If you keep up with trends in children’s ministry, you know that one of the major concerns facing those of us who serve in the church is the decline of regular attendance at Sunday morning worship times. Some studies indicate that a regularly attending child could be present up to four times a month but may only be in church once or twice a month.
Other studies remind us that in the 168 hours in a week, only one of those will be in church . Additionally, there is a rising recognition that the home is the primary place of spiritual formation and that the parents are the greatest influence of faith in their children.
Lately I’ve seen a new concern rising among those who serve within the realm of children’s ministry; that kids are no longer coming to their Sunday morning programming but instead parents are choosing to keep their children with them in corporate worship. While I, myself, see this trend as a positive thing, I understand the sense of frustration expressed by children’s pastors who are wondering, “Why even bother?” when it comes to their job and their ministry.
When considering these facts, it can begin to feel as though the Sunday morning church and children’s programming is becoming…well, inconsequential. Pointless. I mean, if our time with the children is so minuscule and our influence so secondary, why do we pour so much time, effort, and love into what we do? Why do we sink hours into preparing lessons and recruiting volunteers and coming up with busy bags and sermon notes and way to help kids engage and participate and … all the things?
Does our time serving the children at church even matter?
Yes. Yes. Yes! A thousand times…Yes!
You see, right from the start, God intended the faith community to be an integral part of the spiritual growth of children. When Moses shared with parents that they should talk about their faith when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, and when they rise and before they sleep, he did so in the presence of the entire Israelite community (Deut. 4:10).
All of Israel was there.
All of Israel heard the commands. They all understood that the responsibility to nurture the following generations. They all understood that if things were going to go well for them and if they would increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey then THEY ALL needed to pass on their faith to their “children and their children after them” (Deut. 6:1). It’s part of why I see children joining their church family in worship as a positive thing.
The parents were never supposed to do it alone.
They were supposed to pass on their faith at home in the midst of a faith community who joined them in their discipleship and supported them in their work of faith formation.
That’s what the church is supposed to be doing today! As a faith community, the church is the place where parents find nurture, support, and equipping for the work they are called to do. And we, as those who minister to families and children, whether paid or volunteer, have the unique privilege to be the hands and feet of that partnership.
And that’s why that hour or two, that short period of time each week, is so important. Because it impacts what happens the other 167 hours.
In 1976, developmentalist John Westerhoff wrote a book entitled Will our Children have Faith? and concluded with this answer: “that depends on whether or not they are embraced and formed within a faith community.” In other words, yes, even though parents have the greatest influence, his studies found that how children are engaged in the church has profound effects on how their faith grows.
Children need the formative influence of the faith community. They need relationships with each other, with the youth in church and with the adults in church (Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, 2016).
What we do with that time then becomes crucially important!
It is worth our time, our effort, and our love.
What happens in that hour or two can create for a child a deep sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning within a community that coincides with the values and teachings of their parents and creates relationships that can last long into the future. And what is done all week long to keep that faith conversation going has far-reaching impact.
Can I encourage you to embrace whatever short time you have with the parents and children of your church with as much enthusiasm and commitment as you can muster?
Seek for ways to nurture, support, and equip their parents.
Create intentional space for both intergenerational and peer relationships to be created and fostered.
Find times for children to join the faith community in worship, in serving, in sharing the story of faith.
Cast a vision of holistic discipleship that involves both the church and the home as integral and necessary parts of a whole.
Just as they were present to hear Moses speak of their future, their Promised Land, find ways to engage the children in their legacy, the legacy of our faith.
My mom often told me in regard to parenting that the days are long but the years are short. When it comes to our ministry to children in church, the hours may feel short, but the legacy lasts long. Use the hours wisely and know that you are ministering far beyond that hour – you are passing a legacy of faith to the children and their children that are to come!
(An earlier shorter version of this article appeared on ReFocus Ministry in January 2017)
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About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed
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