While talking with some fellow kidmin leaders recently, the discussion turned to the greatest challenges and issues in children’s ministry. One answer showed up over and over again: Parents. The consensus was that the main obstacle facing children’s ministry is parents who are apathetic about spiritual formation and don’t prioritize church. In other words, they don’t take seriously their spiritual influence.
I did not and do not agree. To me, in fact, parents aren’t a challenge at all. I see them as tired, overwhelmed and under-supported. Parents tend to feel lonely and ill-equipped. And they’re doing their best to raise kids the same way their own parents raised them.
Most churches assign the work of discipleship to professionals (of which I’m one) and mandate it to parents (of which I’m one). But this approach overlooks relationships in community. People need a rich, nurturing web of intergenerational connections for daily life and spiritual growth. Without that, everyone’s tired from trying to carry their own load with little to no support.
The real issues in children’s ministry
A clarification is key: It isn’t the parent’s “job” to disciple their kids. Yes, parents and caregivers are significant for discipleship because they have the most influence. But the entire faith community has a role in discipling the next generation. It’s a misstep to place that task solely on parents.
Another area to re-evaluate is age segregation, which psychologist Mary Pipher blames for “a great deal of America’s social sickness.” Mixing age groups, she says, helps people “fall into a natural age hierarchy that nurtures and teaches them all. For our own mental and societal health, we need to reconnect the age groups.”
Age segregation creates homogenous environments where nearly everyone in a social circle is the same age. Rather than having a rich, supportive web of relationships with people at different life stages, we’re all grasping along with people just like us. Believe it or not, that actually increases feelings of isolation and helplessness.
Studies show that age homogeneity in social networks leads to isolation and loneliness. Younger people experience delayed socialization. Older people feel a lack of impact needed for positive cognitive health. Those things can show up as apathy, busyness and disconnection. Sound familiar?
Lifelong discipleship requires interactions among generations.
“Within many churches today, children and parents rarely share experiences,” notes Scottie May of Wheaton College. “This generational separation makes it difficult for parents to learn how to nurture their children spiritually.” Combine that with a lack of intergenerational relationships in the church, and we’re left with lonely, exhausted parents. Plus, pastors become disillusioned and congregants idly wait to be connected through relationship and mission.
Why meaningful relationships are the biggest issues in children’s ministry
The importance of intergenerational connectivity in meaningful relationships can’t be underestimated. It’s especially key for relationships within a faith community.
These bonds sustain us by combatting apathy with genuine care. They reduce the need to hide in busyness by creating safe spaces to learn and grow. Relationships nullify disconnection by making shared experiences the norm.
Of all the issues in children’s ministry, I believe that’s the biggest challenge. And the church in general faces it too. But this isn’t a “forever and always” issue. We can begin creating connections within our churches and homes. We can boost engagement among parents, kids and the congregation.
This requires us to move beyond our programs and buildings to forge space for meaningful relationships and community. But the payoffs in terms of discipleship are so worth it.
This article originally appeared here.