The Flaw in Orange Thinking

orange_PNG766If you work in children’s ministry, you’ve likely heard about the “Orange Theory.” Basically, the idea is that when the church and parents work together in the discipleship of their children, the impact on their spiritual development is multiplied. In is a principal and theory that I (for the most part) agree with. In the past though, I have raised a couple of concerns regarding the implementation of that theory:

  1. I believe many churches, in sincerely trying to implementing this theory, have swung too far back towards parents and abdicated the responsibility of the church in discipleship. In other words, to correct was is perceived as overstepping into the arena of parents in terms of teaching and discipling children, the church has overcorrected and adopted a “that’s the parents’ job” mentality. In so doing, many children (including those whose parents are not interested or not involved) may be “lost in the cracks”. Again, this is a problem in implementation, not in theory. I am not an “Orange hater.” 🙂
  2. Building on that, I believe many churches in an effort to implement an orange way of thinking have focused on the traditional two parent married biological family of the norm and/or assumed discipleship works the same in all types of different families. Again, kids and whole families get left out in the cold when this mistake is made.

Recently though, I have noticed what I consider to be a very significant oversight (or at the very least weakness) in the orange theory. Consider the following typical video for “selling” this theory and focus in particular on how parents and the church are portrayed in the video:

A “Typical” Orange Video

 

3000 hrs. vs. 40 hours – NOW THAT’S EXTREME! But, does it paint the whole picture? I don’t think so. First, I do not know exactly where the 3,000 figure came from. I do know how various studies work, and I presume that number came from some study. Here’s what I found though.

According to a Pew Research Study, in 2001 the average mother with kids living at home spent 13.5 hours per week engage in childcare activities, 17.4 hours doing housework, 22.8 hours in paid work and 24.5 hours in leisure. Fathers, on the other hand, spent 7.3 hours per week engage in childcare activities, 10.0 hours doing housework, 40.5 hours in paid work and 27.5 hours in leisure. So, what does that mean?

Let’s talk first about traditional two parent families, and let’s assume these numbers are right (I have a suspicion that people probably over-report the amount of time spent with their kids, but that’s another story), that means mothers spend 13.5 hrs and fathers 7.3 hours. That’s a total of 20.8 hours. Assuming 25% of that time is “overlap” time where both parents are present, that amounts to 15.6 parent hours per week (phpw) or roughly 811 per year. Let’s assume that half of household chores are done with kids (as if), that means a total of 27.4 hours (we’ll assume no overlap here) time 50% = 13.7 phpw or 712 a year. Now we’re up to 1,523. Now, let’s assume we can convince parents to give up 1/2 of their leisure time to spend with their kids (we’ll sell the importance of this), that equates to 12.25 hrs for mom and 13.75 hrs for dad. Let’s go out on a limb and say that half of that is combined time that can be given up, that another 13 hrs per week or 676 hours per year for a grand total of 2,199 hours. I’m hard pressed to come up with a 3,000 hour per year figure that’s realistic. Then, when we start talking about single parents, those numbers have to go down as the time (usually) mom spend working increases and the time kids are left alone goes down. It’s an important consideration given that 1/4 of all children live in a single parent home and 40% live in a home with something other than their married biological parents.

So, what’s my point? Am I an old curmudgeon who likes numbers? Well, yes, but that’s not my point. I think realistically that parents have a lot less time than this graphic represents, and that’s important. But there is another side of the story that we’re missing that I think represents the flaw in this statistic. I think there is a third influence beyond the red of church and the yellow of family, and our family ministry models largely ignore it. Let’s call it blue, because when something burns, the blue is the hot flame. Blue represents all those “other” influences in a child’s life – peers and other adults who can speak life or death into your child’s life. I started to wonder (at least in terms of time) how does this group compare to parents.

Let’s be generous and say parents have/could realistically have about 2,000 hours of a child’s life (I think there would be some kicking and screaming involved, but let’s say for the sake of argument). I couldn’t find good comprehensive statistics on how kids spend their time with friends, so I started to think about my own kids – specifically an amalgamation of my 11 and 13 year olds. Here’s how his day look Monday through Friday. From the time they get on the bus until the time he steps off of it is about nine hours. Now, most kids probably have a shorter bus ride, so let’s say the whole school experience on average is 7.5 hours – five days a week. That’s 37.5 hours per week.  They are involved in sports and other school related activities. Currently the one is involved in basketball for 2.5 hours per week and volleyball for another hour. During soccer season, one of them was putting in about 4-5 hours per week. So, on average let’s say 4.5 hours. Now, we’re up to 42 hours per week.  They have discovered texting and Facetime at that age (even my seven years old gets involved). Let’s say between that and calls (we still make them actually talk on the phone) that it amounts to 5 hours per week (that’s around 45 minutes per day). That’s 47 hours per week.  Now, school is not in session year round, so I’ve adjusted for that, but I calculate 1,994 hours per year (minimum). That’s 2,000 hours a year that our kids are spending with their friends and acquaintances. That doesn’t even begin to include the influence of brothers, sisters, coaches, teachers, etc. That’s roughly equivalent to the number of hours a parent has access to for any given year.

Obviously, as the church we can’t influence everyone of those people who influence a kid. That’s not my point. My point is that part of our idea of family ministry has to include discipling kids to go out and be that influence to the kids they have friendships with. It has to be discipling parents not only to raise their own kids in spiritual matters but to reach out to their kids’ friends and the kids who play on their children’s sport teams or share a dance studio with their kids.  Dare I say, it means not focusing so much on Deuteronomy 6 that we forget Matthew 22: 36-40 and Matthew 28:16-20. Deuteronomy 6 is a beautiful picture of how God established the family as the primary means for passing along spiritual truth, but let’s not forget Deuteronomy 14 and 16 where God’s people are called to provide for the needs (but temporal and spiritual) of widows and orphans. Let’s not focus so much on Orange that we forget about reaching those who have don’t care which entity guides the spiritual development of kids because it just isn’t relevant to their lives. Let’s train up our kids and their parents to not only feed themselves oranges but to reach out to those starving for the bread of live and thirsting for living water.

So, is Orange really flawed. Not really. There is valuable truth there. But like so many things when it comes to the church, we need to make certain we are not “jumping on the bandwagon” and convincing ourselves that this is more important than everything else we have been called to do! What are your thoughts?

14 Comments

  1. Wayne! This is a great piece. I have had these thoughts for many years. Maybe why I have enjoyed The Orange Tour, The Orange conference and read many of the associated books but have not taken the dive to implement the curriculum in ministry practice. While I believe there is merit in the Orange Philosophy, in fact I love to listen to and integrate the ideas. You have verbalized well my feelings on Orange. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for getting the conversation rolling. I think it is important that we never take anything at face value, even from the people we trust. One, Orange is still trying to sell a product (multiples of) and these are obviously marketing choices. Two, they are, as we all do, discussing the surface levels and not dealing with all of the nuances of it. I think they do a good job of that in a lot of their blogs and such, but wonder what percentage of their followers that actually covers.

  3. I recently spoke with a children’s pastor from a disadvantaged inner city community about implementing Orange in her setting. She laughed. First of all, the kids come on their own from around the neighorhood because church is the ONE place that they feel safe and loved. The parents do not come…and probably don’t know (or even care) if their child is at church. The vast majority are single parent, unwed folks. Many of the parents don’t know HOW to parent, are striving to survive, some on drugs, others in gangs, and honestly, just allow their kids to roam. They have NO interest in their child’s lives. We were talking about having the parents register their children for events. — Well, that doesn’t happen. The parents are non-involved — totally. So, if we are saying “Parents are the primary spiritual leaders” of these kids lives. Honestly, there will be no hope for these kids. God help the CHURCH to stand up and be what it needs to be…and for parents to also STEP UP and be who God has called them to be.

    • Amen brother! Thanks for sharing that story. The whole idea of “family ministry” is laughable to so many people in urban community because of how the family has been so decimated there. Yes, where the family exists, the church should celebrate it as part of God’s plan, but where it doesn’t exist, the church (both as a corporate entity and we as individuals members of Christ’s church) should be there to stand in the gap for those kids!

  4. I have been using Orange since 2008. I ignore the obvious flaw in the theory. Mainly cause I have yet to find a curriculum that is developmental enough to match Orange, and also ties in the Character piece. I have seen that as we teach orange and watch the kids grow up parent complain to me.Why? Cause what they learned in church was so creative and developmental that when the youth pastor gets their kids into youth group they are bored. Why? Cause the youth pastor many times that is teaching is not as creative in his/her approach as the curriculum I am using. Kids are bored and they already know the Bible stories so well that the parents are at a loss to know what to do with their youth group kids now. I am also thinking about leadership. I think the Orange philosophy teaches they why behind the stories and links them to character that I have seen now over and over automatically turn faithful kids into leaders. They know what is right. And they know how to lead. And what’s more. Once they get over the “boringness” of the youth pastor’s messages, the youth pastor and the kids both realize. They know the stories so well that they can actually teach them. And the youth pastor begins plugging them into leadership roles sooner. So the flaws while I believe need to be addressed the fruit is there as well. (get it fruit? orange…nevermind). What really bothers me is when I go to conferences and I hear other curriculums taking shots at each other. I once attended a conference where the writer of a curriculum during a session accused Orange of creating “little moralists.” It made me sick. I’m not gonna give you my church’s $$$ if you’re gonna put down the hard work your brothers and sisters in Christ have done to reach kids for Jesus. You might not agree but don’t do that. That’s insane. That said I think this says in a very good way what we all know. But if someone can show me a better curriculum that is just as developmental in scope and sequence and provides the fruit of leadership development and creativity with storytelling then I would jump. But I haven’t found one yet. It is funny though to see people leave Orange….then a few years later…have buyers remorse… and come on back. While the whole time I have simply just stayed.

