Kids and Kingdom Growth

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.

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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 sbennett@cbwc.ca.

Book Review: Intergenerational Christian Formation

Mark Archibald reviews Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship (Intervarsity Press, 2012).

Full disclosure: it took me over a year to get through this book.

After the first 50 or so pages, I had a hard time connecting with the material. Perhaps it was all of the presented justifications for intergenerational ministry that set me back. I know we need intergenerational ministry. I know it’s biblical. I know we’re a far way off from where we need to be as holistic, intergenerational churches.

But there are significant rewards for those who persevere past the first 50 pages!

This book is dense—but that is not a bad thing. It is armed with the backing of extensive practical theology, studies and surveys both secular and faith based, developmental theory, generational theory; it is well supported and informed by an impressive amount of research by Allen and Ross.

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Don’t let the intellectuality of the book turn you off. Allen and Ross summarize all of the research in a very practical, concise, readable and vision-driven manner. The book is divided into reasonably sized chapters with even shorter sections within those chapters. It’s an easy book to set down and pick up again without having to retrace your steps. It’s perfect for on-the-go reading in your ministry life.

Part way through the book, the vision of intergenerational ministry presented will persuade you that any approach outside of intergenerational ministry sets our vision for church very low.  You’ll be compelled to get on board with intergenerational ministry, despite the significant challenges of an intergenerational approach.

Segregated generational ministry is much easier to do—but intergenerational ministry is far more enduring.

As much as this is a highly academic work, it is incredibly practical.  The Appendix “Forty Intergenerational Ideas” alone is worth the price of admission.  You’ll catch glimpses of “We can do this!” as you read along the entire book.

It took me a while to get into this book, but once I stuck with it, I came to realize I do not have a more important work on intergenerational ministry on my bookshelf. It’s a work I’ll revisit again in a few years.  Maybe the best resource on intergenerational ministry in one book that is available.

Mark Archibald
Pastor of Spiritual Formation
First Baptist Church, Lethbridge AB

Book Review: Family Ministry Field Guide

Book Title: Family Ministry Field Guide: How your church can equip parents to make disciples
Author: Timothy Paul Jones
Publishing Info: Wesleyan Publishing House, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2011

Reviewed by: Eric West, Pastor to Families at Gateway Baptist Church on Vancouver Island

Quick Blurb of Overall Thoughts: Timothy Paul Jones’s book Family Ministry Field Guide is a text that stays true to its’ aim to help churches equip parents to disciple their children. Jones makes it clear that this is not a “how-to” book but desires to lay a set of foundations that any church can apply to their context. The details and expressions of the presented foundations can therefore be as diverse as the church in North America is today. For any church wanting to equip the families in their congregation to make disciples of their children this book is a “must-read.” Family Ministy Field Guide

The author: is a best-selling and award-winning author of books, magazine articles, and reference materials. He is senior editor of The Journal of Family Ministry and professor of leadership and church ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Overview of Content: Jones organizes his text in five basic foundations to establish in the local church.

Foundation 1: Map the Gap

  • What Families In Your Church Are Doing—And Not Doing—When You’re Not Looking
    “When it comes to the process of discipling their progeny, most Christian parents—especially fathers—have abandoned the field. If you as a parent are personally engaged in a process to transform the contours of your child’s soul, you are a minority.” pg. 25
  • What Family Ministry Is And Why It’s Worth It
    “Here’s what I mean by family ministry: The process of intentionally and persistently coordinating a ministry’s proclamation and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.” pg. 33

Foundation 2: Rethink Your Goal

  • Why Not To Do Family Ministry
    Jones takes on the validity of the infamous “drop out rate” for youth transitioning out of High School to College. He writes, “Retention rates aren’t the launching pad or the end point of God’s plan; Jesus is (Rev. 22:13).” pg. 52
  • How To Find The Right Motivation
    “Yes, growth is part of God’s good design for his cosmos and for his church. And yes, the proclamation of God’s Word does result in growth and the fulfillment of God’s purposes…Godly growth is sometimes slow, often hidden, and frequently frustrates our dreams and designs. But it is always centered on Jesus and the gospel.” pg. 57

Foundation 3: Frame Your Ministry in God’s Story Line

  • Discover Who Your Children Really Are
    “When the whole story of God frames every part of a family’s existence, parents don’t just see their children as son and daughters. They also see their children as potential or actual brothers and sisters in Christ. When parents see their children not only as their children but also as their brothers and sisters, it changes everything.” pg. 71
  • The Split In God’s Story Line
    “The unspoken message has been that the task of discipleship is best left to trained professionals. Churches have presented moms and dads with the impression that active participation in the discipleship of children is optional for parents.” pg. 83

