How to Disciple Children in a Post-Christian Culture

Modern Church Leader feat. Matt Markins
How to Disciple Children in a Post-Christian Culture feat. Matt Markins on Modern Church Leader

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How to Disciple Children in a Post-Christian Culture

One of the biggest challenges facing church leaders today is how to engage children in spiritual growth. We need to give them a foundation of faith to build their relationship with God as they grow. 

But how do we do that? How do we help our children develop their faith in Jesus?

It is not enough for us to simply offer children a place to play and learn. We need to provide them with something really valuable, something deep, and something that will significantly impact their daily lives.

We should be engaged in their spiritual formation as they grow, and we should be intentional with this process. As we teach, train, and disciple our children in the ways of Jesus, we are preparing them to be resilient disciples of Christ in a changing world. 

In this episode, Matt Markins, an expert in the field of children’s discipleship, will share valuable insights on how to engage children and what they are looking for in a church setting in today's world. Matt will also share practical ways churches can move out of traditional structures to make authentic connections with children.

"Children's ministry can mean a lot of things…But disciple-making is a specific target. It's a specific mission that's designed to help make disciples, and so that's important because we're now living in a very different world than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so the level of missional focus we need with our own kids to reach them and to disciple them is really significant."
-Matt Markins

Matt Markins is the president of Awana, a global pioneer in child discipleship. Their mission is to equip leaders to reach kids with the gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship. Matt's greatest passion is working with churches and nonprofits in strategy, discipleship, family ministry, marketing and communication, hospitality, and organizational structure.

Take part in this exciting discussion and learn new ways to connect with the church's future leaders!

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • How to help children grow in their faith and become lifetime disciples
  • How to disciple children in a post-Christian culture
  • Difference between children's ministry and child discipleship
  • The key factors that children need to thrive in this culture
  • Family discipleship strategies
  • Awana curriculum and discipleship resources
  • And so much more…

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[1:54] Our mission is to equip leaders to reach kids with the gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship. And our vision is that every child everywhere would come to know love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. 

[6:57] Children are more than just about anything else. They need a community of loving, caring adults around them.

[7:38] The church has got to shift hard toward child disciple-making. 

[7:48] Children's ministry can mean a lot of things…But disciple-making is a specific target. It's a specific mission designed to help make disciples, so that's important because we're now living in a very different world than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so the level of missional focus we need with our own kids to reach them and to disciple them is really significant.

[11:24] The rallying cry of our day is justice, love, freedom, happiness, redemption. These are the things that the broader dominant culture wants so badly, but in a way that's cut off from Christ. Think of it as like a cut flower society, like a bouquet of flowers. Those flowers have been cut off from the root systems…And then they're wilted. That picture is a picture of a post-Christian culture, those goals, the fruit, and the outcome we want; it's only going to last so long when it's cut off from the root system. 

[16:17] The problem is, our churches with children's ministries are really not set up to be as relational as we need to be in this post-Christian world that we're a part of. 

[28:57] Let's be faithful in doing the most proven areas of disciple-making, which again, we would say belong with relationships, scripture, engagement, and experiences and how those work together at shaping identity in Christ. 

podcast transcript

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Matt Markins (00:00):
The rally cry of our day is justice, love, freedom, happiness, redemption. These are the things that the broader dominant culture wants so badly, but in a way that's cut off from Christ. Think of it as like a cut flower society, like a bouquet of flowers. You know, those are going to last maybe three days at the most 10 days and then they're wilted. That picture is a picture of a post-Christian culture. So it's not a matter of is that culture discipling our kids or is it forming our kids? It's a matter of how is it forming our kids?

Narrator (00:40):
Welcome to The Modern Church Leader, where you'll hear executive pastors share practical tactics and strategies that churches are using right now to thrive in our digital world and advance the kingdom of God. Here's your host, Frank Barry.

Frank Barry (00:54):
Hey guys, this is Frank with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Great to be with you, super excited about today's interview. I mean, something that's really close to my heart. I've got three, nine year old boys. I'm a dad raising kids and really thinking about their spiritual growth. So excited to talk with Matt Markins from Awana today, and kind of get into raising kids in this generation. So Matt, great to be with you today.

Matt Markins (01:22):
It's going to be with you, Frank. Thanks for having me.

