Too Much Church! 5 Dangers Facing Over-Churched Kids

A top concern for most kids pastors is reaching the children in their communities who do not attend church. These unchurched kids simply don’t know much about the Bible. Often they have a mixed up version of Jesus gathered from TV shows. Before they can give their lives to Him, they need a basic introduction to the Good News.

On the other end of the spectrum are kids who are overexposed to church. These are the children who attend every service, and can’t remember anytime when they didn’t come to church. In my ministry, most of these kids also attend a Christian school. They can recite the books of the Bible, they’ve memorized countess Scripture verses, and they know details about Bible stories that I can’t even remember.

By over-churched kids, I mean children with too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus. Attending church is important and should promote spiritual growth, but sometimes there are side effects. In this post, I will describe the spiritual dangers these kids face. You can also read our follow up post that offers 9 strategies for reaching these kids.

If you’re new to our website, be sure to check out our sunday school lessons for children and VBS resources. You might also enjoy our free lessons for children’s church and the our free children’s sermons. Here is the link for What I said about Over Churched Children.

This is not an easy topic and I expect some push back from readers. But this is an issue we need to address now, before we raise the next crop of Pharisees.

1. Familiar Stories Lose Their Power: When kids hear the same Bible stories year-after-year they can become a little boring. Even worse – these stories are often told without imagination or any listener interaction. Most over-churched kids have heard the same 100+ Bible stories since they were in the Toddler Sunday School. They no longer connect with the characters or feel moved by the plot resolution. Once I was told by a seminary professor, “ It is a sin to make the Bible boring.” I’m starting to think he was right.

2. Knowledge Can Promote Pride: Something happens inside of us when we become the expert. Children feel that same sense of superiority when they have more religious knowledge than their peers. Too often over-churched kids build their identity around that achievement, even when it doesn’t involve a growing relationship with Christ.

3. They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.

4. They Don’t Feel Their Lostness: Many over-churched kids don’t know what life is like without the comforts of faith. Their brain say ‘forgiveness’ before their heart feels ‘I’m sorry.’ Because they know about grace, they have never really struggled much with guilt.

5. The Ugly Side of Church: Kids who hang around Christians know the yucky side of the church. They hear the complaining. They know Jesus didn’t fix daddy’s temper yet. They know that church is not always the safest place in their lives. Beyond all this they notice when adults are being fake or doing religious role play.

What Do You Think?

What has been your experience with over-churched kids? Do you recognize some of these dangers in your ministry. Leave a comment below to share your ideas.


Comments

  1. Mary Lou Gamache says

    I do not think it is dangerous to overexpose children to Church. FAar more dangersous is the parent who goes to church and does not have a personal relationship with Christ and gives children a bad example. Children are always listening and watching their parents. Telling children that you love God and others then acting otherewise innoculates children against religion. Children get just enough phony religion to make them immune to it! So not church but authentic Christian witness is most needed to raise people of faith.

  2. Donald Callia Jr. says

    I believe the same thing happens with adults. You don’t have to go to church too much to be religious. It has to do with the heart of each individual, kid or adult. I think the main thing is that parents need to live out their Christianity at home, instead of only in the church. Which is hypocritical in my opinion.

  3. says

    I have been looking for answers to so many questions in my Ministry to children.
    1) if the parent does not have spiritual role in their children’s life, what can the church do?
    2) what about children from a broken home, out of wedlock, who lacks basic needs of life,and have found a place in church just once in 7 days! Only to satisfy their wants and learn nothing.
    3)Also children that have over-heard their parents discuss a lot about the dysfunction of the church. Like I have a child that will tell me to my face that prayer doesnt do everything,so says my dad and mum…..so she wouldnt pray.
    I pray for the generation of parent that neglect their family alters to circular life and church politics. We the church will continue to do our best…Ta

  4. Baz says

    I think it’s better to get children to learn mathematics and science than too much church. Without a rigorous intellectual background that includes more than just scripture they won’t be prepared for the modern world. More great Christian thinkers will win respect from those who don’t believe!

    Further the more they are exposed to knowledge about the world they more rigorously they’ll be able to defend their faith. It’s easy to challenge the beliefs of someone who doesn’t understand the world, much harder to do so with someone who is well educated beyond scripture.

    Finally it means that through challenging their own beliefs regularly they’ll know WHY they believe what they believe. This is important because too many people just accept what others say without thinking about it for themselves – the third reason the author gives touches on this one – it’s not enough to believe just because you’ve been taught that but rather to struggle through and work out their relationship, if any, to god.

    • Dillon says

      I’m glad for your post, as I can personally relate to alot of what you wrote. It makes me feel not so alone being someone who has to continually strip down what I believe and rebuild often.

      One of the main reasons I left church was the blind acceptance to a status quo and the subtle pressure that comes from the church peer group to adhere to those norms. I’m not bashing the bible, but the whole “the bible says” thing kinda did me in; lots of circular logic. I’ll probably go back at some point, just not at that point yet. My physics education taught me how to think very critically, probably too much so, as you loose a certain innocence in how you view things.

