Restoring the Family Altar: The Key to Youth Retention, Dr. Phil Huebner
A child belongs to a WELS congregation when he is 13. What are the chances he will belong to a WELS congregation when he is 33? The answer: about 50/50. Approximately half of young WELS members drift away. Some drift into other Christian churches. Most drift into nothingness. They stop going to church altogether.
What would you guess is the biggest commonality among those individuals who remain WELS when they grow up? If you guessed that they attended a Lutheran elementary school, you would be wrong. Individuals who attended a Lutheran elementary school are slightly more likely to remain WELS in adulthood than individuals who attended public school. But the difference is only a few percentage points.
There is something that plays a substantially larger role—the spiritual activity that takes place in the home. When mom and dad talk about spiritual things at home, that impresses upon the children that life is about more than grades and sports. When family prayer is something that is done daily, it teaches the children that of all the conversations they have in a day, none is more important than when they bring their cares and concerns to their true Father. When parents open up the Bible with children, what blessings result! And when a father demonstrates that church paramount in his life, it makes it substantially more likely that his children remain WELS when they grow up.
This reality makes it imperative that leaders think strategically about the way their congregation approaches youth discipleship. It may unintentionally help parents to disconnect from the discipling of their children.
- Little Timmy learns his Bible stories at school, so mom does not read and discuss Bible stories at night.
- At least once a week, Timmy gathers with the entire school in the gym for a devotion. So, dad doesn’t see the need to do a family devotion after dinner.
- When Timmy reaches seventh grade, he will begin catechism instruction. In many congregations, there is very little for dad or mom to do other than show up on confirmation day.
Since parents are by far the most influential individuals in their children’s lives, letting them hand off the Biblical instruction of their children could have unintended consequences.
WELS loses 8,000 members each year out the back door. Many of these are individuals recently moved out of their parents’ home. If we hope to turn the tide, we need to restore the family altar. This session discusses various ways congregations can help parents see the responsibility they have for the spiritual development of their children, that there is more than simply saying, “Church, will you do this for me.” We will talk about how congregational leaders can equip parents to disciple their children, including providing special motivation to fathers to be the spiritual leaders God has called them to be. We will consider practical ways to carry out this dynamic in the worship service, in schools, and at home.
Dr. Phil Huebner
Dr. Phil Huebner was assigned to start a new mission church in Palm Coast, Fla. in 2007. Over nine years Christ the King Lutheran Church and School was showered with blessings, growing to 300 members and 400 students. In 2016 he accepted a call to serve as Campus Pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, Wis., where he now serves. Phil Huebner holds a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Systematic Theology from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and received his Doctor of Ministry in Mission and Culture from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2019. His thesis was on what to do with children in church. His entire ministry to date has seen emphases on outreach, children, teens, and families. Huebner is married to Becky and they have two children, Noah and Gwen. In his free time he loves to travel, read, and research more on the topics of families and teens.