Frank Barry (01:24):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I wasn't familiar with Awana, but it sounds like you guys have a massive impact and are quite large. So a lot of the listeners might actually know about you guys, but I'd love for you to just start off with kind of who you are and how you got to Awana. And then tell us a little bit about out what you guys do there.

Matt Markins (01:44):
Sure. Well, the Awana organization is 71 years old and when you're 71, you've lived quite the life to lead.

Frank Barry (01:51):
You've been around. Yeah.

Matt Markins (01:52):
You make and impression.

Frank Barry (01:52):
Yes.

Matt Markins (01:54):
And so people probably have a variety of impressions of our organization. So our mission is to equip leaders to reach kids with a gospel and to engage them in lifelong discipleship. And our vision is that every child, everywhere, would come to no love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. So pretty audacious vision that drives us to that mission. We work with 62,000 churches in 130 countries. Every hour, the sun is setting on an Awana kid. There's I guess about 4.8 million children around the world who are engaged in Awana. Now here in the U.S., we've got about 10,000 churches, around 700,000 boys and girls here in the States.

Matt Markins (02:37):
So what we do is we come alongside of churches. When a church says, "Hey, what can you do to help us with our kids?" Hopefully they're asking, "How can you help us lead kids to Christ and walk alongside them as disciple makers?" Because that's, I think, really what we do. Really, the job of the church, I think. And so we have resources and training. I guess in the simplest form, we like to say we do three things. We disciple kids, we equip leaders and we resource churches.

Matt Markins (03:05):
So how is it that we disciple kids as an organization? We do those two things. We equip leaders and resource churches. So really that's who we are, why we exist. And I got involved in this as a being in the Christian publishing industry here in Nashville, which you probably know is kind of a Christian publishing town.

Frank Barry (03:22):
Yeah, absolutely.

Matt Markins (03:24):
And along the way, I bumped into Awana while working in the children's ministry space. And in 2013, I joined the leadership team and now I'm the president of the organization. And just such a big delight to be able to be a part of what God's doing, really, to reach those who are most open to the gospel around the world.

Frank Barry (03:46):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, your guys's international footprint is amazing. Knowing that there's just a lot of churches in the U.S. I don't know what the count is worldwide, but all the data you read in the U.S., there's 300,000 plus churches in the U.S., so it's a big place for churches. And you guys are serving 10,000 of them, which is amazing. But you got more than that, kind of outside of the U.S., which I think is really incredible. Pretty abnormal I would say, too. You often see, especially U.S. based organizations, serving more of the U.S. church than the international church.

Matt Markins (04:27):
Yeah. And I think that's because we are people who, perhaps some of your listeners know us from childhood. They grew up in Awana. And people often think of Awana as something that happened in my local church. It was a kids club. We help them with scripture memory and to know Jesus through the Bible. But, although that's true, we're really a global mission arm. So a lot of churches partner with us. As a nonprofit organization, they partner with us as a mission to reach and equip people around the world.

Matt Markins (04:58):
And so we have a lot of churches that say, "Hey, we love what you do locally here in our church and our community, but can you be a part of our church mission strategy?" So if you're passionate about, let's say Bangladesh or Zambia, or even Norway, we do stuff all around the world where your church can invest in what we do. And what we do with your mission dollar is, we help equip churchly leaders in other countries to do the good work of child disciple making and to reach kids in really, really, really hard to reach places.

Frank Barry (05:29):
Right. Right. Yeah. I mean, I love the focus on kids. Like I said, being a dad of three, it kind of speaks to me real personally, in this moment of life. So you mentioned when we were chatting earlier, the book that you guys published last year, as well as kind of just this whole idea of children's ministry versus child disciple making. And I'd love to unpack that, but maybe let's start with, pandemic hits a year ago and how did that impact you guys as an organization, but also your kind of work in the local church with your different resourcing?

Matt Markins (06:05):
Yeah. Well, first let's start with the pastor. Boy, pastors are pretty resilient, aren't they? I mean, you and I have both seen these studies that have come out about how challenging and difficult hold this has been for pastors. This was the perfect storm of political, human health, financial crisis and we just keep going and going. There's been a lot of challenges. And so I'm sure like you, Frank, we're just so grateful for the church and for the power of the gospel and the leaders who have hung in there through this really challenging time. So we felt like God gave us the phrase, at the beginning of the pandemic he gave us the phrase, "Although we didn't anticipate COVID, we did anticipate the things that COVID has revealed." Because as an organization who works with the church and researches the church and listens to the church, what we released in, Resilient, is this idea that children, more than just about anything else, they need a community of loving, caring adults around them. Because through that relationship, through those relationships, kids can really see and know and love Jesus in ways that are pretty remarkable.

