The Positive Effect of Even “Some” Attendance

Even some attendance by children & teens can be the difference between being churched and unchurched as an adult.

This was the intriguing conclusion from Barna Research’s 2009 poll of church/unchurched Americans.  

“… the study shows that most American adults recall frequent faith activity when they were growing up. Moreover, it provides clarity that the odds of one sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18. And it raises the intriguing possibility that being involved at least a few times a month is correlated with nearly the same sticking power as weekly involvement – especially among teenagers.” 

The #1 indicator of the likelihood of a young person becoming a church-going adult remains HOW OFTEN they attended religious training (such as, Sunday School/youth groups) as a child and a teen. The Barna poll clearly shows the correlation between “how often” they attend and “how likely” they are to remain connected as adults.

Link to the Barna report

This is a “BIG DUH” to those of us involved in Christian Education. However, it also serves as  GREAT INCENTIVE to get us to look at OTHER WAYS we can provide “religious training” experiences to those we are NOT reaching, i.e., “the other” kids.

Monolithic approaches to religious education do not serve the greater goal, –which is to raise up children in the way they should go. And yet, many churches operate programs with an “all or nothing proposition.”  They have Sunday School at one time a week, regardless of some families/children’s ability to attend that one hour. And they have one form of youth involvement, -the traditional youth group. This creates two groups: those who are “in” and “the other” kids who receive less and less attention from the church as they grow older (except for that last ditch effort called “Confirmation” which usually doesn’t work to “church” the kids).

GOD FORBID the child who:

  • has parents that work weekends or nights, or are divorced
  • has an athletic talent that pulls them away on many Sundays
  • does not do well in groups

Here are two approaches to solving this dilema:

1. The Alternative Program Solution:

A series of “other” events and “points of contact” geared for those who cannot regularly attend. It is important to note that “other events” does not mean “the same old group at a different time.” Unfortunately, when a teen is not part of a Sunday School class or youth group, they will usually not attend those group offerings even when the event is at a time when they can attend. Why? Because they do not feel part of “that” group, and some children don’t feel comfortable in groups.   

Instead, the smart minister will create unique, personal, and small NON-youth group associated opportunities for youth to be part of something important.  It could be something as simple as the pastor calling the teen to help with a mission project, or be a lay reader once a month, or assist helping with the younger children from time to time.

2.  The Anti-Program Solution:
Rather than a “one program fits all” mentality, churches would do well to sit down with the families of those who need another solution –and craft a form of religious training & church involvement that works for them.   


Many teens are reticent to be part of a group, but like to help on special occasions.


  Inviting a teen to read “Jesus Freaks” (the teen book) over the Winter with you and then inviting them discuss it at the DQ one evening with two or three other students who have also been reading it.  (In many churches, you wouldn’t do this for a group because not enough kids would be interested. But this approach assumes you have a “wherever two or three are gathered” mindset.)  If your student is an athlete, –find out who leads the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and introducing them to your student.  Invite that athletic student to be a game leader in your children’s fellowship during their off season (which invariably brings them into the lesson time for those youngsters). If your student likes computer gaming or is addicted to their cellphone, share a Bible game with them  or a Bible app that gives them scripture readings on their iphone (don’t under-estimate the attraction of games and apps!). Additionally, invite these students to connect to your Facebook page (perhaps you create one just for such contacts, and make sure it is not an advertisement for your group).

Logistically, pulling off “alternatives” is hard for leaders who are already hard-pressed to pull off the “main” program. Thus, the minister would be wise to recruit OTHER people to tackle these “alternative” solutions.  And indeed, there are many young adults and parents who themselves need alternative ways to minister to youth other than the Sunday morning/evening approach. Thus, it’s a win-win solution.

The time to begin these alternative solutions is not when the child become a teenager, but BEFORE.  Jr. Highs are by definition the MOST LIKELY TO SAY NO.  Patterns of attendance are usually set prior to that age, and thus, our outreach to those “certain” kids and their families should begin when habits are easier to set.  This is why Confirmation is usually a HUGE FAILURE in most churches –if it’s goal is to produce church-going faithful teens. It’s like trying to close the barn door after the horse is gone.

The Barna Research tells us HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS to our kids’ long-term faith journey. Your ministry from this point forward will demonstrate how serious you are about “the other” kids in your church.

– – – – –

For a related concept, read “The Tribe13 Experiment” –a description & report on my attempts to change the way we did our children and youth group.  The Tribe13 concept doesn’t specifically address “the other kids”, rather, it was designed to try and work around scheduling problems, honor what the kids were doing outside of the church, and deepen the religious experience of the ones who could come.

For another related article, read my article quoting the research on the “Lifelong Benefits of Church Attendance” at

<>< Neil MacQueen

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