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Should Churches Adopt a No Child Left Behind Approach?

The statistics have been coming in fast and furious that Christianity is in rapid decline in America.  Barna continues to warn us.  Another recent report indicates that Christianity has dropped off 10% in 15 years.  Two years ago I made the controversial claim that the Church was creating atheists.  I am not so sure this is controversial anymore.

Obviously, the Church is still making an awful lot of Christians.  This can lead leaders and thinkers in the church to conclude that the problem is that Americans are just reacting the way the Bible said people would react to the Gospel.  I don’t think this is accurate.   We aren’t talking about the reaction of a hostile tribe in South America that doesn’t know better.  We are talking about a growing population of people that began Christian but then fell away.  In other words, we had 5 to 18 years with these folks and we still lost them.

The level of Biblical illiteracy, even among Christians, is high.  I could give anecdotal report after report from my own ministry… 13 year olds that don’t know how many disciples Jesus had… unawareness that Jesus was a Jew… belief that one must do good works to be saved… this list can go on and on.   I am not by any means the only person to encounter this trend.

On the assumption that the reader agrees this is a problem, the question is what to do about it.

One of the things I’ve been pondering is whether to introduce measurement into the equation.

Let me explain.

Professional educators know that if you want a specific outcome out of the students you need to do at least two things:  1.  introduce instruction related to the outcome and 2. implement a measurement device to know if your instructional tool was effective.  This is just common sense.  Though many teachers object to NCLB because it promotes ‘teaching to the test’ you’d be hard pressed to find one that didn’t think they could completely ignore assessments.

In the Christian Church the concern about ‘teaching to the test’ is even more pronounced, as many of the ‘outcomes’ we’d like to see are even more difficult to measure than what educators have to deal with.  I will not dispute this point but I do not think this means we can ignore the issue.

What I mean is this:  we know that the Church in America is in decline by survey and personal experience, and we can suppose that this is because of ‘the way we are doing things’ but we can’t be sure what is producing strong Christians or weak Christians unless we have some sort of assessment.

I can’t think of a single trade that doesn’t rely on assessments to help determine the effectiveness of programs and concepts.  Besides professional educators we might mention the military as another example.  The assessments are what give you the confidence that your fine sounding idea and well financed program is actually producing the kind of student, soldier, lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc, that you seek.

Of course, you have to actually want to know, don’t you?  If a 100 kids leave your congregation and 98 of them fall from the faith within 5 years and 90 never return that is something that I would want to know if I was the leader of a congregation.  Then I would want to know what kind of framework those kids had when they left and how they received it.  If I learned that my programs were actually setting them up to get smacked around like a pinata at college, I’d want to know.

What do you think?  Do you agree?  Do you think we should have assessments?  What kind?  My ministry is interested in pursuing this in the hopes of helping congregations out but we could use some feedback.

There is one other dimension.  If you want a particular outcome it isn’t enough to attempt to measure for it, you actually have to do something in the organization that you plausibly think will generate it.  If the military wants sharp shooters, it will create a sharp shooting school, put sniper rifles in the hands of the soldiers and provide them training.  No one is shocked that they don’t get sharp shooters if they don’t put in programs to create them.  No one is shocked if the soldiers get fat and lazy if they are allowed to lay around without running any laps.

No one should think that I am offering assessments as a cure-all.  They are a tool.  One tool.  At the very least, they will help us identify ‘ways we do things’ that are effectively encouraging the development of ‘fat and lazy soldiers.’  We may not know what to do instead, but we’ll know at least we can stop doing that.

Please contact me if you have ideas and thoughts on this.  It will be a team effort to turn things around.



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    • Chuck on March 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm


    I wish I had time to respond in full, because this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have some strongly held opinions in this regard, and I would love to unload them on you sometime. Perhaps when you stop by for dinner?



    • Anthony on March 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Sure thing. Do I need to wear armor? 🙂

    Do you want to post one or two of those opinions and see what feedback that kicks up?

    • Matthew.s.ackerman on March 16, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    This is an interesting idea, and I am not opposed to it, but I have to admit I am not initially enthusiastic.

    The church is a source of community in our increasingly factionalized and corporate modern America. People generally attend or leave churches based on whether or not they from personal ties with members inside the congregation. Clearly, this is my opinion and not a truism, but I know my opinion is shared by many and that some churches strive to achieve this with varying degrees of success.

    Because of this, I am somewhat hostile to the invasion of impersonal metrics and test into one of the last sanctums of true human interaction.

    Of course, my initial hostility shouldn’t be taken as a vote against the idea. I simply see one way in which the idea could go wrong.

    Anyway, I am certainly glad that you are attempting to solve persistent and important problems.

    • Anthony on March 16, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    I actually don’t disagree with you very much here. I think one of the really big problems in the Christian church is the definite lack of genuine community. I could go on and on about that and as you are apparently taking in my blog entries, even older ones, I think you’ll see I have some things to say about that, too.

    Now, I also agree with you about ‘impersonal metrics.’ Believe it or not, if it were up to me, I would radically alter the way the faith is transmitted from the bottom up, taking the ultimate responsibility for transmitting the faith away from the church and giving it back to the family. I am not saying the church doesn’t have a responsibility, I’m saying it doesn’t have the ultimate responsibility.

    However, we are so far away from seeing this happen on a large scale and the Church would still have duties and obligations to pass along the faith anyway that it still seems prudent to be willing to ask ourselves the hard questions: “How are we doing?” “What could we do better?” “Is what we’re doing actually making things worse?” “How would we know?” “Do we even want to know?”

    Obviously, the last question is the most important, for if you don’t answer that in the affirmative you won’t get to the others.

  1. […] Shocker! It isn’t only that.  People are becoming less literate in general.  Sure, they can read, but can they read?  Anyone who can actually read, who has seen any of the collections by skeptics of ‘Biblical contradictions’ is astounded by the lunacy.  So it is that even when people read the Bible they don’t understand it.  I’m talking about Christians.  When people can’t understand the Bible, or regard it as a ‘holy book’ with its own rules of interpretation, they become timid, not wanting to be too adamant about any particular interpretation.  Everything becomes ‘just your opinion.’  A person who feels this way is not likely to evangelize, or even raise their own kids in the faith.  The solution isn’t only to actually study the Bible, but to become good readers in general.  But I suppose that isn’t the Church’s job… […]

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