Matt Markins (07:18):
You and I grew up in a different world, at a different time where we could assume a lot more theism in the broader culture. The church could rely on other cultural elements to fill in some of those disciple making gaps. Those assumptions cannot be made any longer. And so what we're trying to communicate through this book, which hit just before COVID is, the church has got the shift hard toward child disciple making. And so this idea, you mentioned a minute ago about children's ministry compared to child discipleship, children's ministry can mean a lot of things. It can mean childcare. It can mean heavy levels of entertainment with a little bit of Jesus sprinkled in. It can mean values and virtues based teaching that puts the value in the virtue in front of the cross, as opposed to on the backside of the cross. So it can mean a lot of things, but child disciple making is a specific target. It's a specific mission that's designed to help make disciples.

Matt Markins (08:20):
And so that's important, because we're now living in a very, very different world than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so the level of missional focus we need with our own kids, to reach them and to disciple them, is really, really significant.

Frank Barry (08:34):
You have the book there with you, right? You showed me earlier. So show everyone so they know what it looks like. It's called, Resilient. Is it just by Awana or?

Matt Markins (08:43):
Yeah. By Awana, subtitle is, Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church.

Frank Barry (08:48):
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I love the focus. Folks better go pick it up and read it. Especially if you have kids or lead a church.

Matt Markins (08:55):
Yeah. Yeah. And by the way, it's very well endorsed. You would recognize all the... John Maxwell, Reggie Joiner. There's just a ton of authors who have really, really gotten behind this and said that this message really, really matters.

Frank Barry (09:11):
Yeah. I mean, a hundred percent. I mean, I just think, as a dad, as somebody that's pretty active in his own church, helping the kids navigate everything that they're going through. My kids are in fourth grade, they're going to be in middle school soon, high school, college, it's all coming fast. And helping them navigate all the things that are happening right now, especially not personally having gone through it, like they're going to go through it. Right? It looks different today, especially around race and gender and politics and money and class and all these different things are things that are just getting more and more into the public discourse. It's everywhere, right? It's in the curriculum. It's in what their friends at school are talking about, what the teachers might be talking about. It's just all over the place.

Frank Barry (10:05):
So I guess I'm just kind of confirming my own view on, it's really important to help our kids know what the Bible says and know what it means to follow Jesus in this time and help them through these issues kind of in this context, not just without being able to guide them through it.

Matt Markins (10:27):
Yeah. We are in a changed landscape. Secularism and post-Christian culture are probably kind of the two big catch phrases of the day in terms of describing the culture we live in. So you're probably friends with Gabe Lyons, but Gabe Lyons says that, "Secularism is the dismissal of God and emphasis on the individual." That's a really easy, basic definition of secularism. Dismissal of God, emphasis on individualization. And so what is that? That is the you be you culture. That is the live your truth culture. My body, my choice. So this is the water that our kids are swimming in. And then a post-Christian culture, Pastor Mark Sayers of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia, he says that a post-Christian culture is this pursuit of the fruit and goals of Christianity, but without Christ. It's the kingdom without the King.

Matt Markins (11:24):
And so think of it as like, what are the cries of our day? You know, the rally cry of our day is justice, love, freedom, happiness, redemption. These are the things that the broader dominant culture wants so badly, but in a way that's cut off from Christ. Think of it as like a cut flower society, like a bouquet of flowers. Those flowers have been cut off from their root system. You've brought flowers for your wife before. Those are going to last maybe three days, at the most, 10 days. And then they're wilted. That picture is a picture of a post-Christian culture. That those gold, the fruit and the outcome that we want is only going to last so long when it's cut off from the root system.

Matt Markins (12:10):
So this is the picture of the culture that we're now living in. So it's not a matter of, is that culture discipling our kids? Or is it forming our kids? It's a matter of how is it forming our kids? So this is exactly why we've spent 71 years focusing on, what are those key elements that do form a child disciple and how can we understand those? And we do a lot of research. We're doing a research project right now with the Barna Group to really understand what those key factors are, so that our kids can thrive in this culture.

