A faithful pastor and parents, not large congregation size, will keep your kids in church, even if megachurch pastor Andy Stanley says otherwise.
If you’re a parent trying to give your child the best education possible, I would worry about teacher quality and your own involvement in your little one’s intellectual development before I’d worry about class size. I’m not saying that having 19 children per room isn’t preferable to 23. I’m just saying that the student-to-teacher ratio won’t matter a tremendous amount if your son’s teacher thinks four plus twelve equals purple or you want your kid to memorize the chronology of WWE champions instead of U.S. presidents.
So if little Bryden (because that’s what boys are named these days, in case you hadn’t already given up on humanity) has a bit of an overcrowded class, but a solid teacher and great support from you, don’t let anybody convince you that you’re selfishly endangering his education if you don’t turn your life upside down by moving to a slightly less-congested school district.
Likewise, if you’re a Christian parent trying to give your child the best spiritual formation possible, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re selfish for not making the size of a congregation your number one priority. In particular, don’t let megachurch pastor Andy Stanley convince you that you’re endangering your child’s soul if you don’t attend a large congregation.
If you’re a bit confused by Stanley’s accusation (one that, to his credit, he quickly recanted), here’s what he meant: Making friends at church is what keeps people in the faith, and the more kids your church has, the more opportunities your children will have to make friends. Therefore, if you attend a congregation that only has enough kids for a joint middle school/high school youth group, you’re reducing your kids’ friend-making potential and thus putting them at risk.
It doesn’t matter if the local megachurch’s Christology is wonky enough to keep you at a smaller parish or if the mid-sized flock you belong to is where you and your kids were both baptized and confirmed, apparently. To Stanley, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than that you should cause your freshman to share a bag of Doritos and a TeenzAlive! Study Bible with a seventh grader.
Think Substance Over Packaging
But just as classroom size isn’t as big a factor in a child’s intellectual development as are teachers and parents who are committed to his education, so congregation size isn’t as big a factor in a child’s spiritual care as are pastors and parents who are committed to feeding him with the gospel.
If, for example, your kids rarely encounter your congregation’s pastor because he exiles them to more “age-appropriate worship” during the Sunday morning service, if he doesn’t know your kids’ names, if their shepherd never actually, well, shepherds them, then it won’t particularly matter how many other kids kick beach balls around the youth room while the guy Christ sent to feed his little lambs is ignoring them.
Likewise, if your pastor pays plenty of attention to your kids, but doesn’t actually proclaim the gospel to them—if all they see in the pulpit is an ordained John Kasich saying that, golly gee, all God wants is for us to hug our friends and be swell to each other, it won’t matter if they hear zero words of Christ’s gospel with five or five hundred kids their age.
When Pastors and Parents Take Church Seriously
Similarly, if you think that praying with your kids and reading the Bible to them and telling them that Christ has won eternal life for them is not your job, but exclusively the job of your congregation, if you treat church the way that many parents treat public schools, then, when your kids grow up, they’ll likely stop going to church for the same reason they stopped going to high school—because, in their minds, they graduated. And it won’t matter how many Sunday School friends your children have, because not even the perfect number can unteach what you’ve taught—namely that they’ve moved past needing to feed at Christ’s altar, font, and pulpit.
Continue reading below…