My husband Tom and I have 3 college-age and adult kids. A couple of years ago, when it was our son Joshua’s turn for a high school graduation party, we sat down and made a list of folks to invite. We covered family, and friends, and were ready for “church people.” “Ok. Who do you want to invite from church?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t really know anyone from church.”
While “I don’t know” is a standard answer from a kid, and it turned out he knew a few more people from church than he initially thought, the conversation made me pause. We’ve been part of our church since before Tom and I were married. All three of our kids were baptized and raised there. I’m on staff as the Director of Children’s Ministry. Our social life mostly revolves around church friends. How could my kid possibly even think he doesn’t know anybody from church?
Certainly, the aim of keeping kids involved in church isn’t so they have people to invite to their graduation parties but that they be discipled—to continue to grow and mature in Christ as they become adults who disciple the next generation, and so on Yet, research by the well-known Barna group (www.barna.com) shows that kids today are leaving churches in droves, which is alarming in and of itself. There is hope, however! Barna’s research also shows that kids who are involved in church are much more likely to stay in involved in church throughout their lives if there are meaningful relationships built with adults in the church.
So, how do we cultivate the relationships to keep children involved in the church and maturing in their faith? How do we encourage parents to be engaged? How do we create opportunities for adults and soon-to-be-adults who aren’t related to each other to form lasting relationships?
At a recent CDM Children’s Ministry Leadership Training Retreat, I took part in a breakout session led by Sue Jakes, an experienced leader in Children’s Ministry both in the PCA and in her local church. She outlined what has yielded results beyond what she could have imagined for her church, and my mind (and heart!) were just blown wide open. In her church, as kids reach their upper elementary years, adults begin to talk with them about beginning to do what the adult men and women in the church do. And the adults ask questions like, “What do you love to do? What has God uniquely equipped and gifted you to do?” And then (this is my favorite part), the kids hear, “God will use those gifts He’s given you for the kingdom.”
Can you imagine what would begin to happen in our churches if more adults had these conversations with kids? Parents, certainly, could and should have them. But what if teachers and leaders and members in general began to talk with children about what the Lord has done and is doing in their lives to prepare them for lives of lay and/or vocational ministry? And then, after talking, if adults would connect the kids with opportunities in the church to serve meaningfully in a way that aligned with their God-given gifts. The possibilities are endless!
At a recent meeting I attended there was lamenting that relatively few adults feel equipped to teach in any role in the church. In another meeting, we talked about the need for more willing volunteers in the areas of facility maintenance and in kitchen help. I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d have more teachers and volunteers if we started to encourage kids and teens to begin serving in all sorts of meaningful ways at young ages—in teaching, worship preparation, fellowship, building maintenance, etc. Certainly, by the time today’s kids reach adulthood, there would be less hesitation to teach or plan events or do what needs to be done around the building, because the skills have been developed and habits of service have been formed. The relationships built would help keep these now-adults growing in their faith for the long-term.
This all sounds great, but where do we start? Start small, so it’s not overwhelming.
- Start with prayer for your church. Pray the Lord would raise up men and women and CHILDREN to serve in the areas where your church has the most need.
- Parents, begin asking your child how the Lord has uniquely gifted him/her, with the above assurance that He’ll use those unique gifts and abilities for the kingdom.
- Children’s Ministry volunteers, look for the gifts of the children you serve. They ALL have gifts. Some might have propensities for teaching, others for encouragement, or some for working with their hands, and still others for creative expression. Encourage the use of those gifts for God’s glory.
- Church leaders, be enthusiastic and welcoming when approached about including children in areas of service. When you plan, be intentional about how to include kids and make sure their contributions are visible and important.
- Pastors and elders, you set the tone for how the church approaches ministry to each demographic. Please continue to affirm the inclusion of children as valuable and contributing members of the body of Christ in worship, fellowship, and service.
Soli deo gloria!