Frank Barry (12:41):
I mean I love that. What else? I mean, let's unpack the book a little bit. It's probably top of mind for you, probably talk about it all the time. But I mean, what else did you guys kind of highlight in the book with respect a child disciple making?

Matt Markins (12:55):
Sure. The key findings is that there are three primary factors that shape lasting faith in kids. And I'll hit those up front and then we can go back and unpack them. Those three factors are what we call, belong, believe, become. Belong is highly relational ministry led by loving, caring adults. Believe is deeply scriptural ministry rooted in the power of the gospel and the truth of God's Word. And become is truly experiential ministry designed to get kids out of a simulation. Because again, church, classrooms and the school they're all like a simulation, but to help get them for real world experiences.

Matt Markins (13:36):
So Christian Smith and actually, before I go there, in order to arrive at those three elements, we studied at that point, the 65 years of our organization. We had three buckets of research. What is the gospels? What is Jesus doing in the gospels to make disciples? The second area is real life stories. We get emails, as you can imagine, an organization of our scale, we get letters and emails all the time. And then thirdly, we conducted four research projects of our own. And we pulled together the research from Christian Smith, Kara Powell, the Barna Group, Lifeway, and others.

Matt Markins (14:09):
So in diving into those three buckets, these three themes are what emerged. Christian Smith said it the best, that when multiples of these factors together are present in the lives of young people, they're far more likely to produce what he calls like long term religiosity or lasting faith. And those three factors, he calls them experiences, scripture and prayer engagement and relationships. Or what we call, relationships, belong. Scripture, believe and experiences, become. But I think the key insight there is, when all three are present, they shape identity. But we can go back and unpack those to whatever degree you want to.

Frank Barry (14:51):
I'm writing them down real quick. So I don't forget to come back to them. Yeah. I mean, look, we can jump in and out of all of them. I mean, I think the research portions of any of it are particularly interesting, just because, you guys are working with other folks and using your, obviously, feedback you get from people that have experienced your organization. But what in all of those, belong, believe, become, which portions of it did you guys have a lot of data? Was that the Barna Group came in or others? What kind of data came out of those projects?

Matt Markins (15:29):
Yeah. We conducted four research projects. One in '13, one in '14 and two in '19. And we got significant amount of data really on all areas. But I think if you can imagine three circles, like a Venn diagram for belong, believe, become. You've heard of a balloon loan, right? Where you've squeezed, put all the... It's like ballooning. The one of them that's actually weighted the heaviest, that's bigger, is belong, which is the relational piece. I mean, think about as big of an impact as scripture has had on your life, which I know it has. It's not like you're reading scripture eight hours a day. You don't wait scripture to the same amount of time investment. So if we were to weight those three, the one that's weighted most heavily is belong, which is the relational piece.

Matt Markins (16:21):
The problem is, our churches with children's ministries are really not set up to be as relational as we need to be in this post-Christian world that we're a part of. And to make it further complicated, kids are on these really busy schedules and they're not really getting the face to face contact and the relationship time that they need. So we're in a bit of a relationship crisis in the church with children. So the most recent project we're doing with the Barna Group, which releases in April of 2022, by the way. You know how they do the monograms, the books with the Barna research? That'll be releasing in April. And the biggest finding, we can go ahead and tease this out. I don't know if I'm given permission to say this, but we're going to go ahead and release this.

Matt Markins (17:05):
But the biggest finding is that in North America, of the 2,000 parents in congregants who responded to this survey, only four out of 10 children, 39%. Four out of 10 children that are in U.S. churches, other than their parent, have a loving, caring adult at that church who they're connected with. But here's the good news. For those four out of 10 that do have a loving, caring adult at their church that care about them. It's not even close. If you look at the cross tabulation of any activity, let's say engages the Bible, or attends church multiple times a month, enjoys singing worship songs at church, has another friend at church. Every single sub data point is almost double the children who do not have a loving, caring adult that they know from that church.

