By Sherry Bennett, Children and Families Ministry Director, CBWC
You’ve heard the numbers—the ones relating to the stage of life when most people first make a decision to follow Jesus. Most people make this life-changing decision before they leave their teen years. That’s amazing to me, and an obvious indicator for the need for ministry focused on kids and youth in our neighbourhoods.
Yet for many of our churches, our budgets and ministry efforts reflect a focus on adult-oriented worship and discipleship. While we don’t want to value one generation over another, neither do we want to ignore the reality that those who are in their early years of life are particularly soft to the things of God (“let the children come to me”…Jesus said that!) and are so impressionable and moldable (“faith like a child”…He said that, too!). So what do we do with this?
The Time is Now
It’s time for our churches to appropriately respond to the reality that the younger generations are not just the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today – right now! If we are not seriously engaging children and youth, guiding them into the path of Jesus, discipling them and helping them grow their gifts and skills, we will fail to see kingdom work be carried on into the future and our churches will surely fade out.
We want to care for parents and other adults. And the more mature amongst us are valuable and necessary for the work of the church. But we must not undervalue the time and dollars spent on and with children and youth. We are currently in a time when, for the first time ever, the majority of the children and youth in Canada have little or no experience of the church and God’s people. For many, there is not even a curiosity towards the things of God because they have never even been exposed to Christ and His body. This should sound an alarm that we must rethink how we approach the work of the church.
Kids and Church Planting
What about children and youth in the context of church planting? Are the needed resources for reaching out to children and their families and engaging them in the life of the church better used somewhere else? Aren’t we further ahead if we invest our finances and time into adults? While focusing on adults is often the default work of the church, perhaps we need to consider flipping that on its head!
Imagine adults and kids together praying for a new work, walking a neighbourhood and asking God what he wants to do there. Picture families connecting with other families and inviting them to participate in life together in communities of peace. What could it look like to care for families in our neighbourhoods and equip them for spiritual growth and mission?
Good Work in Our Midst
Is it possible that focusing on kids could be one of the best ways to plant a church?
Southside Community Church thinks so. They began a work in Albania over a decade ago focusing on children – day camps, art and music lessons, sports. Yes, there are classes for adults as well but the way into the community was (and still is) through the children. Now, many years later, the very kids who first heard about Jesus when they were 6 or 8 or 10 are loving Jesus and serving their community as young adults.
A church is being established where the majority of those gathering and serving are under 21. Imagine the excitement when the first of these young people graduated from Bible College recently! Passion for Christ grows, as a dozen young people are about to take part in baptism classes and continue to be discipled and equipped. This Albanian church plant has effectively raised up a new generation of leaders.
Awaken, in the Bowness area of Calgary, understands the importance of intergenerational action. They intentionally involve kids in the life of the church, and not just when they gather on Sundays. One way they regularly bless their neighbourhood is to serve a monthly community meal where people of all ages are working alongside each other in preparing, serving and interacting with guests.
“The kids are great means of building bridges between us as hosts and the guests. The kids have an opportunity to know people outside their usual spheres,” says Pastor Bill Christieson.
It is through this type of action that kids are introduced to serving others and begin developing their own passions and gifting. Some of these same kids go on to engage in intentional discipleship and leadership training through working alongside adults in their church and participating in Gull Lake’s Leadership Training program.
Summerland Baptist has embraced a strategy called “Orange.” They use the resources and curriculum provided to disciple children, to equip parents to help their families deepen their faith and encourage them all to worship, learn, serve and be on mission together in their homes and in the larger church body.
Our churches and neighbourhoods benefit from the intentional interaction between generations and focused discipleship and equipping of our families.
Here to Help
The Children and Family Ministry of the CBWC advocates for the engagement of children and families in the life of our churches. We work to offer resources, network churches with each other, equip leaders to challenge generations in the local church to worship, learn and serve together.
If you would like to talk to someone about helpful resources, strategies for equipping all ages, or issues such as abuse prevention, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.