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 titled 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).