Matt Markins (18:00):
So what this tells us is kind of twofold. If the church can say, "Now hang on a second. If that's an insight we believe in, if we develop our children's ministry to be much more highly relational, to engage with kids, they're going to be a lot more open to taking steps forward in their faith or have the capacity to do so." And I think for parents, it says, "Okay, as a parent, my job needs to be a community builder. Like I need to get more..." [crosstalk 00:18:29]

Frank Barry (18:29):
Literally, that's the thought that went through my head, as you said it, right? As a dad, you just made it super clear that one of my jobs is to make sure that my kids have connections with other mentor type figures in the church.

Matt Markins (18:47):
Yeah. Well, Frank, I would imagine you may be hard on yourself from time to time, but I would imagine you're a pretty good dad.

Frank Barry (18:54):
I mean, I hope so. I'm trying.

Matt Markins (18:55):
Yeah, I would think so. But even the best dad is just one person. The best dad has limited capacities and limited gifts and skills. But when you build that team around each one of your kids of maybe a half a dozen or 10 other loving, caring adults, all of a sudden you've built a team that's kind of designed for each one of your three boys, that's really going to be able to help fill in some of those gaps that you and I just could not bring to anyone else.

Frank Barry (19:24):
And you mentioned this, but the biggest challenge I would think is the fact that there's so many other things that kids are into, right? They obviously got school, they spend a significant amount of time there. They've got their friend groups there. Oftentimes, they've got sports or other clubs or activities that are involved in. They spend a good amount of time there and they're building friend circles there and you have relationships with parents and other groups there. Those may or may not have any connection to church. Right? Sometimes they might, if you're lucky. Sometimes they might not. Right? So you spend all this time and you spend far less time with your church, your home kind of local church. Right? And so I guess I'm just throwing that out to say, how do you help churches see that and do something about it?

Matt Markins (20:24):
Well, first of all, before I say that, I played sports kind of around the clock as a kid. So I get the sports culture. My kids did not. We kind of made the intentional decision on the front end that they could be involved in one or two things a year, but we were not going to overcrowd our schedule. And I personally think that was the right decision and I'm glad we made that decision. But I know God creates some kids to be extremely gifted athletically. And so, it's, what are we going to do with that? Right? So, what I'm saying is not anti sports culture. It's more of a matter of, each family has to evaluate, how are we going to invest in long term lasting faith and do the things we need to do and balance all of that.

Matt Markins (21:10):
There's two pastors recently that I've actually heard kind of speak to the sports culture. Pastor Darren Whitehead of Church of the City in Franklin, here in the Nashville area. He's kind of a well known pastor. And then Pastor Jim Nicodem at Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois, outside Chicago.

Matt Markins (21:29):
I've heard both of them preach in sermons recently, or I say recently, in the recent years, where they actually kind of called this out in a very clear, but gentle way. Not to shame and not to become legalistic, but to help parents think critically. If our children's schedules are so overcrowded or the family schedule is so overcrowded that we don't have time to do the most important things, I think the scripture calls that idolatry. I mean, again, I don't want to become a legalist. I'm not trying to preach legalism to parents. What I'm preaching is process. We have to go through the process of asking the hard questions as a family to come to decisions that are going to help us shape our kids to be Christ followers or give the best opportunity for our kids to be shaped to be Christ followers.

Frank Barry (22:20):
I mean, our kids are certainly going to pick up on what our priorities are. Right? It just will happen, automatically. All of our kids are going to know what's important in the family. If it's going to every sports thing and it's not even just sports, it could be anything. It could be not doing anything and just being home all the time, for that matter. Right? It could be literally anything. Our kids are going to pick up on it. They're going to know what's important to us and that's going to influence what's important to them. Over time, over the course of years. Right? That matters. So, yeah. It's not about not doing the stuff. It's just a matter of, hopefully, having the right priorities and our kids picking up on what those are in our lives. Right? And balancing that as a parent.

Matt Markins (23:10):
So going back to those three B's, if I'm a parent, or if I'm a church leader, what the three B's do is they don't start with methodologies. They start with philosophical objectives, like relationships, scripture engagement, and experiences. So let's change to scripture engagement. Whether it's at church or whether it's at home, asking the questions, "Are we reading the Bible together? Are we reading the Bible as individuals, or am I coaching my kids on how to take, whether it's one verse or a portion of a verse or a paragraph, or even a whole chapter or whatever, to really just engage the Bible?"

