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Our Prodigals and the Holidays4 min read

In 2011, research from the Barna Group revealed that 59% of young adults with a church background had dropped out of church at some point during their 20s—some for good. In September 2019 (Just eight years later), a Barna Group report revealed findings on young adults (18-29) showing the problem is not getting any better. The percentage of dropouts has increased to 64%. Perhaps your own church numbers echo these findings.

Sadly, most of us now have individuals in our lives who have strayed away from the church and maybe even faith in Jesus Christ altogether. Parents whose children have strayed often find themselves feeling isolated and having to carry the burden on their own. The feelings of guilt and shame can become overwhelming as they wonder what they did wrong, could have done better, or failed to do. Church leaders may experience similar feelings as they wrestle with how to reach the prodigals as well as minister to their families. If friends and family members are even aware of the situation, they may feel heavy-hearted and struggle with what to say or how to help.

This issue is rarely, if ever, discussed in most churches; people somehow don’t appear comfortable talking about it. Some parents may speak personally with their pastor or with family or friends, but most keep it to themselves because of guilt or shame. When guilt and shame are not addressed, parents can get so overcome by these feelings that it wears on them and drains their life of the Lord’s joy. Some might withdraw from church involvement or even leave the church themselves. When parents are not living their life free from guilt, adult children lose out on the opportunity to experience the Christian witness of their parents. This situation can be especially hard on church workers or leaders and their families since they often feel the expectation to have a perfect family.

Paula Isakson, founder of Faith Family Reunion, knows this situation all too well. She writes, “The heart of this project starts from my experience of growing up in a loving Christian home, falling away from faith in Jesus Christ and then returning again. During the time I fell away from my faith, my parents and siblings went through a tough time with me and I with them. My parents questioned how they brought me up, wondering if they had done enough and feeling like they had failed.”

Faith Family Reunion

Upon returning to the faith, Paula and her father (the now departed Dr. Jakob K. Heckert, retired LCMS pastor) started Faith Family Reunion and co-wrote curriculum that addresses this prodigal matter head on. Paula writes, “I wanted to do more than just give encouragement to parents individually. I wanted to address the situation more fully and connect parents with other parents/families. There is something to be said about knowing you are not alone in a situation, that there are others just like you, who are going through the same thing. With the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, Faith Family Reunion was born. My hope with Faith Family Reunion is to address the issue of children leaving the faith and the church, giving parents a network of other parents/families to reach out to—people who are going through the same thing—sharing testimonies of families that have been reunited in faith, and offering encouragement, inspiration, and hope to parents/families (and the church leaders who minister to them).”

On Saturday, November 23, Paula Isakson will be at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth leading a one-day workshop for parents, families, and church leaders. The aim of the workshop is to begin a conversation of this difficult topic, introduce the ministry and curriculum, and provide ideas for communicating with and welcoming our prodigals during the holidays. Information will also be shared about CORe 5 Ministry at St. Lorenz, which started from the ideas of Faith Family Reunion. Area church leaders and congregational members will find support and resources to easily implement a similar ministry opportunity.

If you have a prodigal in your life or minister to those who do, you are invited to attend this workshop and help spread the word. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; cost is just $10 per person and includes a continental breakfast and lunch. To register, please contact the St. Lorenz Church office at 989.652.6141. For more information on Faith Family Reunion please visit www.faithfamilyreunion.com.

The holidays can provide a wonderful opportunity to touch the lives of our prodigals and their families. We pray you will join us to begin this important conversation.

Photo (c) Prixel Creative/Lightstock


About the Author

Scott Mueller has served for over twenty years in the LCMS as a Director of Christian Education (DCE). He currently serves at St. Lorenz, Frankenmuth as Director of Discipleship Ministries and is also a Congregational Resource Consultant with Faith Family Reunion.

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