Children truly love to be part of faith communities. They enjoy fun songs, loving teachers, engaging lessons, and having their spirits served. Make no mistake: children are spiritual beings who crave things of the spirit. Even if their grownups don't. Can our churches tap into this natural yearning? Of course! Philippians 4:13 assures us of this. Here is how to start.
At the core of each of us is a space. It is our spirit self. It is the part of our beings that is eternal. It is there whether we acknowledge it or not. It is there if church experiences have caused us to try to hide it under tons of baggage. It is there even if we believe ourselves too busy, too intelligent, or too educated to embrace that spiritual space within. It is real. And it is the part of you that is the most real part of you. It is the real you. Where you really live.
Children have an especially keen awareness of the space where their spirit dwells. They have no problem accepting that there is more to this life than the world we see. This appears to be universal across all faiths, cultures, nations, and tribes. Children are naturally people of faith. That is until adults talk them, shame them, ignore them, bore them, or laugh them out of it. Jesus talked about those people who convince young ones that faith is unnecessary. Read Matt. 18:6.
Since this is true, why do so many churches report a dramatic loss of children in their midst? In my work I talk to many churched people who ask plaintively, "Where are the children?" There is near hopelessness in the question. I cry inside each time I hear it. It speaks of bereavement. Of deprivation. For what is a faith community without children? It is an empty shell devoid of the life blood that is the basis of our spirits. Our true selves.
But, be filled with hope sweet soldiers of the cross! There is no need for us to ask this sad question any longer. There are children all around us! Literally everywhere! They are in your neighborhood, the neighborhood down the road, and neighborhoods that look, well...sketchy. There are loved, eager children with hungry spirits there too!
The only thing you have to do is go meet them, make friends with them and invite them to church. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! Well, You might have to go pick them up and bring them home. But that's not a thing. We all have cars.
Problem solved. You're welcome.
I sense you may want a few more details. So here are a few details to facilitate this basically simple task. It may take some time, a bit of energy, some planning and coordinating of a few more people, and a case of juice boxes, but you can do it!
Here are some basic first steps. Feel free to ask questions or comment in the comment section below.
Do you really want children in your congregation? Hear me out. This is a fair question that you need to answer honestly. There's a difference between wanting children and wanting to serve children. Children, let's face it, are loud, energetic, active, and expensive. What are you willing to change at your church in order to accommodate children and their parents? It takes commitment to do this well. It begins with deciding that you want the noise, the fingerprints, the carpet stains, and the running feet that come along with children.
Put programs in place before children come. Before you invite more children into your midst, you should have excited people who are properly vetted, engaging lessons, active games, cheerful songs (preferably live songs not recordings) smiling grownups, and welcoming spaces. Sticking the children in a converted broom closet is to be avoided. Buy paint and posters, clean new toys, and bright throw rugs. Prepare the space before they come. Remember that it wasn't raining when Noah started building the ark. Most importantly: Get good quality curriculum. It is not all created equal. Read it before you buy or teach it. Look at it. Go through it. Make sure it suits children who have limited or no exposure to the gospel.
Go. Just go. I have a personal testimony (I won't fully share it here) about simply getting in my car once or twice a week and driving to the neighborhood with the fewest resources in our area. I parked on the side of the rutted dirt road, got out of my car, and engaged the children I met. An amazing work of God followed. But here's the bottom line: you must go to the children. Don't wait for them to come to you. They may not come, and you cannot control whether or not they ever do. But you can control your obedience to God when He called us to go to the ends of the earth to make disciples. The neighborhoods, ballfields, and parks are filled with children who want to come to a place to meet and learn about God. They want you. You want them. It sounds like a win-win to me.
Be aware of cultural differences. All four of our children married people from different parts of the United States. We gained two Californians, one Mid Westerner, and one from the north eastern section of Maryland. Even though they were all "churched" from childhood, not one of them (NOT ONE) had ever heard of Vacation Bible School. So if you are from the southern part of the US, understand that those who are moving to your area may not have a clue when you say, "Come to our VBS! We're serving dinner each night!" Seriously. Explain what activities will be happening for the children of your community. Be specific.
Even more cultural differences than you think. You also might want to avoid the phrase "Sunday School". If you encounter a child who has never met anyone who has gone to church (and this is extremely likely) you will have to be very detailed about the activities instead. Say, "We learn about God and Jesus at our church. We play games, tell stories, watch videos, make stuff, play on the playground, have snacks, tell jokes, and pray. Then we go home. It is fun!" Make no assumptions about cultural knowledge. I have met many children who do not feel drawn to something called Sunday School. They have no context in which to see that as a positive thing. Sunday is just another day of the week, and school is...well, school. If they have never been in a church then it is just another building along the road to them. You really have to look at the world through a different lens. Then offer them your lens.
Children are vital beyond my pitiful ability to express it. Children are life. If we don't teach them to love Jesus, who will? The school? Their peers? Video games? Tik Tok? You can and you must make the necessary changes to inspire and engage the children for the sake of Jesus. If you are silent, who will speak up? Tell a child about Jesus.
I am eager to receive your comments, I covet your prayers. Because we are sort of retired, I am available to come to speak to your church group and help you get a solid plan in place for the children of your community. Contact me here if you are interested.