Using the wrong tools!
Updated: Sep 18, 2022
Almost every conversation I have had with churches, ministry orgs, Christian parents etc over the past couple of years has ended up in a similar way....our conversation often ends up touching in some way on a disconnection.....a disconnection between the expectations of parents compared with expectations of churches regarding provision of support; a disconnection between what kids want from church and what churches feel they need; a disconnection between church leaders/congregations and children's ministry leaders about the place of children in church....and more!
Ultimately it seems that we (the church) are often simply not meeting the needs of Christian families (or for that matter those outside the church too!)
As I've sat pondering this today, I'm thinking: If I went to my doctor today with a sprained ankle...How effective would it be if he decided I needed an operation on my perfectly healthy finger? How would I feel?...My ankle would still be painful and not able to function correctly, and now I am wasting a load of time and energy having an operation I simply don't need. This just doesn't help with my original problem...I can't walk!
We simply wouldn't accept that from a medical doctor. There'd be an exchange of comments between the patient and doctor at the very least, maybe even a formal complaint. But ultimately I wouldn't accept a doctor doing this. And I certainly wouldn't go back to that same doctor again.
Yet I think for a long, long time this is how churches have operated. We think we know what people need and then just act on that plan/approach/activity, without discussion in advance, and without ongoing reflection and adjustment of the approach. Or perhaps even worse, we don't even stop to think about the needs of children, parents, families...perhaps we don't want to change our approach because we think we have a perfectly good plan in place and there haven't actually been any formal complaints about it, so it must be ok. Yet we fail to see the simple fact....what we are doing isn't being accessed by many families. And it's not only because they are busy or have lots of clubs and activities etc...it's because they don't want to. It's because what is being provided isn't what they need.
I think the pandemic has changed things....We all, but particularly families, are now a bit more discerning than we were pre-pandemic about how we spend their limited time. Attendance of families has plummeted across many many churches in post pandemic times, as families have had the opportunity to take stock and make intentional decisions about what they do with their time, rather than continuing with things they'd always done habitually and without much thought.
So I am flabbergasted when churches say to me: Not many of our families have returned after the pandemic, and then they imply that this is because the families are at fault in some way....they should be prioritising church, they should be thinking of their child's spiritual wellbeing, they shouldn't so uncommitted and leave us in the lurch with not many left on the rota.
Perhaps what is being provided in your church is detrimental to their child's spiritual health. Perhaps there is more spiritual nurture for their child when they read Bible stories together at home, pray together as a family or simply chat from time to time about faith in everyday life.
Perhaps Christian parents get more support from online forums or friends further afield. Perhaps going to church makes it harder to encourage their child's faith because of the nature of what is provided.
Our task as the Christian church is to go and make disciples, not to merely put on a load of events to make ourselves feel good, or to have a nice little social club of those we know well and feel comfortable with. We need to go out and sow seed in places where it's needed...go to places and be places where this seed will grow. Not to places where the ground is dry or where there's already so much going on that any seedlings will be strangled.
So my challenge to the church in 2022 is this: Think deeply and intentionally about what you are doing. Change your mindset so that the needs of parents, children, families are the starting points of your thinking...how can we help them to move closer to Jesus? To become his disciples. What do they need for that? One thing I can be certain of....having them sit bored, attempting minimal disruption to the service and colouring in a picture of a minion or play Pokemon on their parent's phone to 'keep them busy' during the service....this will not help them to become disciples of Christ.
Think about your ministry 'tools' and approaches. Using a tiny spanner on a huge bolt will quite simply never work. No matter how much you polish it, paint it, chat to it, make a cup of tea for it....that spanner is just not the right tool to tighten that bolt. You need to put it down and go and find a different spanner.
So please pause, reflect (honestly and with an open mind), and make conscious decisions to completely change your church's ministry models to better serve those in your context.
PS I'd also encourage you to think beyond 10.30 on a Sunday morning....perhaps there is hope and spiritual growth which could occur at other times of the week!