      And I agree, it can be a real struggle to work through what you believe and why you believe in God and Jesus. For me now it’s no one else loves me with so few conditions like Jesus. My physics degree came from a christian university, and I have no regrets going there. I did notice a trend with heavily churched people having a harder time relating to people outside of that type of environment, and I’ve had a hard time relating to people at church. Nothing to hold against them though. Many of these people are really awesome caring individuals, much more than myself; and I’m sure God shines through their failures as I hope he does through mine.

  5. Jon says

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, I used to be one of these kids – growing up knowing it all but practicing otherwise. We can only do so much as Christians – only God can provide the repentance and change. I know sometimes it is stressful seeing kids veer off one way instead of going the straight path – but what is important is that we continue to serve faithfully knowing God will not abandon. As Philipians 1:6 says “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

    God’s ways are mightier than man’s ways – and the way God works in one person will vary from the next.

    “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

    I love this verse because if God has chosen you, that’s it. It says God is patient to wait for every last chosen one until he/she has become saved. There is nothing that can block the Salvation of a chosen child of God – no terrorist, no drug, no sin, no death, no failure… nothing! No thing can prevent what God wills for a person he chooses.

    I pray all of you continue to stay faithful to the ministry even when things don’t happen the way we want them to. Press on – God will finish the work which has been started!

  6. Evelyn Noweder says

    I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this, but I think one of the things I see is the over-churched, fake-Christian youth being placed into positions of youth leadership. Often, because they are very involved and very enthusiastic, it is seen as a reflection of their spiritual maturity. Sadly, I think that this is not always the case. The other concern I have, is seeing some of our churched children growing up knowing some of the “stories” or “principles” and yet knowing very little of Scripture. In some cases, the basis of their faith seems to be more Christian lyrics than Scripture. I have to say that I am VERY CONCERNED for the state of our churches. Not only the over-churched kids, but the over-churched adults, who also seem to be very involved and excited about “church” and yet so much less excited about getting into Scripture or spending time in the Word. And, where are the Bible teachers? I learned as I saw women who loved to read the Bible. How many such teachers are out there? And how many churches are using these teachers to pass on this skill and love for the Word? It is so much easier to use pre-packaged studies than to dig in to the Word for ourselves.

    OK, sorry, you have touched on a sore spot for me. My heart aches for how anemic church has become in so many ways. We seem to have made it so much easier to just show up, for both adults and children. So little is expected.

    And, in my own church, I see a push to get involved in outreach, which is GREAT, but our church is still in so many ways immature and there is such a lack of foundation. We need to build up the body, to stop pushing the milk and begin feeding the meat. We need to begin raising expectations and helping believers to reach for those expectations rather than making them comfortable in their pews. We SO NEED to begin training and developing instead of entertaining and giving principles for successful living.

    OK, I’ll stop now. I could go on and on, and maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am old-fashioned or not seeing the big picture. But, oh, my heart aches for the body of Christ and what it has become, a nice, comfortable, friendly get-together on Sunday mornings.

  7. Lela Nickell says

    Oh my goodness! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Our ministry team has talked about some of these problems, and have been working to revamp the way we present the Bible to the kids in our church. Looking forward to more on this subject.

  8. says

    I Praise the lord for giving you this insight, because this subject i have always been concerned about. As a teacher, Minister and pastor, I’ve worked with many types of sunday school programs, and have seen the boredom and lack of understanding in our children. I’ve often wonder how much of Christ and who He really is, is being imparted in their lives. I’ve also had this experience myself growing up in the christian faith.

  9. faridah says

    you are right,some of these kids come to church as a routine they dont have any touch with christ.And because they’ve grown in church they fell that they know every thing.

    Thank you for opening our eyes.

  10. Manon says

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this– ” 3. They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.”
    I think most of the kids at my church, mine included are doing exactly this and are completely unaware. Thanks for bringing it up, i’ll try some “prayer aware” lessons/pointers to remind us what prayer is really about.

  11. mary davis says

    Good insights, Tony. Indeed, i was effectively reared to become a little Pharisee…in fact, in my church circles, it was applauded. We even used our sense of superiority as a weapon of mockery of those who didn’t agree with us (of course, they weren’t as wise as we were, not as well taught…). We were a bunch of horrible people in Jesus’ name, doing what we thought was Jesus’ work.
    The good news is, even for the most Pharisee’d kid, God’s Word is still truth. It still never returns void. And through whatever long path it takes, we little Pharisees still have the living Word to kick us into real Jesus-following. My recommendation: If kids see their parents focused on Jesus instead of on the church drama (and discussing it over Sunday dinner!), if kids see their parents going sincerely to Jesus, humbly repenting, growing in grace, those overchurched ones are much more likely to see that this is real, life-changing and powerful…even for the pastors and their wives who happen to be their parents!

