Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The secret value of Children's Ministry

Like so many other pastors, I sometimes find myself pondering some of the less than encouraging statistics reported about the Church in America. One that particularly bothers me is that (per Barna) 2 out of 3 teens involved in a local church will graduate from high school and rarely even grace the doors of a church building again until they marry and have children.

How is it possible that we're failing this badly? Surely the local church alone can't bear all of the responsibility, but just as surely we must bear some. We spend gobs of time, effort, and money on Youth Pastors, youth ministries, youth centers, etc... but to seemingly little long-term effect. Is it perhaps time to rethink things...

I have wondered out loud for some time now ... wondered if good CM isn't part of the solution. Hear me out for a moment.

CM is typically handled one of two ways in most American churches. A) It's left as a strictly volunteer ministry, believing that good CM "just happens". B) It's loaded with all the latest bells and whistles; Disney-land meets daycare with a Bible theme.

It's my considered opinion that neither is the right way to go.

Good CM is designed and led to be so. It focuses on both evangelism and discipleship; that is, it leads kids to Jesus and then teaches them how to follow Him. When done right, we're building a foundation for future, further growth and maturity. When done well, we're crafting safeguards against many of the problems common to kids when hormones and peer-pressure really start to weigh in.

It seems to me that the standard mantra about Youth Ministries ("teens these days face so much more difficulty than we ever did") misses the real point: teens these days were generally given no significant foundation by the local church when they were young to cope with and conquer the trials in their lives.

If that's the case - and can anyone really argue otherwise? - then why do we continue to repeat the same flawed formula? Why is it that most churches will hire virtually every other "specialty" pastor before thinking about hiring a Children's Pastor? We keep doing things the same way yet expect different results...

I know, I know ... there are certainly other issues here. For example, what about the time-honoured debate over how to care for the teens with roots in our local churches and the teens that simply show up looking for love and encouragement? Plainly we have an obligation to both.

What about parents? Surely I'm not letting them off the hook! Mom and Dad have the primary responsibility for leading their own children to Jesus and teaching them how to follow Him; the local church works to partner with them. But how are Mom and Dad supposed to know how? If the local church doesn't model and teach these principles, how will Mom and Dad ever stumble across them? Oh, some will for sure. But the majority? We will have failed to serve them and failed to serve their children.

I'm not being too idealistic here - I have no delusions that good CM will vaccinate kids against all the troubles that beset most teens. But it's obvious that what the local churches in America have been doing with regard to making disciples of kids has been an almost universal failure.

Isn't it time to seriously consider rethinking our methods?



Carmen said...

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. --Albert Einstein

That's all I got.

Love you!

Dave Peters said...

Great points. If evangelism, discipleship, and worship are the things that a church should be accomplishing, then of course we should be accomplishing these things among every age group, including children.

Karla said...

I'm on-board this wagon with you! I would love for my little kids to be the recipients and participants in genuine personal Christian growth WAY before they reach their teenage years.

Hatushili said...

Thanks to all for your thoughts. It's especially meaningful to me, since I know all of you have young children.

Dave, I'm grateful that another pastor gets it - we can't exclude kids from the overall mission of the local church.


Randy Eubanks said...

Please prayerfully consider, "We are to blame, for the problem of our kids not staying in church." I was around when the Idea was presented to get a BUS and bring in all the children we could. this lead to a problem with all the children in worship without supervision something had to be done. I remember when we started Children's Church. AND I REMEMBER growing up sitting by my Dad in Chruch. A FAMILY sitting together to worship together. I fear we never looked at the unintended consequences of our actions.
WE LOST the children because we failed to teach them to WORSHIP, pray, and praise. They never learned to sit in Church and reverence GOD. We sent them all to a fun service just for them. on their level what they wanted. They never saw Adults praise, God Thank God, Testify of Gods wondrous grace. We lost more than Family worship, we lost the childern.

Hatushili said...

Randy, are you arguing that it is entirely the fault of the local church that we're losing children (once they graduate from High School)? I confess I'm a bit confused by your comment.

For the record, I'm absolutely NOT an advocate of the "fun service" mentality. I'm not opposed to the notion of Children's Church in general, but stand opposed to the bells and whistles model of CM.

I would agree with your contention that we lost children because we failed to teach them to worship, pray and praise ... I'm just not convinced that the only way to accomplish teaching those lessons is through the Family Church model.

Anyway, perhaps I'm just blowing hot air ... can you state your case in a different way, that I might understand it better?

Grace and Peace,

Randy Eubanks said...

I will not say the Family model is the only way. It is the Biblical way. First God made MEN responsible for the spiritual welfare of the FAMILY. It is in the family, the root element of society and Church that the Spiritual training is to be developed and guided. THere is no lesson a child can learn more valuable than a Father leading in Prayer and worship.
We teach kids there is something else to do on Sunday. Going to worship can be set aside for "YOUTH ACTIVITIES" and it is OK. We do not teach our young people to got to worship or that it is very important, Look at Hebrews 10:25 in context what is being discussed. The new priest hood the very power of the church,
Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus,
Heb 10:20 by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh;
Heb 10:21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies having been washed with pure water.
Heb 10:23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised),
Heb 10:24 and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works,
Heb 10:25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Yes we are at fault, We did not worship Gods way. When they are older they do not know the value of worship on hte beauty of HOLINESS.

Hatushili said...

Let's be sure we're talking about the same things so we can proceed:

When you say "Family Model" of church, do you mean the notion that families should be together for the entire Sunday morning service (ie, that Children's Church or a Kids' Sermon, etc... is bad)? Or are you talking primarily about the responsibility of a husband to lead his family in worship in the home?

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "going to worship can be aside for youth activities" ... are you saying that if children aren't involved in corporate worship with adults that this is bad? What if kids are involved in corporate worship with adults but then have their own sermon/teaching time?

Another: what is your precise point about the text of Hebrews? I'm familiar with the text, but I'm not seeing the precise connection your drawing...

Finally, what does "God's way" of worship look like in the context of the local church? Or (again) are you talking about the home context?

Sorry for my confusion; back-and-forth comments on a blog can be a bit disjointed sometimes, eh? :)

Grace and Peace,