By Paul Frala: www.hearinggodblog.com
Over the past several months a number of people have come up to me and asked me “What happened to the lost generation of Vineyard Anaheim?” They told me stories of many of the children of the first generation of parents in the Vineyard are no longer walking the Lord and ending up with broken families. One pastor told me about some of the children of the lost generation of Vineyard Anaheim coming back to his church telling stories of parents that were divorced that no longer went to church and living the worldly lifestyle.
This started to weigh heavily on my heart. I was one of those 20-something’s that was right in the middle of all the stuff that God was doing in the Church. I wondered, “Why would people walk away from the Lord after seeing and experiencing these amazing things.”
All this made me think back to all my friends and their children who I knew that I have not seen in years. It makes me wonder where they are now. I was sensing from the Lord that I needed to investigate this more. I asked the Lord, “Why do I need to investigate this? Wouldn’t it be better to not open old wounds, revealing guilt, shame and bringing so much heart ache?” The answer that I received was that we need to learn what went wrong so that we do not repeat this in the coming move of the Spirit.
What went wrong?
The question that I am trying to answer is this. What were the reasons that the so many of the 2ndgeneration fell away from the Lord and ended up with broken lives? I went into this with some preconceived ideas of what might have gone wrong. But as I started talking to people I found that the reasons were quite varied. I spoke with 6 main groups. The leaders of the church, the parents, the children that continued to walk with the Lord, some that did fall away and came back and people who fell away and their children. This was far from a full study but just an inquiry of people’s perception of what happened to see what I could learn.
I asked the simple question, “Why do you think the so many of the 2ndgeneration fell away from the Lord and turned toward the world?” Surprisingly an answer that I got from most of the groups was “disappointment.” I wasn’t expecting that answer, but as I listened to their stories I compared it to what I went through during that time period and it made sense.
It was an amazing time to be involved at Anaheim Vineyard. Every meeting was filled to overflow. There was excitement and expectation in the air. God’s presence was distinctly manifest during worship. People were getting healed and being delivered from demons during worship and the sermons, and lives were being changed by being in the presence of God. I couldn’t wait until the next service to see what was going to happen next.
The youth were equally impacted. Their meetings were large and filled with excitement. They were “doing the stuff,” praying for the sick, feeding the poor, going out to the beaches and streets and evangelizing. Then it all STOPPED!
We were all in shock. It went from healings, deliverances, prophesies and an amazing presence of the Lord to almost nothing. The prophetic movement and the move of the Spirit was shut down due to the Toronto issues, which I detailed in my article on the “Vineyard Anaheim: The End of an Era.”
During this season there were a series of major traumas in the church. The prophetic and move of the Spirit were shut down and John subsequently retired due to poor health from cancer. John passed the church on to Carl Tuttle who over the next several years, had to step down, which he details in his new book “Reckless Mercy.” The Youth Pastor Glenn Schroder decided to move to Oregon and plant a church, leaving the youth with another shock. John’s son was dying of cancer and the new Senior Pastor Lance Pittluck, who John installed as the new senior pastor, was dealing with the recent, sudden death of his 3 year old son. Then to cap all this off John Wimber died of a fall a just after Lance came to the church. You can see why people were disillusioned and disappointed.
The Deeper Issues!
Why did some continue walking with the Lord through all the trauma and others didn’t? This is where things got interesting. There is not a simple answer to this question. I found that there were many different factors that fed the problem, but boiled down to two main issues relationships and a solid biblical foundation.
As I spoke with some of the parents several of them shared that they spent much of their time at church doing activities, leaving their kids at home or in child care. As a result, their kids felt like they loved the church more than them, as if they were “orphaned” by the church. In contrast, the ones that did make it had good strong relationships with their parents. When their parents went to home group (kinship) and church activities, their kids went with them. Their parents were also typically involved with their children outside of the church in other activities like soccer games and dance recitals.
I think that it was doubly hard for the sons and daughters of the pastors. The ministry demanded their parents time and energy. Many times the kids suffered just like the ones whose parents were too busy. Also they couldn’t just be kids because they lived in the shadows of their parents and people placed unwarranted expectations on them that they could never meet.
One of the leaders made the comment that “we did not disciple our kids.” Most of the people in the church at that time came from an evangelical background. They had all the Bible studies, scripture memorization, and Bible training but they knew that they were missing something which was the Spirit which gave life. The Church was focused on the Spirit and because most of the adults had a biblical background, passing on that biblical foundation was not as high of a priority. I was one of those who had a solid biblical background but knew that there had to be something more and when I found a place where God’s presence was manifest I wanted as much as I could get. It was life! It is easy to think as a parent that since they were getting filled and nourished by God’s presence that the children would also but they really needed the same solid biblical foundation with the Spirit. When the signs and wonders stopped they lacked deep roots for their faith. When they graduated high school and went to college or the work place they were thrust into a culture that was hostile towards Christianity. Without a Biblical foundation and reasons for their faith they were more susceptible to the attacks of the enemy. For many, their house was built on the sand.
