Thursday, October 16, 2008

Veith: Church Growth Amish Style

Gene Edward Veith has an interesting article: "Church Growth Amish Style." I ask you, does this surprise you?
The number of Amish has grown 84% since 1992, to a total of some 231,000. To deal with that growth–and also to escape the suburbanization that has encroached on some of their traditional rural settlements in the Midwest–Amish are migrating, buying land, and establishing settlements in seven new states: Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Washington and West Virginia.
What do the Amish know that the rest of Christianity has been slow to embrace?
Why the church growth? With their rejection of automobiles, electricity, computers, and other conveniences of modern life, they aren’t winning many converts. But they have, on the average, five children per family. And though the children have a choice of whether or not to stay with the church when they grow up–getting to spend their late teen or early adult years sampling the outside world–a larger number of them, 85%, are staying with the church.
Interesting. Depending on which stats you look at, the rest of the Christian world are losing their youth at a rate of 60-80%.

Says Veith, "We need to admit that what I have called the stupid youth group tricks have failed and that we need to give our teenagers and young adults a Christianity that stands up to their lives."

What do you think?


Joshua Butcher said...

Bearing children and raising them in the fear and admonition of the Lord are the primary means by which the doctrine of Covenant succession finds itself manifest in the world.

Why do we lose 60%-80% of youth?

I suspect, and I'm not doubt calling down the fire of many for saying so, but I suspect that it stems from parents neglecting the commandment of God to train their children in the fear of the Lord.

Can a parent train a child with whom they spend little to no time investing their energy upon in the form of play, instruction, and a considerate ear?

Can a parent train a child whom they send off for eight hours a day to be with peers and teachers who are not given primary responsibility, but who will nonetheless be the supply for what is lacking?

Wade and I were, yesterday, discussing briefly the fact that profitable conversations with teenagers are built upon meaningful conversations with 2 years olds--in other words, if a parent wishes their teenager to trust and confide in them for advice, they must be there when the questions are being asked at 2, 3, 4, 5, and up--even if the questions are a simple and silly as why the sky is blue.

Would an adult let a stranger into the deepest recesses of their heart, without the ground of relationship being plowed by many conversations whereby trust is built?

I suspect the Amish retain 85% because they spend at least that much time and effort instructing their children to follow in their beliefs--by manner of teaching as well as doing.

Dave said...

Perhaps some of the reason for the difference is that they take themselves seriously, which seems to suggest that the children will also see faith as a serious matter. While no doubt there are hypocritical Amish out there, not owning a car/tractor/whatever in some sense seems to force you to be more than just a "Sunday christian" - it's a little bit harder to hide.

Mark Noll once said that "the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind". In large part I think that he's right. Are stupid tricks restricted to youth groups?

Here's something else to consider, from an article entitled The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline:
The economist Laurence Iannaccone filled in more of the puzzle with a fascinating 1994 essay, “Why Strict Churches Are Strong.” Iannaccone insisted that the stricter forms of religious life have benefits that looser and more liberal churches do not. Considered purely in economic terms, he wrote, religion is “a ‘commodity’ that people produce collectively.” Precisely because the personal costs are so high, a strict church soon loses “free riders,” the people who take more than they give. And the remaining members find a genuine social community: a tightly knit congregation of people who are deeply concerned with one another’s lives and willing to help in time of need. They gain something like ­intellectual community, as well—a culture of people who speak the same vocabulary, understand the same concepts, and study the same texts.

More recent research, following Iannaccone’s path, has added demonstrations that the best way for, say, a poor woman to improve her social and economic class is to join an active and strict church. The chances of forming stable marriages will be increased for both herself and her children, the probabilities of being drawn into crime and drugs will be decreased, and even her opportunities for employment will be raised.

The economic theories are somewhat interesting, although they seem to suggest an inverse correlation between community in the church and mercy ministry... something that really should be a both/and rather than an either/or.