13 People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them.
short vignette from the gospel of Mark chapter 10, the disciples of Jesus want to hinder
children from coming to Jesus. They want to turn them away.
you ask. Well, you need to consider that we live in a different day and age, a
day and age where children are treated special, lovingly, and exalted. This is a
very kid-centric time we live in, in most ways anyway, and rightly so. But in
Jesus’ times, kids were not seen as special or exalted. For families struggling
to get by and survive, children were expensive, first of all. And infant
mortality was high. In other words, for most families, living hand to mouth and
without modern medicine, having another kid meant many more worries. There were
no gender-reveal parties in Jesus’ day.
public, children were to be seen but not heard. Children were often seen as
nuisances when it came to adult concerns. Adults in public, men especially, didn’t
want to be bothered by children.
Jesus was different. Jesus when it came to children was moderner in an ancient
time. He treated children special, lovingly, and exalted them, as he does in
our scripture reading.
want to focus on the disciples hindering young people from coming to Jesus. and
yes, I am expanding things from children to young people. The disciples weren’t
successful. However, to apply the story to us, when it comes to us hindering young
people, we are much more successful, granted, unconsciously so.
There is this thing called retention. When it
comes to retaining our young people, the Congregationalist-UCC tradition is
very poor. According to a huge survey on religion in America from a few years
ago, only 70% at most remain Congregationalists or UCC into their adulthood. We
are turning our children away somehow, hindering them from coming to the Jesus
we know and love.
How, is the question. What are we as a
denomination doing or not doing unconsciously – and I highlight unconsciously –
that influence our children to leave the UCC when they become adults?
To answer that, we ought to do a deeper dive
into the numbers. So, according to Pew Research’s Religious Landscape Study
from 2015, Congregationalists, which is predominately UCC, see 31% of their
kids continue to identify with the denomination they were brought up in. So,
31% continue as UCCers. 36% join other Christian denominations, 6% join another
religion altogether, and 28% become unaffiliated. Congregationalists are at the
very bottom when it comes to retention. At the top? At the top of the retention
rate list are non-Christian traditions, namely Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
First is Hinduism with 80% remaining Hindu into adulthood. Then there is Islam
and Judaism, at 77% and 75% respectively remaining Muslim and Jewish.
The Christian group that does the best when it comes to retaining their youth
is the Black Protestant church with 70% remaining apart of that tradition into
adulthood. The Evangelical tradition follows with 65% remaining Evangelical
into adulthood. Catholics retain 59% of their youth. And mainline Protestantism,
So, the UCC problem with retention is a mainline
Protestant problem. Compared to non-Christian traditions, Evangelical
traditions and the Catholic tradition, mainline churches do much worse when it
comes to retaining their kids. And among mainline churches, the UCC does the
worst of all with 31% of young people continuing as UCC into adulthood.
Here are my thoughts in the how and why we do so
poorly as a denomination. And let me just say here that this is not a personal
thing. I am not personal critiquing anyone here. Lord knows how we as parents
struggle and fail. Nor do I want anyone to feel any kind of guilt. No
"shoulda-coulda-wouldas." Regret is wasted energy. All we can do is
start where we are and seek to improve. That’s it.
Let me also say that the Christian Education
program here at CCP is top-notch. Nicole, Rex, and Cheryl do a wonderful job.
CE is not, let me repeat, not the problem. It just isn’t
enough! Nor is confirmation.
That said, I give some thoughts about some
things our denomination and our collective body might do to improve our
When considering those that do better in
retaining their young, these seem to be the common denominator:
1.) personal, applicable connection to one’s live
between Monday and Sunday.
For the non-Christian religions I mentioned,
this personal connection is seen in the daily devotional practices that
Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism require. Hinduism, for example, requires daily
worship practice called puja as well as frequent religious festivals through
the year. Islam, five times daily prayer. Judaism, regular prayer and a kosher
In the Black church and the Evangelical
traditions, the personal connection is a bit different but just as pervasive in
one’s life. The personal connection to one’s life comes in the form of a
personal relationship with Jesus that is a daily thing. “A daily walk with
Jesus,” is what is often called, and this daily walk in turn influences regular
spiritual practices such as Bible study, prayer time, and attending multiple
church services throughout the week. That personal connection to
Jesus is key. It is a heart thing, a relationship that is focused on and
2.) a deep sense of community experienced throughout
Whether a Hindu or a Black Christian, community
is central. In these spiritual communities, folks not only worship together,
but they eat together, celebrate together, and simply come together throughout
the week. As a communities, these religious groups are more like a close cousin
to kids than distant uncle or aunt.
So, a personal connection to divinity, in our
case to Jesus, and devotional practices throughout the week, and coming
together in community as much as possible with fellow sojourners – this, I
would say, correlates to retaining young people.
In other words, a more than just Sunday morning
approach to the spiritual life that includes a deep sense of community, this
seems to enhance young people wanting to remain in the faith.
So, as I come to a close, what are some things
we can do to enhance a deeper connection to Jesus? Is there a
regular spiritual practice done throughout the week we can gather
around here at Plainville Congregational? And lastly what can we do to enhance
a deep sense of community throughout the week?
These are some of the questions I am asking
myself. I am asking knowing as a parent I am far, far from having it figured
Jesus said to his disciples, do not hinder the
young from coming to me. Let them come and sit with me and be blessed. And
Jesus embraced their presence and their personhood, and they experienced
connection to the divine. They experienced some kind of spiritual
transformation. They experienced community with Jesus and his people. And I’d
like to think those young people who shared that moment with Jesus became part
of the Jesus movement that we call the church.
That is what we are aiming for still. Let us
make it so in the ways we can.