  12. sarah says

    hey all,

    I am an over-churched kid. Growing up with both of my parents working for the church, it seemed like all I ever heard was the gossip and the soap-opera drama of the staff. It drove me so crazy, and even now that I’m on my own, I’m having trouble finding a church to settle down in because it’s been so long since I enjoyed it.

    I think when I get around to having kids, I will not work for the church in the sense of having a career there while they are growing up. I will sit with them in the services and really talk about God with them and maybe take some kind of job (volunteer or otherwise) when they’re old enough to take care of themselves.

  13. says

    There’s lots that could be said, but:
    the problem is never knowing *too much* Scripture, but as I see it, (and I’m from Scotland, so many of the ‘American phrases’ are new to me!), many, many Christian families seem to assume their kids are Christians. Statistics talk of the numbers of teens ‘we are losing’, but the question is, Did you ever have them? They – as we were – are born in guiltiness and sin, and ‘They must be born again’. I was lost, and was found at the age of 19. My children (ages 7 – 17) were lost, and I pray and weep, waiting for their salvation. Never, ever assume salvation – what a thought, that a child could think themselves ‘safe’ and not know differently until that moment they awaken in a lost eternity. Too awful to contemplate.

  14. says

    As a Pastor’s wife and 18+ years in ministry, I hear you. Which is why we NEVER assume salvation in our church kids. A friend was stunned when he asked us what study we were using in our Youth Group (a mixed bag of lost and “saved”), and our reply was “study? we hope they believe that God exists!” This was novel to him because, after all, most of these kids have been going to church all their life! This is true, but salvation was not evident in many unless we assume salvation due to the fact that they were at every church meeting. I believe that parents should bring their children to every meeting available. But the parents nor the church should believe that this makes them saved. We preach to the saved, after all, it is church. But we must keep before us the truth that not all are saved because they come. So, I don’t believe over churches is the problem, but rather the false security of salvation we instill in them because they’ve attended all their lives, and then we watch them wrestle with trying to live a life they are not empowered to live. They are in a “no win” situation and is it any wonder that they fall away or get bored?

  15. Jewel says

    As a missionary kid and now a homeschool parent of four in vocational camp ministry I couldn’t agree more with this article. I think one of the best ways to counteract this is by cultivating a genuine relationship with your child in which faith can be shared and discussed through everyday teachable moments. As a parent, I must view my relationship with my child as my primary ministry, second only to my ministy to my spouse. I must be quick to admit when I am wrong and seek forgiveness from my child in order to guard against hypocrisy and I must be very careful not to spiritually manipulate my children by exchanging man-made expecations for God’s standards of the heart. I also encourage my children to develop relationships with other Godly role models who will speak truth into their lives that sometimes they may not receive well from me. It’s really all about reaching their hearts through genuine relationship . . . and a whole lot of prayer!!

  16. Evelyn says

    Too often we forget that “church” is not about us. It was not designed to be about what we like or about what pleases us. It is about worshiping God. When we teach our children to come to him in reverence and aw and understand it is a part of how we show love to God then NOTHING in the bible is boring. BORING comes from inside the heart – - it has nothing to do with what is going on outside. I am afraid that when we are BORED at church it is a product of our “showtime” “entertainment” mentality.

  17. Elise says

    I am sixteen years old and teach second grade CCD and was confirmed a year ago. I can see how this would be a problem but I also believe it depends on the child and the environment they grow up in. My father has his doctorate in theology and has memorized and performed Saint Marks Gospel for the past tenish years. Having grown up in a very Christian household I will admit I may be one of your “overchurched children.” However, I personally never felt the bible to be boring or uninteresting. I am constantly finding new and interesting things in there even if it is just another way to look at an all too familiar parable. On the first day of my confirmation class, we were asked how many of us were there solely because our parents wanted us to get confirmed. I was one of the few if not the only person who didn’t raise their hand. Also, in my experience with second graders I find the children to be under exposed and easily excited and curious about the scriptures. However, this could be because of the two age groups I work with (teens and young kids) and most of them do not attend a catholic school.

  18. kmlowe says

    Thank you for this post.

    I was one of the kids described in this article, point for point. I grew up in church my entire life and attended private “Christian” schools until high school. Our junior/senior high school had a rigorous religion curriculum: old testament; gospels; acts; the gospel of mark and james; ephesians and world cults and religions; and lastly, apologetics. I graduated with some of the most thorough Bible knowledge and the deepest seeds of hypocrisy that I have yet encountered.

    For me, peers who actually did/tried to live out their faith were a rarity. Not only did I not understand them, but I also looked down upon them for playing along and believing, or maybe merely pretending to believe, that faith was real.

    It’s only by the work of the Holy Spirit and the amazing grace of God that I am saved today. And, for those of you with children in situations that are like the one in which I was raised, never cease to pray and dive into the Word. God can do amazing things with your life and your children’s. And I encourage each of you to look to the cross for grace and mercy as we walk by faith and not by sight.

