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T oday’s culture follows a specific recipe to give children the best future possible: outsourcing.

Want your child to be great in baseball? Find the best coach.

Want your child to be great in science? Find the best tutor.

This recipe forces a question on parents when it comes to spiritual development: If I haven’t gone through any formal religious training (or patience training for that matter), how can I teach my children to have a strong faith that holds up to the world’s forces?

If you want your child to be strong in faith, find the best children’s ministry. Right?

The church has trained leaders, fun programs, a curriculum, and an age-appropriate wing for kids. To weary, uncertain parents, this feels like a recipe for success.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Those are not bad things! However, when they are utilized as the primary means of passing on faith, we find problems. Outsourcing may be the best answer if you want your child to be a soccer star, but passing on faith was designed to be done in-house. In Scripture, God lays out how the next generation will rise up in faith, and he provides the best people to carry it out.

It isn’t the church with the most raved about, vibrant ministry for children.

It’s the family.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that faith is passed down through generations by intentionally integrating it into family life and making it personal for the children. When we don’t follow the recipe, it often brings unintended consequences. As a ministry leader, reading any of the latest research and statistics on faith today is about the equivalent of dropping a hammer on my foot! Church attendance is plummeting. Young people are leaving the faith. It feels like the worst of performance reviews.

I know I’m not alone in my overwhelming feelings of grief, doubt, urgency, and frustration. Somewhere along the line, the recipe given through Moses in Deuteronomy 6 got altered, and we’re seeing the consequences in the worst possible way. The good news is we have the opportunity to change these outcomes and, prayerfully, change the future of faith for generations to come.

There are certainly many tools the church can use to walk alongside parents, grandparents, or anyone else serving as primary caregivers for children, helping them embrace the incredible responsibility and privilege of passing on faith. Research shows that the following tools are three essential elements parents and caregivers of children need in order to find confidence to raise heroes of faith. May you find the journey of family growth across generations to be priceless, both in the home and in the church!

  1. Guidance

While God intended parents to be primary disciple-makers for their children, he never intended they do it alone. The church, among others, serves in a critical supporting role. A guide is someone who leads in unfamiliar places, interprets, shares significant information, and answers questions. The church family should be coming alongside parents in a similar way. Examples of this guidance include offering teaching tips and techniques that are appropriate for given ages or sharing family-oriented faith resources.

  1. A Plan

Whether it’s a personal Bible study, weekly meals, or a vacation, having a plan to follow gives us the push and self-assurance we need to take the first step. It’s no wonder the best seller What to Expect When You’re Expecting is read by 93 percent of all expectant mothers, according to USA Today. It outlines a plan for parents to have an idea of what’s coming so they can prepare for the journey ahead.

A plan provides standards to follow while still allowing room to adjust for each unique situation. There are many suggestions for a plan when it comes to spiritual formation. One example is the spiritual benchmarking tool called GrowthRings®. You can learn more about this tool at growfamilyfaith.com.

When it comes to a faith formation plan, there are two things to remember:

  • There’s always room to move in a plan. Let the Holy Spirit direct as you commit your efforts to him.
  • A plan is only a tool. The Bible is far more powerful than any tool or pattern of life. It’s the Word that shapes us into the likeness of Jesus.
  1. Accountability

Life is busy for everyone, especially families! The busier we get, the easier it is to wander away from the plan.

This is not any easy journey, either. Parents and caregivers tend to constantly question themselves, struggling to believe they are the right people for this important job. The more unqualified we feel, the more prone we are to outsource. Having a person or group to help keep parents on track toward the goal is a key to success. These accountability partners should not be afraid to ask difficult questions and should also give encouragement along the way.

Shelley Henning

Shelley Henning has been involved in children’s and family ministry for over two decades. She currently serves the Reformed Church in America as the facilitator for KidMin, the children’s ministry branch of Next Generation Engagement. She is also the co-founder and CEO of Grow Family and has written a book, numerous articles, and curriculum related to children and family ministry.