Earlier this week I was at a training conference in Fort Worth. The conference was for leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention who serve various Baptist associations across the nation. Part of the training was led by Jim Slack, who has done extensive research on how churches can impact the community and reach more people for Christ. He shared a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education that revealed that:
- Twenty one million Americans cannot read at all. Forty five million people are marginally illiterate. One-fifth of high school graduates cannot read their diplomas.
- More than three out of four people on welfare, including 85% of unwed mothers, lack the literacy skills to get a good job.
- Approximately 50% of the nation's unemployed youth age 16-21 are functionally illiterate, with virtually no prospects of obtaining good jobs.
Mr. Slack theorizes that many churches are unable to reach their communities because they use methods of outreach and evangelism that require a high level of reading skills. He suggested churches think of ways to do outreach that do not require as much reading. He also suggested that if churches offered literacy classes, and perhaps job training, those churches could provide practical help for people while sharing the love of Christ at the same time.
I have been thinking about this all week. Though I grew up poor, I was blessed to be able to attend a private high school. I excelled in college and earned advanced degrees, including a doctorate in administration. Because I am so literate, it has never occurred to me how challenging life must be for those who are less literate.
Being less literate is the not the same as being less intelligent. Being less literate could be the result of incomplete education, such as a young mom who had to drop out of school to care for her child. Being less literate could be the result of a poor educational environment, as is often the case in urban areas with too few teachers serving class sizes that are too large. Some illiteracy is caused by learning disorders. In the past, educators did not always understand how to teach those with various disorders. Today, educators have learned many new techniques so that people with learning disorders can have the opportunities to achieve all they want to in life. Unfortunately, many people with learning issues have often given up because they do not realize all these new techniques exist.
I am not sure exactly what I am supposed to do about literacy. Should we start literacy classes? Should we encourage people in the congregation to volunteer in other organizations already addressing this need? Should we look for ways to adjust our outreach so non-readers can still understand the message of Christ?
Though I am not exactly sure how I should lead my church to deal with this issue. It seems to me that we must do something. This is something I will be praying about in the weeks to come.
One thing that would help me think through this issue would be to know what other churches are doing. If your church is doing anything to meet this need, please consider leaving a comment below describing that ministry.