  19. boonieb says

    Purely my opinion, I am no expert, but I think sometimes it isn’t the over exposure that is the danger…it’s what is being taught…Too much of the world’s concept has crept into our churches(movies, music, fads, etc). Kids don’t get hold of the ‘real thing’, much less keep it!
    If they are hearing the same thing over and over again every year, I think someone must be stuck on just a few stories of the Bible! It is an unending Book for teaching material!!
    Sometimes, we work so hard to try to sell them what we have for their need, instead of helping them see their need!
    No one wants to go to hell, so ‘repeat this little prayer after me’…but don’t ask them to give up their sins…just “love” everybody, and teach non-offensive messages. A lot of kids, and adults, are on a ‘Jesus Move’ but have no concept what Jesus is about!
    Getting our children ‘in’ on the assumption that we are a fun place, laced with the social parties, trips, and feel-good activities in the name of fellowship, will probably get the numbers, but what about their souls?
    Pragmatism is what our churches are about today…if it works, it’s good.
    So why are we losing our kids? For one thing, because the adults aren’t interested either! Something of vital importance is missing in our church of today…mainly the Lord!!
    When all else fails, “read the instructions”, The Bible. Teach God’s Word…It never fails!

  20. pentamom says

    I also think there’s just plain a time factor. If all the kid does in non-school time is go to church activities, how does he learn to develop and practice his faith in “non-churchy” ways? How can he learn what faith looks like in a non-church context, if he’s never IN a non-church context, except when in school (and that often a Christian school or homeschool, which are still in a sense within the domain of the Church?) Even in a public school, that’s a mandatory and pretty regimented activity. How does a kid learn to make choices about free or time self-directed work if physically being at some church activity is deemed the optimal choice every time?

  21. julie says

    Very good. I would add that children’s exposure to “fun Christian” things is also detrimental. Things such as “Christian” cartoon vegetables, radio programs that are supposed to be Christian but too often have little biblical truth in them, Christian magazines for kids (my son learned in one of these that a famous Christian guitarist’s musical hero was Jimi Hendrix. So why listen to Christian rock? Why not go straight to Jimi Hendrix?).

    We try to make Christianity “fun” and in doing so, we create a false world for kids that does a disservice to them and to the reality of Christ and Christianity. It gives them a big taste of the world, whose goal really is to have fun. And the world’s fun is alot more fun than “Christian fun”!

    Trying to make it fun doesn’t prepare them for real life. It does not show them how a real Christian lives day by day. We don’t believe in and follow Jesus Christ because He is “fun.” We believe and follow Him because He has the words of life.

    • says

      Huge point, Julie.

      I’ve read dozens of blog entries and major articles in Christian magazines/newspapers recently about how we are losing our youth. It seems that (according to some folks) as much as 80% of our youth graduate from church when they graduate from high school.

      Think about what we’ve handed to them over most of their life- Childrens’ ministries that are cartoon-oriented with all sorts of games and goofiness, youth ministries where the meetings often resemble rock concerts and there is (in some cases) little gospel proclaimed and even when some teaching takes place, often little application (or worse, a lot of service with no doctrine), and they are required to do little or no work for any of it. In many churches, the youth never worship with the rest of the congregation, and have almost no contact with anyone over the age of 40, save a few teachers here and there. We have age-segregated ourselves into a situation where we can’t benefit from the relationships prescribed in scripture. We give them everything we think they want.

      Life isn’t like that. And we wonder why they lose interest and go looking for the world to serve them? In the process, we are not only failing at churching the unchurched, we are succeeding in unchurching the churched!

  22. Rob McMillian says

    Care to unpack what you mean by “actual interaction with Jesus”? That’s a dangerous slope unless you state from Scripture how that is actually accomplished – without resorting to modern church marketing lingo.

      • says

        That’s an easy one…experientialism. Special, unique revelation. Subjective ‘feelings’ religion. Many in the emergent church live in this world (loving Jesus to the exclusion of God, scripture, doctrine, and authority).

        I understood what you meant, but Rob’s got a point…words mean things and we should always be clear about what we mean. I know this because I am one of the worst offenders…assuming people know what my jargon and incomplete thoughts and sentences mean. If you want a paragraph written where some will not understand it, ask me to write it first. I’ll find a way to mess it up. Ask my wife if you don’t believe me! :-)

        On point, I agree with the thesis here. Some of the worst offenders when I was in high school were kids who were there every time the doors were open. They’d not even wince at having sex, getting wasted, etc. Three of my friends used to smoke pot in the SS wing of the church during evening services. Looking back, I can see that because of growing up there, the parents just assumed they were regenerate believers. Bad assumption. They needed to hear the gospel.

      • says

        Wayne, I’m thinking Rob’s referring to the idea of extra-Biblical, charismatic “interactions with Jesus.” Nothing in his comment assumes a “relationship with Jesus is dangerous”, although you may have hit on more truth than you know. A dangerous relationship as in dangerous to a prideful person’s soul!

