“Whenever two people are together, one is influencing the other.” My adult children tell me today this was one of my favorite reminders years ago whenever they left the house to be with their teenage friends. I’ve thought about my little proverb often since then, especially as Christian Standard has taken up issues of church and culture. How is the church today influencing the values of our culture? And how are the attitudes and ideals of today’s educators, politicians, entertainers, and corporate leaders changing the church?
Research seems to say the church is not prevailing. George Barna released a “State of the Church” report this summer that reported changes in religious beliefs and activities among American adults in the last 20 years. He said Bible reading, church volunteerism, Sunday school attendance, and church attendance have all declined since 1991. Meanwhile, the number of unchurched adults has increased from 24 percent to 50 percent of the population. (Barna defines unchurched as having not once attended church, except for something like a wedding or funeral, in the last six months.)
And the decline of Christian practice is accompanied by an erosion of orthodox beliefs. According to Barna, only two-thirds of American adults believe God is “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today,” a seven point drop since 1991. His research also shows only 38 percent of American adults believe “the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches,” down from 46 percent 20 years ago.
What to do about all this? Barna offers a whole bookstore full of ideas and strategies. But among the many pages of his analysis and commentary at www.barna.org and www.georgebarna.org, I found the hint at a surprising solution:
Thousands of pastors are frustrated in ministry because the church did not take children seriously as spiritual beings needing development when they were young. Those underdeveloped minds and hearts belong to today’s adults in our churches. As God warned, we reap what we sow.
Children! Barna, the chronicler of the American church’s waning influence, says pay attention to the children! Of course we can’t forget adults, especially parents shaping the worldview of children in their homes. But think what we might accomplish for tomorrow by focusing on children today!
Elsewhere Barna quotes a Chinese proverb that resonates with the one I repeated to my teenagers: “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.” Maybe the best way to turn a country back to God is to write his truth and love on the hearts of its children.