The Wall is Down

Featured Articles / Mar/Apr 2014 //

Building something new called Family Church

Two years ago I had a great job at a really good church. I had been in kidmin for 30 years and was making a good salary at an influential church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had helped the church grow from 1,000 to over 5,000 members. At 52 years old, I should have been content to coast into retirement, but instead, I resigned my position to plant a new church in the Twin Cities—a church called Family Church.

I now make half the salary I used to make. Last year Debbie and I sold our dream home that we built ten years ago and moved into an 800 square foot condo. On the surface, it seems like I’m going backwards.

When people find out that I am planting a new church, I get a lot of questions.

  • Why did you quit your job?
  • Why would you start over at 52?
  • Why do we need another church?

Regardless of the question, my answer is the same, to borrow the words of Nehemiah, “The wall is down.” Nehemiah was a servant of King Artaxerxes, in a foreign land, but his heart was broken because Jerusalem was in ruins. Some of the Jews had returned from captivity to Jerusalem, but the wall, the temple, and the city had not been rebuilt.

Around 454 BC, Nehemiah received permission from Artaxerxes to rebuild the wall. When he arrived in his homeland he shared his vision. “Then I said to them, ‘You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach’” (Nehemiah 2:17)

The Jews in Jerusalem were content to live in a war zone for 70 years. This was a disgrace, not only to the children of Israel, but it was a disgrace to Almighty God. As long as Jerusalem was in ruins, it didn’t look like there was a God in Israel, or He wasn’t a very big God.

Why am I planting a new church?

I’ve seen so many kids grow up in church and then leave the church. It’s heartbreaking! If the church is losing 80 percent of our kids, at some point we have to ask ourselves, is there a better way to do this?

I was part of a good church. We had an awesome children’s ministry program and an amazing youth ministry, but we were still losing 80 percent of our young adults when they turned 18 years old.

This problem is not unique. This is an epidemic. The church in America is losing the next generation and yet we continue on like this isn’t a problem.

The following quote by Andy Stanley pretty much sums it up.

“Similarly, every pastor I know is concerned about the alarming number of 18 to 25-year-olds who drop out of church, never to return. But there is no mystery why they drop out. I’m convinced they dropped out because nothing compelled them to stay! …To say it another way, the group responsible for connecting 18 to 25-year-olds to local congregations are the catalysts for driving them away. That’s just tragic. They didn’t intend to drive them away. That was not their purpose. But every weekend in this country something trumps the good intentions and lofty purposes of the average local church.”

I agree with Andy. This is tragic, not only for our kids, but for the Kingdom of God. If the trend continues, what is the future of the church in America? What will the church look like in ten years? Or twenty years?

Every vision is a solution to a problem. For Nehemiah the problem was that the wall was in ruins. The solution was to motivate the Jews to rebuild the wall. For us, the problem is that the church in America is losing the young adults who grow up in church. The solution is to seek out those who left.

Our Vision for Family Church is Four-Fold.

1. Seek and Save the Lost

In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd left the 99 to seek out the one. The question before me was, “Will you leave the 20 to seek out the 80?”

The best way to find out why young adults are leaving the church is to seek them out and ask them. The first thing I did was track down young adults who grew up in my children’s ministry, but no longer attend church.

2. Create a Culture of Understanding

One of Steven Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek to understand, then be understood.” What if we apply this principle with our 18 to 25-year-olds?

When I caught up with those who had left church, I didn’t preach to them. I asked questions. I didn’t come to give understanding. I came to seek understanding. Admittedly, this was a new thing for me. I knew how to preach, but I was not very good at listening to other people’s opinions.

The first question I asked was, “Why don’t you attend church anymore?” This is what I discovered. They still believe in God, but they don’t believe in church. They feel like they can never measure up, so why try. They feel that leaders will not listen, that there is no room for differing opinions.

Many parents of adult children view the children who have left church as prodigals. Our thinking goes something like this: eventually, they will repent and come home to the Father’s House.

I’d like to pose a question: what if we need to change, so that our adult children want to come back to church? Are we humble enough to change how we do church? Are we willing to take the time to listen and understand?

Why is understanding so powerful? When you understand, you don’t judge. When you don’t understand, you do judge.

3. Build a Platform for Young Leaders

Young leaders want to lead. One response I heard was something like this: “There were a lot of good ideas and great sermons, but there was no room for my ideas, so I left.” We forget that the kids we are teaching grow up. It’s not good enough to have a great kids’ program and cutting edge youth ministry if we don’t have a plan for our kids when they become adults. They don’t want to sit at the kids’ table anymore. Our young leaders want to lead. For me, this means surrounding myself with young leaders. It also means that my vision is not for just one church plant, but for many churches.

There are churches that are planting multiple, satellite campuses, but there is still one guy doing all the preaching. A problem with this is that our young preachers don’t get opportunities to preach.

Once Family Church hits 500 people, I plan to turn it over to an associate pastor, take 50 people and go plant another church with a different young pastor. There is a big harvest out there. We’re going to need thousands of new churches.

4. Family Services

One thing I see in America is that families are rarely together at church. In fact, most people don’t see church time as family time. This is especially true at mega churches. At some churches, it’s possible for a child to graduate from high school and never worship in the sanctuary with his/her parents. I find it interesting that many churches in Asia and South America are experiencing revival and families are usually together. I’m not saying that we should not have children’s ministry programs, but I do feel that the church in America is out of balance.

At Family Church our vision is to do both. Yes, we will have a kidmin program, but we also have family services once a month where everyone is in the sanctuary. Our strategy is to build a church that honors all generations and recognizes that everyone has something to giveregardless of his/her age. Our worship team has representation from every generation: kids, teens and adults. Our worship leader is 19 years old.

If Hollywood can make movies that families enjoy together, why can’t the church create services where families experience God together? We will have short films, drama, and preaching that appeal to all generations.

Will it work?

The honest answer is “I don’t know yet.” I’m still walking it out. I don’t have all the answers, but I am sincerely seeking the answers. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and follow our progress at

In conclusion, I’d like to ask you a question. The other day a friend said to me, “Mark, there are a lot of people watching you.” My question for you is, “Do you want to just watch, or do you want to be part of a movement that changes how we do church in America?” The kids you teach will not always be kids. What’s your plan to keep them in church?

Pastor, filmmaker, author and collector of rare comic books, Mark and his wife Debra are lead pastors at Family Church, a new church plant in Hopkins, MN.





About the Author

Pastor, filmmaker, coach and comic book collector, Mark Harper has over 30 years of experience in the local church. He is the creator of the Super Church Curriculum series, which is used in over 5,000 churches worldwide. Mark and his wife Debra have two adult children, one grandchild and one Yorkie who thinks he's a german shepherd.