Youth Connection with the Church.
Several professors from Fuller Seminary looked at 7 successful large youth ministries and followed the students over the next few years to see why they had such a large percentage (75%) were falling away from their faith. One factor was they did not have a firm foundation which I mentioned above but they also found that many of the youth ministries were focused on entertainment, pizza and fun. They did not get a good biblical foundation. When they graduated youth group they went to “Church,” which was nothing like youth group that they were used to. The “big church” could not compete with pizza and games. They found it boring and unrelational. They did not have their friends and it felt like an unfamiliar world. In the secular world of college there are plenty of places that have a party atmosphere and relational connection like they had in youth group where they felt comfortable.
I have identified some of the reasons why many in the 2ndgeneration of Anaheim Vineyard fell away from the Lord. But what are some of the lessons that we can learn so that we do not repeat the loss of our. youth during the next move of the Spirit?
Youth Connection with the Church.
In the Fuller study they found that the ones that made it had at lease 5 non-parental connections with adults. How can we foster these relationships? Here are some ideas:
- Allowing and encouraging more adult and parental involvement in the youth group.
- Having the youth groups be a part of the main church service once or twice a month so they are familiar with “going to church.”
- Parents involving their children in small groups and activities with other adults
- Have families connect with other families with children their ages on things like mission trips, camping, beach outings and other activities.
- Have youth activities rotate to different families homes for activities.
- Have the youth serve the church at large in various ways.
- Intentional discipleship – measuring if the child is connecting if not how to facilitate those connections.
This is both a parental and church responsibility. “One particular study found that when both parents were faithful and active in the church, 93 percent of their children remained faithful. When just one parent was faithful, 73 percent of their children remained faithful. When neither parent was particularly active in church, only 53 percent of their children stayed faithful. In those instances where neither parent was active at all and only attended church now and then, the percentage dropped to a mere 6 percent.”1 This is a very telling statistic on how important parents walking with the Lord is on their children. I think that one area that was not spelled out in the study was the children’s involvement with the faithful and active parents. One of the more common comments was that the children felt abandoned because their parents were so involved with church.
The Fuller study determined that one of the most important factors in whether young people leave the church or remain steadfast in their faith is whether they have a safe haven to express their doubts and concerns regarding their faith before leaving home. Such a refuge is found in two places: their home and their church youth ministry. This is a part of that foundation building, giving them a good practical biblical instruction, reasons for their faith and encounter with the almighty God. Jesus promises us that He will “manifest” himself to us in John 14:21 and Paul tells us in 1 Cor 2:5 “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” The aspect of leading our children to encounter God is challenging because it cannot be brought about by a 5-step program or a specific activity. It is dependent on God. It is our part as the church to provide the opportunity for God to manifest himself to the youth. One of my students at Biola asked me “Why does God show up in your class and not my other classes?” I had to stop and think about that. I answered “I am pretty sure that your other teachers are probably better teachers than we are. I would say that the only difference is that we give God an opportunity to show up and He usually does.”
One thing to keep in mind is that every young Christian has to go through that transition from their parents and Church’s faith to where it becomes their faith. This is where it is important to have the adult relationships to foster or mentor them through this time of making it their own faith.
We have touched on this several times already. The key here is parents and children building relationships. Going to a specific Church activity and going to our kid’s soccer game may help but the key is that the kids feel like their parents care about them. Seeking that life of balance is difficult. It requires much prayer and setting priorities and sticking to them. As was shown in the studies, the importance of the parents walking with the Lord and facilitating adult relationships with other Godly men and women in the Church with their children.
Don Salladin made this great point. “As one of the former youth pastors here, my experience states that it didn’t matter if the family was a homeschool separatist family or a full public school family with an ASB President kid at the high school… didn’t make any difference for their faith.. what did make a difference was the parents connection to Jesus… not to the gifts… but to Jesus. And their ruthless focus on making sure their kids remained connected to Jesus and the church.”
I wish our kids came with an instruction manual, but God has given us His guidelines to follow. It is truly a partnership between the church and the parents to raise up a generation that will continue to walk with the Lord beyond their High school years. I have only scratched the surface on how to do all this but I do not want to lose another generation. I think as leaders and parents we can be purposeful in our planning and raising our youth and while integrating the lessons of the past.
“Why are so many young people falling away from the faith?Retrieved from https://www.gotquestions.org/falling-away.html