Matt Markins (23:46):
Lifeway research says that the number one way to grow as a Christ follower is to engage the Bible consistently. So scripture and music, scripture posted on post-it notes. I mean, post-it notes are probably 25 cents a stack. Right? We can all go spend a quarter on a post-it note and like let's plaster those in a half a dozen...

Frank Barry (24:06):
Put in on the mirror when you're brushing your teeth. It's there.

Matt Markins (24:10):
Absolutely. And so for our kids, if I'm a mom or a dad, just saying, "I love you" and put a heart on it and then put a verse right under that. That says, "My parents love me and they want me to know Jesus through His Word." And so, engaging scripture is just so critical. So if you're a church, if you're a pastor, in children's ministry, we've gone so heavily with mobile technology, like tablets. And we teach the Bible from our tablets and our screens, but we've actually gone away from holding a physical Bible. And so I've seen some research lately on kids need to see us holding a physical book Bible, because there's less confusion over what that is, compared to, "What am I doing here?" And they're already seeing adult faces blocked by cell phones and tablets anyway. So this whole idea of engaging the scripture and giving kids iconic, I can see the actual visual of the Bible and scripture and the verse itself. That's just super important to help kids absorb what's happening there. And it allowed the Holy Spirit to be at work.

Frank Barry (25:15):
You're in the embodiment of a great friend in the church, older dad mentor to me. And literally he was like, "You have to use your real Bible." You need to take it out. You need to read it, the physical real, not that the digital one's not real, but actual print, physical object Bible in your hand. Have your kids see it, read it with them. They need to read that, not all the things. And he's an older, he's a boomer, all the things, so you could chalk it up, but he's dead on. Because, you can experience it even without the data. And I'm glad the data supports it, but you can see it with your own kids.

Matt Markins (26:02):
And it's not even a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of discernment and intentionality. If we can be more intentional in what our kids are viewing and seeing when they're experiencing church or experiencing the Bible at home, it, gives it a better chance of sticking compared to the confusion of, "Oh, we're looking at our phones again."

Frank Barry (26:23):
Right. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, screens are, they're tricky. It's a whole nother one, right? On the spectrum of things that we have to navigate in today's culture. So, I mean maybe, I could literally talk about this all day long. You might get that vibe just being a dad. So it's cool stuff and really amazing what God's doing and how he's using you guys. Kind of where we're at in post pandemic or middle of pandemic, whatever you want to call it. But as churches are here, how are you taking all the stuff you're working on? The book you guys wrote, the research that's coming out next year, what's next for you guys in helping equip churches?

Matt Markins (27:08):
I think the church has to wrestle with this idea of the church growth movement. And by the way, I'm not trashing or being negative. The church growth movement, like anything, has had its ups and it's downs, it's positives and negatives. What we are learning, what we're seeing, what we're experiencing is that the future church will not be driven by the ideas of the church growth movement, but will be driven by kind of the twin cities of faithfulness and lasting faith. So let's unpack those. So if historically, the church growth movement was this big thing that hit let's say sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and it has shaped where we've gone. That's like New York city, meaning it was like the city that influenced the other cities. So, I think what we're saying is, in the future, there's two new cities that are going to be built, in particular in the church of the West, because we're now seeing the influence of post-Christian culture and secularism. And the ideas of the church growth movement are not going to translate into the future.

Matt Markins (28:17):
So what are the two cities of the future we're building? It's the twin cities of faithfulness and lasting faith. Let's unpack lasting faith first, meaning the primary motivation is not going to be, "How do I grow my church bigger?" It's going to be, "How do I grow lasting faith in the middle of this secular and post-Christian culture?" And that's got to be coupled with faithfulness. Meaning, you can do all the things right, Frank, I can do all the things right as a parent. Or, if we were pastors, we could do everything right, but that doesn't mean we're going to prescribe the outcomes. So we've just got to be faithful at pursuing what we know to influence lasting faith. So I think the future is really around those two twin cities of, let's be faithful in doing the most proven areas of disciple making, which again, we would say are belong, believe, become, relationships, scripture, engagement, and experiences, and how those work together at shaping identity in Christ. So let's be faithful at doing those things that we know will most likely lead to lasting faith.

Frank Barry (29:23):
Yeah. Amen. With that in mind, give us one of the top resources that you guys provide for helping church leaders disciple kids.

