The Need of the Children
Statistics for children who grow up in church in the UK is troubling. Christian Research estimates that the numbers of under 15s involved in their local church will halve between 2010 and 2020.1
Children are uniquely vulnerable as they are dependent upon adults around them to teach them accurately about the Christian faith. It is still relatively unusual for many children to attend a Christian event independent of their parents. Another source of Christian information is their school where understanding of Christian Religious Education is likely to be patchy.
And yet this is a group that loves to ask questions! This is a group that is open to hearing about Jesus and constantly surprising adults in the amount they understand. This is also an age bracket which generally speaking comes as a family unit and therefore engaging them can have a huge impact on the church. Parents love to see their children well cared for and looked after and this can create great goodwill and warmth between a church and her community.
Children will naturally adopt the worldview of their parents and will uncritically copy (and repeat!) their parents' opinions of Christians and the church. Yet this will often contradicts other views which they hold.
The under 7s only think in concrete terms: they can understand what God is and not what God is like. Most parables, therefore, are beyond their understanding. By the age of 7 most children can begin to understand abstract thought such as metaphors and similes.
Challenges of Children
The challenges of reaching children are the same as the potential of the group: parents. If parents decide they do not want their children to hear about Jesus, then there is often little that can be done. Similarly if the local school is closed to Christians then there is often little which can be done. However not every parent involved with the local school will be closed to the Gospel and there are other ways to make contact with children’s organisations in your local community.
Another challenge is that churches have to take child protection seriously, and to be seen to take child protection seriously. This can be daunting at first. However, there are various denominational groups around to help you, or the Church Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS)
Engaging with Children
The best evangelists to children are…other children, so if you have any children in your church they are the ones best placed to talk about Jesus and to do the inviting. However, if your church has no existing contact with children then there are some options.
Many schools are crying out for help with collective worship (running assemblies). However be sensitive to the context of the school here; an altar call is unlikely to gain a second invitation! It may be simply that individuals can show support for their local school by volunteering. This could be with reading groups, at lunchtimes or even being the local lollipop person. In time, as trust and relationships build, this can enable a sense of goodwill from the school and enable more opportunities.
There will be other local groups in your area, such as Cub Scouts, Boys/Girls Brigades who are often crying out for helpers.
Again this will mean a commitment, so have the long view. Volunteer as a Christian, not as a preacher!
Sharing Christ with Children
However you share the Gospel with this group make it visual and active! This is a group that has a low boredom threshold. However they do love stories, and so we are well placed with the Gospel story to engage them and excite them.
Do be mindful to not say anything to a child that you would not say were their parents present. Of course, no difficult essential doctrine should be avoided, this would similarly lack integrity, yet we must find ways of carefully and gently explaining such terms. For example, what will come to mind for a child when they hear the word ‘hell’, from a school friend for example, will be entirely the wrong idea.
The key, then, is not to teach anything which will have to be un-taught when they are older.
Ideas for Mission for Children
The key with all these ideas is not to be afraid to keep things simple. It is better to do something short and well that can be built on, than to try to create something with bells and whistles that falls flat. Use the resources and skills which you have within your church family first.
- Holiday Clubs – this may not be as far out of reach as you may think. A Holiday Club doesn’t have to be a whole week. It could be as short as a day, or an afternoon. It could be that day in the holidays where parents struggle to provide childcare; it could be simply giving the parents a break at the end of a long holiday week for an afternoon. If it looks exciting then the children will want to come.
Look at the skills you have as a church and use them. For example: if you have a carpenter in your congregation use him or her to run a workshop making small crosses; if you have a baker spend some time during the holiday club making Easter cakes.
One church regularly runs a day holiday club where, after teaching the Bible, these groups do all sorts of activities related to the teaching: puppets, music, video making, drama, baking, art and crafts. At the end of the day the parents are invited in for a performance and then join all the children and leaders for a hot-dog tea. A prize giving ceremony at the end of such club can have a similar effect.
- Easter Egg Hunt – It may be that you have a building which is perfect for an Easter Egg Hunt. Don’t overcomplicate things. Sing some silly Christian songs (Colin Buchanan would be great for these), have a few silly games and a short talk. This could easily be adapted into an Easter party.
- Family Quiz – Run a quiz night, as your church often may do. But each team has to have a group from each age bracket. This is simple and models the family nature of church.
- Epic Explorers – This is a children’s Christianity Explored published by the Good Book Company. It could be run at the same time as an adult course, providing child care as well!
- The Generation Game – using the contacts you currently have (it may be Grandma’s extended family) run a games afternoon with a short talk.
- Parents and Toddlers service – Using existing contacts of a mid-week parents and toddlers service run an Easter service which is particularly suited to them.
- Dads and Lads – it may be that local Dads are looking for something to do on Saturday mornings to help their children’s mums have a break. A regular drop-in club may be a great way to initiate contacts.
- An Invitation All Age Service
All these contacts or ideas you have may be best approached with a simple invitation to a one-off Invitation All Age Service. This is a service where all age groups stay together and there is a mix of styles of music and teaching where both old and young are fed together. These are not easy but a great way of demonstrating the beautiful and practical love of God and His people.
Helpful Resources about Children
Books and Music
Epic Explorers – Children’s Christianity Explored, to be published by the Good Book Company
King of Clubs HBC - http://www.tntministries.org.uk/kingofclubs.php
Colin Buchanan does some wonderful children’s songs - http://colinbuchanan.com.au/
www.freebibleimages.org – free visuals of most Bible stores