To rescue the collapsing American family, Communio President J.P. De Gance and professional counselor John Van Epp released "Endgame: The Church's Strategic Move to Save Faith and Family in America" on September 6 as a way to encourage churches all across the country to take up family and relationship ministries even more aggressively.
The Christian Post (CP) spoke with authors De Gance and Van Epp about their new book, which provides pastors with guidance on how to ensure their family ministries are strong and how broken families are the main reason why churches are failing. They also discussed the importance of the Church in revitalizing families.
"The message of the book is simply this, churches in America have the opportunity and responsibility to build relationship ministries and outreaches into their congregations and communities - congruent with their faith - that speak to the needs of singles, couples, and families, and, as a result, will grow their churches and transform their communities," they wrote of the book's message.
On Christians handing the state their biblical mandate
When asked why they wrote the book, Van Epp said it was out of their frustration by the fact that faith-based organizations were attempting to impact their communities by lowering divorce rates and improving the quality of relationships in general, and that nearly all of them were doing so with government funds.
The Church in America, he added, has the ability and duty to genuinely influence marriage and family trends, and particularly dating patterns. He claimed he and his co-author De Gance arrived to this conclusion independently.
"Not only among their people, but to reach out into the community and to step off the campus and into the community to build a relationship and offer that kind of content that will then warm people up to the Gospel of Jesus, but will also truly impact trends that are ultimately eroding the transmission of faith in America. So, we believe the breakdown of the family is breaking down faith in America as well," he said.
With regard to federal funding, CP wondered if too many Christians put too much emphasis on enlisting the help of the federal government in order to bring about changes in the nation.
De Gance responded affirmatively, noting how Christians have moved away from a "Tocquevillian" past in which problems were addressed via voluntary civil society, with individuals trying to bring about real change in their communities and through their faiths.
"While politics is very important - I'm not dismissing it as important, and politics can change the culture, there have been examples of that - too many times, people of faith conclude that the best way to do it is 'there ought to be a law' or 'let's come to Washington and lobby for changes,' when there's a lot of work we can do, without getting anybody's permission, right now, working in our church, working in our community," he explained.
Because they believe in the separation of religion and state, Van Epp says that when Christians become too reliant on the government, they neglect their responsibilities and the trends diverge from their religious principles, as has occurred in the United States.
The fall of Christianity is driven by family
According to De Gance, if millennials had the same family structure as baby boomers, they would attend church just as often. And, to him, genealogy clears up any confusion between cause and effect.
Based on the information they've gathered; he believes that family structure has a major impact on church attendance.
"The symptom of the fire, the real fire is in the collapse of marriage and the home," he said.
Van Epp chimed in by pointing out the million-dollar investments on youth ministries in an effort to make a difference in the lives of the youth. He said that despite the good intentions behind the initiative, it is failing to address the root of the issue.
"...by just keeping the family, the parents married, and a young person growing up in an intact family, you have no decrease over the last three generations, you have no decrease in involvement in church. So therefore, that family structure seems to be the transmission belt of faith," he continued.
His other point was that fatherlessness was strongly associated with the collapse, or erosion, of the succession of religious beliefs.
Those young adults in De Gance's research who claimed to be the most emotionally detached or uninspired by the church also overwhelmingly claimed to have a relationship with their father that was less than ideal.
"While we all know there are good single dads or unmarried dads that are out there, on the aggregate, statistically speaking, an unmarried father is generally an uninvolved father and an unattached father. And that might be the secret ingredient as to why the collapse of marriage is destroying fatherhood, which is destroying faith," he added.
On weak family ministry
The skills-based ministry model, according to De Gance, is one in which individuals are taught how to have a healthy marriage and a healthy relationship, and then put those skills to use in their daily lives.
"So if I am talking to a pastor, I would ask the question, 'how are you helping your people know the skills of relationship health and practice them on a regular basis?'" he said.
Furthermore, according to Van Epp, money must be set aside each year specifically for marriage ministry and helping singles navigate their love lives.
De Gance's claim that 85% of churches are not investing money in this area. It implies family and marriage have been in free decline for 50 years, and the church hasn't stepped up to the plate.
"If churches actually became strategic, applied best practices, and reached out to their communities to renew relationships and marriages, we could see the next Great Awakening in our country in the decades ahead. And that's what I hope pastors, and church leaders would conclude," he proclaimed.