      • says

        I can’t guess what Rob meant, but their is something of a debate among reformed leaning Christians about communion with God. I usually like the John Piper/Jonathan Edwards approach where head & heart both delight in Christ.

        This is a great conversation. I’m always amazed at how kids ministry encourages us to all think more deeply about our beliefs. But I stand by the post, all of us need to have a personal & experiential relationship with Jesus – this doesn’t exclude Bible, doctrine, etc. In fact they should work together.

        • says

          “…And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Mark 12:30

          I think it is important that we do all of these. I do understand the problems of a feelings based relationship with Jesus. The heart is deceitful above all things after all. On the flip side, I think we have to be careful not de-emphasize the relationship aspect of our walk with Christ because of the dangers of experientialism.

          I think if we are serious about our relationship with Christ, we will have daily interaction with him through the reading of His Word, through prayer and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. That said, we should be clear that nothing that God “says to us” in that relationship can contradict written scripture because God is immutable.

          Somebody else used the phrase “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” While I didn’t necessarily agree with their comment, I do think that we, as Christians, are prone to doing this. We don’t like some aspect of an issue (like experientialism) so we go to the opposite, but equally dangerous, extreme (no personal relationship with Christ).

          As a final thought, I couldn’t agree with Tony more. God frequently uses the context of children’s ministry and parenting to help me work through my own theology.

          God Bless!

  23. says

    I agree with your premise and what you’re getting at, with one exception. In that exception, you appear to throw the baby out with the bath water. You say:

    They can recite the books of the Bible, they’ve memorized countess Scripture verses, and they know details about Bible stories that I can’t even remember.

    I am not making the the connection here. If this is the pure and true Word of God (which it is), knowing it by heart can never be a bad thing. Of course we must apply it in our lives, but we must know the Scriptures before we can apply them.

    I think what you’re getting at is the root of how “Children’s ministry” has evolved in recent times. We no longer teach our children “the way they should go”, but have created a whole different church experience for kids. You’ve got adult church and you’ve got kids church. You’ve got adult bibles and kid bibles. And on and on. I find only one Bible written to God’s people and only one church mentioned in it.

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback. When I wrote that line I was thinking John 5:39 in my mind: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

      I think knowing it by heart is good, the question is what our hearts are doing with what we know.

      Anyhow, I’m glad to clarify. Thanks again for reading.

  24. Nancy Nicoloff-Tucker says

    Wow-You said it like it is. Right on! I totally agree with your observations. Don’t apologize for not “tickling” our ears.
    We need to be vigilant with our youth — we need to convey and model that our Faith is about — a personal, passionate relationship with Jesus and God not the ins and outs of “church”. I think with my own teenage boys – the most helpful thing for me to say and pray – was that I trusted them and God with the truth, the process(search) for their own individual relationship with Jesus. Our Faith can stand up against any falsehood or teaching. Simply put -we need to have Faith in our Faith. Thank you so much – for your obedience and honesty.

  25. Stacy A says

    #1 was definitely my son. He grew up in the church, accepting Christ at the age of 4. By the time he was 14, he was, in his own words “bored with my faith.” He had been telling me for years that Sunday School was horribly boring, that he’d heard the same Bible stories over and over again (and, I would expect, with no real application beyond what we usually give 3-year-olds), and that youth group wasn’t any better. Our youth group is focused on reaching unchurched kids — so where does that leave the churched and “overchurched” kids? Thankfully, when I poured out my heart and my fears to our pastor, he knew what needed to be done. Although I wanted him to “fix” the youth group, instead he began coming to our house on Monday nights and going through books like Mere Christianity and The Reason for God with my son and my husband. Later another young man joined us. This “intervention” by the pastor rescued my son’s faith from the boring mundanity of Sunday School (which I do realize is important, if done right) to something that engaged his intellect and made him think about and OWN his own faith. A few months ago he confessed to me that he couldn’t really remember his original “conversion experience,” and so he had quietly re-dedicated his life to Christ. This mother’s heart is extremely grateful for a pastor who understood the needs of my child, the danger of losing him, and who stepped in to do something about it. If all Sunday School teachers, youth leaders and pastors could grasp the concept that kids need to be engaged and challenged in their faith, I think we’d have a lot fewer problems with “overchurched” kids.

  26. Reginald Gabel says

    Have you written anything about ministering to the children’s family. In 20 years of youth and children’s ministry I have seen most youth and children ministers run from parents. I have found that when you reach out to the family you find information that is a must if you are going to minister to the “whole” child. Yes it is hard and challenging at times but the rewards, that many of us ministers of youth and children never see. But their family can be changed for ever. And of course I have had to seek volunteers for anything, in fact many times I had to limit the number of volunteers and the ones who didn’t get to go on an event would be the first on the next. I problem I loved having.

    Love your site and information.

