Imagine a 16-year-old WELS member. What are the chances that individual is still WELS when he’s 30? We have studied this multiple times in our church body’s history. My commission, Congregational Counseling, has churches who work with us measure that—the percent of young members who drop out of church.
The answer is about 50%. Approximately half of young WELS members drift away. Some drift into other Christian churches. However, most drift into nothingness. They stop going to church altogether. A few come back when they get married and have kids of their own. It is a very small percentage. The bottom line is about 50% of young WELS members eventually leave.
When we study a large sampling of WELS people and look at certain life factors, we can note things that seem to make the difference. For example, having a child attend a Lutheran elementary school and especially a Lutheran high-school can make a difference. If you have the opportunity to send your child to such as school, realize what a gift you have been given! However, understand that while Lutheran education does make a difference, it is a very small difference—just a couple percentage points. Most WELS congregations don’t have an elementary school. If that is true for you, do not despair! For there are other factors that matter much, much more than Lutheran education.
Do you know what is the bigger factor in whether or not young people stay in the church? This factor dwarfs everything else. The spiritual activity that takes place in the home.
When mom and dad talk about spiritual things at home, that impresses upon the children that life is about more than grades and sports. When family prayer is something done daily, it teaches the children that of all conversations they have in a day, none is more important than when they bring their cares and concerns to their true Father. When parents open up the Bible with their children, what blessings result! The Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to build your child up in their faith. More, the Spirit imparts the love and forgiveness Christ has shown to each family member, empowering them to show love and forgiveness to one another. Families need that! (Side note: It has been demonstrated that it is especially important that fathers be a part of this. The importance of dad providing spiritual leadership should not be surprising, as God wove that responsibility into the fiber of man’s being.)
However, in Congregational Services, we established a goal to give families the opportunity to restore the family altar. And do not let the fact that you might not be able to do a family devotion every day keep you from doing them at all. I’ve had parents tell me things like, “It would be impossible for us to do family devotions. We all are so busy in the evenings. Half the evenings, we don’t even eat together.” My response? “You just told me you can do family devotions on half of the evenings of the week.” However, I’d encourage you to make time for this. No worldly accomplishment of your child is going to matter in the end. Your child pitches a no-hitter in little league. No one will care a year later. Even if your child goes on to play in the major leagues, what does that matter when the trumpet sounds, the skies rip open, and the angels begin to set things on fire? At that moment, what matters is what the Spirit has wrought in your child’s heart. Family devotions are a fantastic way to give the Spirit regular opportunity to give your child what your child needs to live… to really live.
A family devotional booklet is available online. It is designed to go along with the online daily devotions. You can find it in the C18-Discipleship Resources HERE.
One of the things we hear in Congregational Counseling again and again is how hard it is to keep young people in church. Well, family devotions are something that seems to greatly increase the likelihood they stay. Ultimately, moving someone to see the importance of Christian community is the work of the Spirit. However, the Spirit typically works through us, through believers. So, let us give the Spirit more opportunities to do his good work by letting him have a place at our dinner table. When dinner is over, turn that table into a family altar.
Excerpts from blog post “The Importance of the Family Altar”
Rev. Jonathan Hein
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling