Monday, May 12, 2008

Thought provoking part 1

I'm reading and writing about evangelism and integration of children and their parents into "not church" :-) ....into fellowship, a living faith, I guess I'm blessed to not personally experience this sad statistic, but I'm reading about the numbers of children leaving churches in their droves. In 40 per cent of UK churches, across all denominations, there is no children's ministry at all. I suspect this figure is somewhat higher, 5 years on. My denomination has commissioned some major research into this and my contact on the inside tells me it's a sorry picture too.

I'm more and more convinced as time goes by that we need to be intentional about reaching children; not just assuming that they would come to faith via their families. Several authors suggest that renewed efforts at adult evangelism are seriously hampered without outreach and witness to children, because we have an increasingly secular generation growing up, who will care little about our call "come to Jesus". What? Who? Why? Let's get nurturing that innate spirituality! Jesus knew what he was talking about with children! Let's ask Holy Spirit to pour out on the little ones, who are so open and receptive to know more of their heavenly Father! My observation is that prayer, worship, basking in God's love is as natural to them as eating and drinking. They were made to love him! And let's not forget the overwhelming evidence that those who make a committment to God before the age of 14 are more likely to remain in relationship with God all of their lives (see here - think its occasional paper 47, from memory. A jolly good read. And you can download it in German, should you so desire! Good old Lausanne, I read these papers for enjoyment every so often. They really are very helpful.)

All of the text below is from Evangelism - which way now? by Mike Booker and Mark Ireland (2003)

In some larger churches which run a wide range of activities, children's work can be viewed as a lower priority than "adult" activities like small-group leadership, eldership or preaching. Our society suffers from a strange type of snobbery which accords higher status to those who have least opportunity to influence people. Put at its starkest, a university lecturer (who works with people whose characters are already formed) is accorded higher status than a primary school teacher (working with people who may be far more open to change), who is in turn viewed as more important than a nursery nurse (who may have the potential for the greatest influence of all three). Seeping into churches, such an attitude means that work with children is undervalued and sometimes left in the hands of less able leaders. Children's work is for the beginners, so the accepted wisdom seems to believe, adult leadership for the wise and mature. The priority given to children by Jesus, Luke 9:48, (whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me) is sadly not always shared by his contemporary followers.

It may not simply be a matter of low priorities. Children's work may have to compete for leaders with increasingly complex church programmes, while at the same time many Christians have less free time available. Worship groups replacing one organist, meetings and committees which seem to have a self-propagating energy all of their own, alay involvement in services, all have their value but take up time. If work with children is being squeezed out, there may be a case for taking a long, hard look at the other church activities that are doing the squeezing.

"Now the children will leave is for their classes" is an often-heard statement in those churches that still have children's groups. The "children leaving us" mentality communicates that children are a minority group, separate from "normal church". This need not be a bad thing, it is possible that special groups for children reflect a special interest in their spiritual growth. However, the implications that children are not "us" can be part of the subtle message that they are less than a full part of the church. When families arrive at a service, if parents and other adults are greeted with a smile and a service sheet while the shorter people in the family are ignored, it simply adds to the message received by children that they are less than full members. Small, symbolic messages communicate to all present that children are a lower priority.

What is true within the church is true within the edge of a church as well. In the specific area of children's evangelism, the tragedy is that hugely successful events can go largely unreported. Thirty new children at a summer holiday club, several hundred hearing the Christian message at a special assembly in school may pass virtually without mention. When this happens, not only are children undervalued, but an enormous opportunity for encouragement is overlooked.


  1. I'm going to read this properly later...I need to go and have a shower. (You really wanted to know that!!) For now, just in case you don't read my follow up comment to yours here's the first bit of it:

    I took a moment to work out what you meant! I think I know. Under customise go to settings, then comments, and then there is a box for 'comment form message'. Ta da!

    I have not included the bit about the knees.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. ::::laughing::::

    have fun. As you know, I don't usually block quote from books but this book has been a revelation to me because I read a lot of N American books on children's ministry and here we have a lovely C of E book expressing similar sentiments to other stuff I read (e.g. Barna), perhaps in an edgier fashion than I may have expected.

  4. I'm back to read properly :) You're right - this is good stuff. I particularly noted the bit about church activities - sometimes I think there are just sooo many things that people are stretched and unable to focus on a particular area of ministry. And life has got so busy and exhausting that people have less time and energy to give. That I think is a tough one, as we are dealing with cultural issues and our external environment, for want of a better word. How do we manage when life demands so much of our congregation outside of church activities?

    As for areas of influence - spot on - and it's so wonderful to have a foundation or basic knowledge for kids so that even if they drift from it - there's that little tinkle (?!) of familiarity. One RE teacher I know once had a child stick up his hand in class and say 'is Jesus Christ something to do with Christianity?'

    I think people (adults!!) assume kids have the same knowledge base as they used to but they don't. We can't make these assumptions anymore. We have to see this as a primary mission field.


    Anyway - so - yeah!


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