    Bro. Reggie – known to my kids as “Pawpaw Reggie”

  27. Sandie says

    I remember leading a chapel in a local christian school in which I read a portion of the first ‘Left Behind’ book where the character Bruce, who was a pastor had to come to terms with the fact that, while he taught others about Christ, he never had that relationship so necessary to a true walk. I reminded them that, while they may live in a ‘christian’ home, salvation wasn’t about where you lived, but a personal relationship with Christ. So many of these kids believe that they are guaranteed a spot in heaven because mom and dad are christians. I look forward to your article on how to reach these kids. Thanks!

  28. sadia daniel says

    yes i agree with this over churched problem. its not only wth the kids but wth the grown ups also, it happens wth pastors, and pastors children the most. they know all things but they dont apply al these things as Seduses n Farecies. it happens wth Masters in Theology also. it is wth Sunday school teachers aslo. its a v good topic to think n discuss n most imprtant to take guidance from God. press on. thx.

  29. Mark says

    Disclosure: I am not a parent. I have worked with children in various program in a few different churches of different denominations.

    Good post. Good ideas that I think are wisely pointed out.

    A few points, in response to the numbered items:

    1. Too true, especially when the stories are told and learned in isolation. For example, Jonah and the fish is told as a story. Jesus healing a blind man is told as a story. Creation is told as a story. Each of these and many other stories are so often pigeon-holed and not properly connected to God’s Covenant with His people, God’s providence and saving grace — the big picture.

    2. This can be a problem for adults, too. I forget the origin of the quote, but some wise man said that Reformed believers can even take pride in knowing that we are totally depraved. I am sure other writers have made good contributions on how to address this problem, but I think one thing to do is: if it comes up, say in one child taunting another or bragging, to explore what the knowledge means. Using the Children’s Catechism might be a good tool.

    3. No response, except modeling prayer in Sunday School, Worship Service, Family Worship, etc.

    4. Our natural Pelagian tendency and our radical depravity are encouraged and fed by modern media, including many of the so-called “Christian ministers” on TV. We’re told over and over that we’re basically good, rather than sinful and separated from God by Sin. I don’t think isolationism is a good approach.

    5. I think part of the answer to #4 is for children to see that adults are also radically depraved. Even adults who have been converted and who trust Christ, sin. Daddies have tempers. Even the pastor, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and other leaders, make mistakes, and we’re still loved, AND SAVED, by God (if we are). Adults, just like kids, are brought to faith in Christ. Adults struggle with faith, struggle with sin, struggle with “hard passages,” and learn and grow in grace and our knowledge of God. We’re messy people rescued by and owing all glory to a loving, Holy God. Children (and youths and adults of all ages) should continually see and learn this in corporate and individual confession of sin, in family worship, in honest conversations with their parents.

    What I’ve said is in my humble and imperfect opinion. May anything I’ve said wrongly be ignored or corrected by my brethren who read this comment.
    Soli Deo Gloria.

  30. Rachel D says

    I was, like many probably will be, upset at the title when I first saw it. Then I read the article. I completely understand. I grew up in church. I was in kid’s choir as soon I was able to stand up. I went to every church event. I memorized verses and even entire chapters of the Psalms. Then as a teenager, I totally changed. I thought I was safe because I had said a prayer as child. Now, I think it was just because I thought I was supposed to. I got about as far away from God as possible.

    I now teach kids at my church. Many are like me. They know all of it already. I try to challenge them to go beyond the outer story and dig deeper- to apply the message to their lives, and to find something new in the story. I also use aides to help keep the kids attention such as visuals, puppets, humor, even dressing up in costumes (I taught a lesson on Psalm 23 and wore a shepherd costume I made out of a blanket and even carried a stuffed sheep. The kids loved it and paid very close attention.) Here too though, we have to be careful not to overdo. Too deep of a lesson and it’s hard for the younger ones to understand. Too much fun, and they message is lost behind the silliness and fun visual affects.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your story. It’s encouraging to me when I remember that God is still working in the lives of these kids – even when we can’t see the evidence.

  31. says

    Really appreciated this article. For several years I taught high school Bible in a Christian school – my classroom was filled with 17 and 18 year old versions of what you described, and it was heartbreaking. They weren’t just spiritually bored – they were spiritually hardened.

    Now as a parent of small children, I find myself getting frustrated with how to handle this. I work very hard to engage my kids in the Bible on a deeper level, to apply Truth as we discipline, to talk about sin and repentance and our deep need for Jesus and the grace He gives us. I often feel like what they receive in larger church children’s programs reduces what we have talked about through the week so as to make it trite.

  32. Tara says

    Great article. Another danger of overchurched children is what can often happen in adolescence: backsliding. I know many people who were “born Christian” that became disillusioned and rebelled in their teen years. While they had all the tools and Biblical knowledge to repent and live following Christ, they did not believe in His power, because Jesus and his Book had been boiled down to how-to’s and cute stories. It often takes years and heartache to overcome this lack of faith and commitment to the cross, and the scars of the sins last for life. The guilt overcomes their knowledge of forgiveness because they often feel they have never really needed to be forgiven before. All of my friends have come back to Christ, but they still carry the regret that comes with deliberately turning from God.