Matt Markins (29:34):
Yeah. So I can give a couple.

Frank Barry (29:37):
Yeah, please do.

Matt Markins (29:38):
If you Google, Child Discipleship Forum, we just conducted our first ever. It's on our Resilient Disciples website, resilientdisciples.com. But we just conducted our first ever Child Discipleship Forum in September. We're doing another one next year, September 22, 23. That's also in the Nashville area. And so we invite people...

Frank Barry (29:58):
Oh, so it's like event, like a physical event.

Matt Markins (30:00):
Correct.

Frank Barry (30:01):
Okay. Got it.

Matt Markins (30:02):
It is both online and in person. So for people who want to just have your team around the conference table, you can do that from San Diego or wherever. But if you want to come to Nashville and get some Nashville hot chicken and go to Hattie B's and all that kind of stuff. [crosstalk 00:30:17]

Frank Barry (30:16):
Yes. I'm all about it. Though, there's a great debate, right? Hattie B's is the name, but every time I go, people are like, "No, you got to go over here to this other one."

Matt Markins (30:24):
I know. I know. I'm not really a fan, but there's plenty of other good restaurants. And then there's of course, the Resilient book, which we talked about earlier. But if you're really looking to implement this at the most local level, you can Google, Awana clubs. We have our awana.org. You can go there and check out wan curriculum. But we also have a new curriculum that's digital. It's a digital, downloadable ecosystem to equip your leaders to make disciples. So it's a curriculum for the weekend space for kids. It's got all the videos, all the training, the podcasts and whatnot to help you do that locally.

Matt Markins (31:02):
And then if I can mention a third resource, that's not ours. You're probably very familiar with the podcast, This Cultural Moment with John Mark Comer and Pastor Mark Sayers.

Frank Barry (31:12):
Yeah.

Matt Markins (31:12):
That podcast does a good job of unpacking, what is a post-Christian culture? What is secularism? How is all of this forming us? I think that's important for church leaders to get caught up to speed if you're not, because once we are, we start to realize, "Hey, this church growth thing that we've been all after, which is about bigger, bigger, bigger, is that really the right area of focus in this new world?" And I think it's not. Again, I think it goes back to lasting faith and faithfulness. I think that's our future.

Frank Barry (31:42):
Well, you jumped ahead. I was going to ask you two closing questions and one of them is, what's a podcast that you would recommend or that you're listening to now. So you already gave us one. Give us one that you're listening to right now. Give us another one.

Matt Markins (31:58):
Oh goodness. I hope you're editing guys are good. Because I'm opening up my phone right now.

Frank Barry (32:03):
Yeah, that's fine. No, we're just rolling with it.

Matt Markins (32:06):
Okay. Well, I listen to that. I listen to just a variety of stuff on The Gospel Coalition. I listen to Q Ideas and Church of the City, Franklin. I'm really big fan of Darren Whitehead's preaching and teaching. And then Bridgetown where John Mark Comer is wrapping up. So I think those are all really good resources. Those are just podcasts I'm hitting up on a weekly basis.

Frank Barry (32:29):
Okay. Love it. And then you've already mentioned a book, but would there be another book that you've read that you've been massively influenced by?

Matt Markins (32:39):
Yeah. There's several. One, I'm reading right now. I'm not through it, but I'm actively working my way through it is, The Rise in Triumph of the Modern Self, by Dr. Carl Trueman from Grove City College, I think in Pennsylvania. It's this idea of, hey, 25 years ago, older people would not have known what to do with this statement, I'm a woman trapped in a man's body, but we hear that statement today. Right? We hear that statement today and we don't really blink an eye because we've come a long way. So Carl Trueman goes back, historically, with different philosophers, basically the, the last 100 plus years or so and really does a good job of piecing together how we got here. And so I've obviously I've spent quite a bit of time unpacking secularism and post-Christian culture. This book is like a history book for really kind of how we got here. And that's a book that I'm actively reading right now. And then prior to that, I was reading, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, by John Mark Comer, who I've already mentioned.

Frank Barry (33:45):
Yeah. That one's a classic. I feel like people will have heard that one for sure.

Matt Markins (33:49):
Yes. And that one is really a Trojan horse for this book right here, which is the, The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. And that's one I'm just now starting to work my way through.

