Some churches work effectively with adults but are uncertain about their role in respect of children. It is not uncommon for smaller churches and chapels to consist entirely of adults; if children attend the church services, they are almost invariably the offspring of regular members. If children from so-called ‘unchurched’ families have contact with the church, it is normally through a designated children’s club, youth group or special organisation such as Boys’ Brigade.
In particular, parent & toddler groups have increased in number and size, though whether this is due to the church’s outreach, parents’ desire to inculcate some sort of spiritual attributes in their children or, pragmatically, the availability of a local building, caring leaders and decent facilities, is hard to discern. Whatever the truth of the matter, contact with and serving the local community through children’s work often forms an integral part of a church’s outreach.
Adapting regular Sunday services in such a way that they become ‘relevant’ for children and young families, while maintaining a format that satisfies the core congregation, provides a challenge that few churches seem to have mastered. In truth, the attempt to accommodate all-comers into a single service often results in a patchwork quilt consisting of a “children’s talk” and perhaps an appropriate song, after which the children leave the main service, accompanied by a number of adults, and trot along to hear a Bible story and colour a picture, construct a simple model or undertake a similar activity. Lively children, and boys in particular, can find such sedentary activities uninspiring. Naturally, the adults supervising the children miss the main ministry.
There are no easy answers to this conundrum. The scrapping of the afternoon Sunday School (in the UK, at least) because, it was argued, unchurched families went out for the day on Sunday but were willing to wait until after the end of a morning service before heading for the beach, has in most cases proved to be a failure. In fact, children from outside the church, now deprived of the afternoon meeting, don’t come to the morning service either! There is a strong suspicion that the scrapping of the afternoon Sunday School was more for the benefit of church members, as much as a strategy to meet the changing habits of society in general.
Of course, some churches do excellent work with children and young people. They have altered times and structures of meetings and allocated funds to support leaders, purchase equipment and promote good practice. Some churches have a ‘Saturday School’ for children. Other churches run a service dedicated to young people using modern music and an informal structure that relies heavily on the personalities of leaders and the fun element that is injected into the proceedings.
The availability of committed, gifted leaders often dictates the agenda. Many churches would “love to see more young people” but, owing to lack of suitable personnel, are unable to enact their vision. Some churches have accepted that the most sensible option is to put their limited resources towards working solely with adults. It may be that other churches insist that they want young people around but are unwilling to modify their present practices. In addition, all church workers are aware of the stringent health and safety conditions attached to working with children, which can act as a constraint on innovative practice and promote safe-but-banal practices.
One way and another, the key to success with children is extremely simple yet strangely difficult to initiate. First, to offer children a regular opportunity to attend and benefit from an activity that they enjoy. Second, to ensure that the leaders are properly supported, encouraged and trained. Third, to view the activities as part of the church’s ministry and not as a “tag on” extra. Finally, to view the end point as the salvation of precious souls through a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as the only One who saves from sin.
This section of bibleden.com is something of a mishmash of ideas, suggestions and insights about working with children. Nevertheless, my prayer is that something useful will stand out for you and be the spark that lights a flame in your heart. If you want detailed information about working with young people, please check out myfishbites.com which is a treasure trove of resources to bless and encourage you.
It goes without saying that no aspect of the church’s ministry can succeed without the enabling of the Holy Spirit, least of all in children’s work. He alone transforms lives, guides and directs. Graciously, He invites us to be partners with Him in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world… beginning in a street near you!