    As a Sunday school teacher, I see children learning the Bible lessons and repeating the memory verses, only to forget what they learned once they hit the playground. Just like any kid in any classroom, overchurched kids seem to tell the teacher what they want to hear just to please them. They often fail to see why their parents and other leaders work so hard to help them understand theses stories.

    I’m looking forward to the next article!

  33. says

    I don’t know that I would say that kids (or, as Pastor Jared says, even adults and pastors) are ‘over-churched,’ but that they are ‘under-evangelized.’

    Much of our interaction with children presumes their salvation and aims at their transformation (usually merely moral conformity). This presumption infects our homes, our worship, kids’ Bible study and even children’s curriculum.

    • Mark says

      Well-said, Rob. We can’t assume salvation, even among “church kids.” And even if we could, we STILL need to tell and to hear the Gospel. As Paul instructed Timothy (2 Tim 4:2): Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

      “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2)

      Children and adults, alike, need the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t a one-time “pill” that makes us better. It is our food, “that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). It is of first importance. We don’t outgrow needing the Gospel. How can we so easily find anything else to teach, when “even the angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12)

  34. says

    Some great feedback here. I just hope the second post can give some help. It’s not an easy issue to address, but it’s been nagging me for a few years.

  35. says

    Tony,

    Great article, and definitely a topic that needs to be addressed. Like Jared, I’m also looking forward to the practical part of how you do this. A lot of my comments relate to that aspect, and I will reserve them until you publish that. I think Jared hit on something really important though which is story. The Bible is a story of God’s relationship with mankind. The individual stories kids become familiar with are all part of a much bigger story that they have to understand.

    I think the real danger is in missing that meta-narrative of the whole Bible. For example, a couple of weeks ago we talked about the story of the Good Samaritan. That’s got to be one of the most told stories from the Bible, and one I think the kids can easily grow bored with, especially if the point every time is – you should help people. That’s a valid point, and one that needs to be made, but in context that is not the point Jesus was trying to make. His point was that we should love other people (especially those people we’re not supposed to like). The picture of the Israelite is a picture of us, and frankly I think the priest and temple worker are also pictures of us. We are incapable of helping ourselves. The good samaritan is (can I get the standard church answer here?) – Jesus. He came to save when no else will or can (even ourselves). All that to say, I think many in children’s ministry (including myself at times) are guilty of watering down and/or sugar coating the stories from the Bible to make a point. Instead of giving kids the full counsel of God, we try to make a human point. The point itself may be very valid, but it is not the main idea. I think when we give ourselves the freedom to go deeper, and challenge kids rather than just lecture to them, even the same old story can be fresh and new each time.

    Your article reminds me of one of my favorite verses. I love to read the Bible, learn from the Bible, and talk about the Bible, but I am constantly reminding myself the words of Jesus from John 5:39-40:

    You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

    There is no such thing as “too much Bible,” but it is important to remember that Bible knowledge for knowledge’s sake alone is worthless. It is only Bible knowledge which leads to a deeper and more fruitful relationship with Jesus which is priceless.

    I’ve rambled on long enough. I’m looking forward to your next installment.

    • says

      “I think the real danger is in missing that meta-narrative of the whole Bible.”

      That’s HUGE. In fact, many times adults have to unlearn the cliche’ Sunday school children’s versions of stories because they never saw how those stories fit into the overarching story of God glorified in the redemption of His people. So, they learn that God will help them kill the Goliaths in their lives, but little else about the contrast between two potential kings and the characteristics of one worthy to lead God’s people for His glory.

      Sometimes the over-churched kids become over-churched adults who won’t even let you know when they’ve checked out, they just close their eyes during the sermon because they know the Samaritan was good.

  36. Barry says

    My wife and I are third generation Church workers so our six children are fourth generation. We have had three big problems in thirty years so three are still regular goers and one is very involved. One comes on special occasions. They are very hurt by the way our family has been treated in the situations even though we have had in depth conversations about how God would want us to handle things. We have taught our child God’s will and they will not depart from it. We have turned it over to Him but talk with Him every day about it.

  37. Elizabeth says

    I would love to hear more about how to properly church our kids to prevent them from being over churched. How do we keep the stories interesting, how do we lead them to understanding the power of prayer, how do we keep them from becoming pride full while still learning about Christianity? What should the Church be doing to prevent over churched kids?

