”go beyond seeing children’s ministry as ‘bait’ that enables them to land the real treasure — i.e., adults. We spend roughly 68 times more money per capita on caring for the average felon than on a church’s ministry to a spiritually hungry child.”
Barna presented the findings of his research on the state of children’s ministry in the U.S., which fueled group discussions concerning the “4-14” window; that is, the critical age timeframe wherein the vast majority of people decide what they will—or won’t—believe. Barna’s findings—and their meaning to a church and family in transition—are spelled out in the book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions (Regal, 2003).
“Our children will determine the future, which makes them our most significant and enduring legacy,” Barna proclaimed, “can we afford to let the spiritual and moral dimension of our future leaders be shaped by default?”
A surprising outcome of the gathering was the uniform acceptance of Barna's words of challenge, even among those participants who have appreciated children’s ministry for years,beginning with pastors.
“I’m in the process of rethinking the direction and priorities of our church,” stated Dr. Ed Johnson, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Ocala, Fla. “I’m going home with the deep conviction that children need to be the number one
priority of what we’re doing.”
So strongly did the majority of attendees respond to Barna’s challenge, that they themselves issued a number of calls and challenges.
Specifically, the Forum:
*** Called for churches to strategically place their resources toward ministering to children within this window of opportunity and to assist parents in their role of being spiritual shapers.
*** Called for parents to step up to their biblically directed responsibility to be the primary source of spiritual nurture for their children.
*** Encouraged strategic partnerships among organisations to work together to create awareness of this window of ministry opportunity
*** Called for ministries, churches and parents to adopt a comprehensive system of high quality teaching and mentoring efforts that include meaningful assessment and evaluation of children’s understandings.
*** Agreed to a coordinated ongoing effort at shifting the perception of ministry to children from that of mere appreciation to that of strategic priority in the local church.
Sponsoring organizations for this forum, held April 5 and 6, included: AWANA Clubs International, The Barna Group, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Christianity Today International, Gospel Light, and LifeWay Christian Resources.