    • Well put Joe. I’m not about tearing anyone down – especially people who work so hard as achieving the very thing we are trying to achieve – reaching kids for Christ. The idea that there is one “perfect” curriculum or even that what works for my church should work for yours is a fallacy of the highest degree. I lament the “either or” approach so many churches (and Christians) take when so many times there is a clear “both…and” solution. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but let’s always be looking for and talking about how to make that bath better!

    • Joe I would agree and disagree with you here. I agree that we need to creatively teach the bible to kids. I also agree that Orange is one of the best in terms of flexibility and creativity. I have used it for many years. I would disagree that your premise that kids are board because the class lacks creativity. I think people are board with church in general because it is irreverent to them. Creativity without relevance is what Sarah Palin calls lipstick on a pig. What churches need more than creativity is relevance. They need teachers who find the beauty of Christ captivating. The church needs pastors who preach the gospel unapologetic and who live it transparently. Thanks for your thoughts. I believe we need to go deeper with kids but disagree with the assertion that Orange is creating “little moralists” little moralists are created by “big moralists” who see Jesus as useful rather than beautiful.

      Here is a blog post I did that discusses this a bit further. http://samluce.com/2014/11/youth-culture-new-relevance/

  5. Everything works somewhere… but nothing will work everywhere. Orange will work wonders in some places (as Joe has attested to) But, it comes down to what direction is God leading you and your church? It come down to the shape of your church. It comes down (as Randy mentioned) to the demographic of your church…. Orange might not fit… but then again, Royal Rangers might not fit, High-Voltage might not fit, Elevate might not fit… and so on and so on. Find what fits… and if it’s Orange – go all in. Just don’t try to shove an Orange into a (name your curriculum here)-shaped space.

    Great blog Wayne!

  6. Love this. I’ve been doing this long enough to see so many curriculums come and go. Churches jump on fads, but scripture remains. Curriculum is a fantastic tool for a passionate kids ministry, but it won’t magically create one for you. It’s about what works best for your church, your culture to reach kids and families for Jesus! Good article Wayne.

  7. Wayne,

    I appreciate you thoughts. I am very grateful for Reggie and his team really bringing the whole idea of family ministry to the mainstream. I think the idea of ministry to the whole family should be all our concern no matter our context. Inner city, single parents all need the power of the gospel. I understand what you are saying about the numbers but I don’t think it’s Orange’s problem. I think it ours. We expect them to do the work that only we can do. We want them to break it down for us where we are at. We used Orange for many years. We used it tweaked it and worked out the practical implications that fit our ministry context. We shouldn’t blame Orange for the church not being the church, Reggie would tell you that. I think the question for us needs to be 1. Who am I ministering to? 2. What do I need to do to help those families. 3. Who provides the curriculum that best meets those needs. If that’s Orange awesome. Group great. David C Cook wonderful. As the local pastors God has placed where we are we must know our people and know their needs and look for the best ways to meet those needs both spiritually and practically.

    Great conversation Wayne. One that needs to be had. Hey no self promotion her but I made an ebook about how to select the right curriculum it may be helpful send me your email and I send you a free copy. Appreciate you Wayne.

    sam

  8. Very well written! It all goes to prove that there is no “one size fits all” in curriculum. We should never revere curriculum, but view it as a tool in our tool chest. If you try to use a wrench when you need a drill you are not going to get good results. I find it silly sometimes when kidmins boast about and cling to curriculum…putting down others for their choices. Our decisions about what tools to use should not be based on what others are doing, rather bathed in much prayer and careful consideration of our community, our congregation and our audience,

  9. Great discussion…so many interesting viewpoints. Wayne, I appreciate your willingness to ask tough questions, and encourage us all to think!

  10. D J Neuenschwander |

    My real complaint isn’t with the Orange Theory (although I agree it has some flaws); my real complaint is the way that so many people, both church workers AND parents, think that if they use the right teaching methods and the right system that they will change the lives of the kids. The only thing that will change the lives in a significant way is God working through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes He uses our always flawed efforts. I agree with the person who said the important thing is to love Jesus and let that show. Whatever your theory or curriculum, it is crucial that you yourself be an authentic follower of Christ, and that you make sure the kids know how your life was changed by Jesus. And pray for your kids, that God will work in their hearts and change their lives. Then teach and preach the Word of God, and watch God work.

  11. Hi Wayne, I enjoyed your article, but since I’m new to KidMin I’m not familiar with Orange. Can you provide a link to the video you posted above? Thank you!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Orange Flaw Follow Up | Dad in the Middle - […] knew when I published The Flaw in Orange Thinking yesterday that there would be some push back. I was…