  38. G F McDowell says

    I would say that what you describe as “over-churching”, I would describe as “gospel inoculation”. Part and parcel of the problem is the fact that we Evangelicals have embraced what is functionally a sacramental system of salvation. Utter a specific phrase of words, and BAM, you’re going to heaven, even if there is never any fruit in your life. Then we have hordes of unregenerate church members, living like the devil during the week and hypocritically washing the outside of their vessels on Sunday, then we get the toxic situation to which you’re referring, Tony. The problem is not how long our children spend in church. The problem is what sort of church they’re spending their time in. If the church is one that takes its shepherding task seriously, and confronts hypocrisy within itself head-on, and does not permit its members to live like the devil during the rest of the week, in other words, if it actually conducts itself true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, then the toxicity of the church to its youngest in the congregation will be greatly reduced. Children intuitively detect hypocrisy around them. Preach the word. Administer the ordinances. Love your congregation through church discipline. Do all these things faithfully, and be a true church. Fail, and be a toxic environment for people of any age.

    • Eden says

      I would add … The problem often is with the parents. Are the parents what a prior poster referred to as “over-churched adults”? Do Dad and Mom (in that order!) each have a vibrant, personal, real relationship with Jesus? Are the modeling what living Christian-ly looks like? Do the parents encourage their children to talk about the understanding of Jesus, who He is, what He is doing right now? Do the parents talk in-depth (age appropriate, of course) about the sermon? Does Dad lead family devotions? Occasionally, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, He uses a godly neighbor or the family of the child’s friend to influence a child where the parents are remiss, but scripturally it is in the home environment where children are to see their example and receive their training.

  39. says

    I think the saddest part about all of this is that these kids grow up to be over-churched adults. These five things describe not only kids I know, but adults I know…and pastors I know.
    I’m looking forward to the followup on this article. How do we actively engage these kids to understand the intersection of their story with the story of the Redeemer?

  40. says

    “… before we raise the next crop of Pharisees”

    Nice point. I had a young girl say that she was “born a Christian”. She has been taught about God from an early age. So I guess my toughest challenge is that they, and their parents, realize that when one believes and begins to truly follow Jesus, that there is a change. Children should begin to seek the things of God and grow in Him.

    All to often we place an age on when children can be baptized, and then parents focus on that age instead of the child having a relationship with Jesus and seeing a change in their lives.

    I remember when I was younger and began working on a construction site run by a Christian company (a church was building a new facility). They had someone there who was my age “check me out” to see where I stood spiritually and one question I was asked was if I really believed, or just knew the right answers.

    Maybe we should be asking that more often of our children.

    One thing I do is to try to get the children (and youth) to think, so why they do the things they do comes from their own personal conviction, and not from what someone told them. Sometimes people think I am being “difficult” when I do things like that, but my intent is to have them think about and understand why they should do the things, and make decisions, as God would have them do. So when times of trial come, they will be stronger in why they believe what they do.

  41. Sinead Roy says

    I agree there is a danger here – especially when teenagers are encouraged to “pretend” they have a relationship with God to keep up family appearances. We need to provide as much of a Godly environment as we can, while at the same time, encouraging our youth to be honest about the depth of the relationship they have – or don’t have – with the Lord… See more. One of the things that gets me mad is adults expecting unsaved kids to act like saints, just because they come from church-going homes.Talk about teaching conforming to religion rather than seeking relationship with God. Grrr!

  42. says

    I have worked in the under-churched inner city environments, and the over-churched suburban environments. Both are equally disturbing in their own ways. I 100% concur, and I think this is where the role of service for the purpose of just serving helps to offset this over-churched effect.

    My kids are in church all the time…so I fight constantly to remind them that most of doing what the Bible says happens in our schools, on the soccer fields, and at our house. I’ve also actively given them expressions to demonstrate in action the things they learn at church.

    Great thoughts…albeit disturbing.

    • says

      I rambled on so long in my own comment that I forgot to mention something that your comment made me think of. As a parent who also teaches on Sunday, my kids get double/triple/quadruple exposure to things as I use them as my guinea pigs. :) I also like to listen to sermon podcasts in the car, so they are constantly hearing stories and sermons. One of the things I encourage them to do is to use that knowledge. I have them help me on Sundays with the younger kids at church, or I have them tell their three year old brother Bible stories. I find that a Bible story takes on a whole new meaning for me once I teach it. No matter how many times I have heard it, when I go to prepare to teach it I’m always finding new and interesting nuances that I never noticed before. Even when I never include those in the teaching itself, it helps to keep the story fresh for me. If I can encourage my kids to do the same by helping out in class or teaching their younger brother, I think that also combats the tendency towards overexposure. Your comment about service made me think about it.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] As I read through this I saw all 5 of these things as spiritual problems in my own life, since I grew up in the Church. I also have witnessed many who have grown up in the church, who either have or are in the middle of overcoming some of the repercussions of the list above.  I would encourage reading through this whole post and thinking through how we can guard against this as youth workers. Here is the POST [...]

  2. [...] Dangers Facing Over-Churched Kids and 9 Strategies For Reaching Over-Churched Kids, HT to Challies. I don’t know that “over-churched” is the right term, and I don’t think keeping them from so much church is the answer, but I do agree that they need to see the reality of a walk with Christ and not just get absorbed into the Christian “culture” with little or no real faith of their own. [...]

Leave a Reply