Frank Barry (34:04):
That's like a three for one right there. Or a four for one. We got it is we got loaded up today.

Matt Markins (34:09):
It is. It is. Yeah.

Frank Barry (34:10):
No, I love it. I love it. You clearly like to read and educate yourself in a lot of ways. So love the podcast recommendations and the book recommendations. Man, this has been awesome, Matt, thank you so much.

Matt Markins (34:23):
Thank you. It's been good to be with you.

Frank Barry (34:24):
Yeah, absolutely. And for everyone watching, appreciate you guys. Hopefully you pulled away some great stuff. Definitely go to awana.org. Check out the book, Resilient by Awana and all the other resources Matt mentioned. So we will catch you guys next week on another episode of Modern Church Leader. See ya.

Narrator (34:42):
If you enjoyed this episode of The Modern Church Leader, consider sharing it with the pastor or minister you think would benefit the most from listening to this conversation. You can send them to, modernchurchleader.com, or share this episode directly from your podcast app. Be sure to subscribe for free on YouTube, Apple podcasts, or Spotify so you never miss an episode. And we'll see you again, next week, with another conversation here on The Modern Church Leader.

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How to Disciple Children in a Post-Christian Culture

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How to Disciple Children in a Post-Christian Culture

Discover some ways to disciple your children in an age when faith is challenged by modern culture.

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How to Disciple Children in a Post-Christian Culture

One of the biggest challenges facing church leaders today is how to engage children in spiritual growth. We need to give them a foundation of faith to build their relationship with God as they grow. 

But how do we do that? How do we help our children develop their faith in Jesus?

It is not enough for us to simply offer children a place to play and learn. We need to provide them with something really valuable, something deep, and something that will significantly impact their daily lives.

We should be engaged in their spiritual formation as they grow, and we should be intentional with this process. As we teach, train, and disciple our children in the ways of Jesus, we are preparing them to be resilient disciples of Christ in a changing world. 

In this episode, Matt Markins, an expert in the field of children’s discipleship, will share valuable insights on how to engage children and what they are looking for in a church setting in today's world. Matt will also share practical ways churches can move out of traditional structures to make authentic connections with children.

"Children's ministry can mean a lot of things…But disciple-making is a specific target. It's a specific mission that's designed to help make disciples, and so that's important because we're now living in a very different world than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so the level of missional focus we need with our own kids to reach them and to disciple them is really significant."
-Matt Markins

Matt Markins is the president of Awana, a global pioneer in child discipleship. Their mission is to equip leaders to reach kids with the gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship. Matt's greatest passion is working with churches and nonprofits in strategy, discipleship, family ministry, marketing and communication, hospitality, and organizational structure.

Take part in this exciting discussion and learn new ways to connect with the church's future leaders!

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • How to help children grow in their faith and become lifetime disciples
  • How to disciple children in a post-Christian culture
  • Difference between children's ministry and child discipleship
  • The key factors that children need to thrive in this culture
  • Family discipleship strategies
  • Awana curriculum and discipleship resources
  • And so much more…

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[1:54] Our mission is to equip leaders to reach kids with the gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship. And our vision is that every child everywhere would come to know love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. 

[6:57] Children are more than just about anything else. They need a community of loving, caring adults around them.

[7:38] The church has got to shift hard toward child disciple-making. 

[7:48] Children's ministry can mean a lot of things…But disciple-making is a specific target. It's a specific mission designed to help make disciples, so that's important because we're now living in a very different world than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so the level of missional focus we need with our own kids to reach them and to disciple them is really significant.

[11:24] The rallying cry of our day is justice, love, freedom, happiness, redemption. These are the things that the broader dominant culture wants so badly, but in a way that's cut off from Christ. Think of it as like a cut flower society, like a bouquet of flowers. Those flowers have been cut off from the root systems…And then they're wilted. That picture is a picture of a post-Christian culture, those goals, the fruit, and the outcome we want; it's only going to last so long when it's cut off from the root system. 

[16:17] The problem is, our churches with children's ministries are really not set up to be as relational as we need to be in this post-Christian world that we're a part of. 

[28:57] Let's be faithful in doing the most proven areas of disciple-making, which again, we would say belong with relationships, scripture, engagement, and experiences and how those work together at shaping identity in Christ. 

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