In last week’s blog entry I tried to answer the question as to whether a small church can effectively minister to its youth. This week I want to tackle the same question in regard to children.
Can a small church have an effective children’s ministry?
My answer to that question is going to be more controversial. You may not agree with everything that I say. Whether you agree or disagree I would love to have you respond to what I write.
Some considerations before I begin
The first thing that I need to say as I look at children’s programs is that what I am going to write about is just as great a danger for large churches as it is for small.
I also need to say right at the beginning that I am not opposed to Sunday schools or children’s clubs or day camps in the summer. Churches need to take their responsibility to children very seriously because it is in those early years that people are most impressionable. Most Christians in Canada made their decision to follow Christ when they were young. Every church, whatever its size, needs to take their children’s programs seriously.
I believe that it was DL Moody who when asked if he had had any conversions at a meeting responded by saying that there had been two and a half people who responded to the gospel. Not sure how a half person could respond, the person asked Moody what he meant. He wondered if Moody meant that there had been two adults and a child. Moody replied, “No. There had been two children and an adult.” He went on to explain that the children had their whole lives ahead of them to live for Christ while the adult’s life was half over.
My concern does not grow out of what is happening in just a few churches. It is a serious problem facing most churches in Canada. It is a problem, however, that very few churches are even talking about much less coming up with answers to solve it.
The problem is too large for me to cover in just one blog entry. This topic will extend into next week’s blog and might even extend into a third week. It is my prayer that what I write will cause you to do some serious thinking and hopefully will result in some lively discussion within your leadership teams. I should mention that it is not this week’s entry with which you might disagree. That will come in next week’s blog.
The kind of program every church wishes it had
I began this blog with the question: “Can a small church have an effective children’s ministry?”
Before I try to answer that question let me paint a picture that is all too common in churches. You might even see something of your own church in what I describe.
Hope Community Church (fictional name for a fictional church) has served its community for more than fifty years and through most of that time has established a reputation as a church with an excellent program for children.
It has an innovative Sunday school program that serves the children of the families who attend the church. It also reaches out to some community children whose parents don’t attend church at all.
In addition to the Sunday school they also run a children’s club on Wednesday evenings to which a large number of community children come. It is the best run and largest program for children in the town.
Every summer they run a day camp which attracts more than one hundred public school age children from the town and rural community that surrounds it. The camp has become an institution in the town with support not only from church members but from local government and service clubs.
For as long as most people can remember Hope Community Church has been known as the place to attend if you have young children. The children who attend don’t do so because they are forced into it. They can hardly wait to get there whether it is the Sunday school, the club or the day camp in the summer because they are just plain fun.
The best news is that every year children make professions of faith in Jesus Christ. This is especially true during the summer program but it happens during the year as well.
For the people in the church this is what justifies all of the time, energy and resources that go into making the programs work. It does take a lot of work-hours on the part of those involved but if there are a steady stream of professions of faith then the people in the church feel that it is worth all that they invest into the programs.
I know that there are many of you reading this blog who would love to have the kind of program that I have just described. You would love to have that many children attending and that many workers involved. You would love to be able to run the kind of program for your children that I’ve described for Hope Community Church.
Your program might only have five or ten children attending. You might only run a Sunday school because you don’t have enough children to run a mid-week club or a day camp in the summer. I have known a few churches that aren’t sure whether they will have a Sunday school on any given week. They have to wait until they get to church to find out if there will be any children to teach.
But whatever your program might look like, you probably can identify with the problem that I am going to describe.
For Hope Community Church everything seemed to be going well with their programs with one serious exception.
They weren’t able to hold onto their children once those children moved out of public school.
Over the years they had had hundreds of public school children attend their programs only to have them leave when they entered high school. The church struggles with its youth program because so many of the children with whom they have worked over the years became involved in other things.
What is most disappointing is that many of the children who made professions of faith at some point during their public school years are among those who have moved on. In many cases there is nothing in their actions to suggest that their faith has made any difference in their lives.
The parents of these children have never expressed any interest in the church and therefore they offer no encouragement whatsoever to the children when they decide that they are not going to transition to the youth group.
It’s the norm
I wish that what I have described were only happening in one or two churches. Reality is that it is not the exception. It is the norm.
Church after church faces this dilemma and church after church doesn’t know what to do about it.
Over the next couple of weeks I am going to offer at least a partial solution to the problem. But before I offer a solution, I want to tackle a couple of theological issues that lie at the heart of the problem.
I will do that in next week’s blog. It is my take on these issues with which you might want to challenge me.