Foundation 4: Give Parents the Guidance They Need

  • Give Parents The Guidance They Need
    “So what are these two top factors in parents’ failure to disciple their children? The primary point of resistance was that churches weren’t training the parents. The secondary reason was that parents weren’t making the time. It was a matter of training and a matter of time.” pg. 100
  • A Matter Of Training And A Matter of Time
    “…the issue seems to be not so much that parents have resigned their role as primary disciple-makers. It isn’t even that parents don’t desire to disciple their children. In most cases, the problem is that churches are neither expecting nor equipping parents to disciple their children.” pg. 108
  • Providing What Parents Really Need
    “What parents really need: telling, training, and time.” pg. 111

Foundation 5: Transition to Family-Equipping

  • Killing The One-Eared Mickey Mouse
    “Conceived the late nineteenth century and professionalized at the height of the baby boom, the one-eared Mickey Mouse turned out to be an attractive option for churches in the twentieth century. By segmenting the generations, churches didn’t have to directly deal with the emerging generation gap. Youth had their own activities for themselves and their peers, separate from other generations.” pg. 125
  • Family Equipping Transition 1: Be
  • Family Equipping Transition 2a: Equip Families for Faith Talks
  • Family Equipping Transition 2a: Equip Families for Faith Walks and Faith Processes
  • Family Equipping Transition 3: Acknowledge
  • Family Equipping Transition 4: Synchronize

Audience: For leaders in the trenches who see parents disengaging from their children’s spiritual development, see too many students leave for college and drop out of church, or are frustrated with programmed ministries that fail to produce results.

Strengths: This author is experienced in articulating his findings and proving his theories in the trenches of ministry. His biblical usage is academically solid while his conclusions are practically accessible and hands on. Jones presents the material in a format that makes it easy to learn and to re-teach to volunteers, parents and to the whole church.

Overall Assessment/recommendation: I highly recommend reading this book if you are a church desiring to do family ministry. I would recommend reading this book as a team of ministry leaders. It was written to be done in this context and will require dialogue to fully flesh out in the local church context.

Share your thoughts on Jones’ book or this review by commenting on the blog or emailing Cailey at cmorgan@cbwc.ca. For more resources and inspiration about children and families ministry, contact Sherry Bennett, CBWC’s Director of Children and Families, at sbennett@cbwc.ca.

What Kind of People are You Planting?

By Sherry Bennett

When we think of planting and growing church–and by that I mean the people– do we think of the intergenerational nature of it?

The default for many churches from the get-go can be towards the adult contingency, with the kids and youth being the afterthought, or even at times, a distraction from the “real work and ministry” of the church. Children are sometimes even valued mainly as a ministry tool: an “in” to connecting with our neighbours so that we can in turn build the “more important” ministries that cater to adults.

But when we think about God’s intent for His Church, we must recognize that the authentic body of Christ is only fully present when all ages are welcomed, valued and invited to engage and participate. The challenge for us as we consider what church is, is to appropriately wrestle with the place of children and youth, as well as the adult generations, in our midst.

CC BY-ND 2.0 José Manuel Ríos Valiente

CC BY-ND 2.0 José Manuel Ríos Valiente

There is a buzz lately around the perceived exodus of young people and young adults from our churches and several pieces of research have emerged that reflect and review this trend.  It is being noted that those young people who have grown up in the Church and then continue on as committed and functioning members of the body are those who have benefited from healthy intergenerational communities of believers with parents, older youth and other caring adults building into them, discipling them and mentoring them in ministry. These young people know that they are part of the functioning of the church; they feel valued, they have ownership and they appreciate the discipleship they receive.

As a denomination we recognize the value of planting new churches. We also recognize the value of children and youth in the planting and growth process and having them deeply involved from the very beginning. It is critical for us to consider our ecclesiology as it relates to children and families even at the very early stages of church development, if we want to establish communities that accurately reflect the nature of Christ and His intentions for His Bride.

There are several resources available that can help with the process of evaluating and determining the foundation and trajectory of our ministries:

If you are interested in reading one of these books and reviewing it for this blog, email Cailey at cmorgan@cbwc.ca and she’ll send you a copy of the book for free.Sherry Bennett

Sherry Bennett is our Director of Children and Families Ministries. Through seminars, one-on-one support and providing various resources, Sherry helps equip CBWC churches and church plants for effective intergenerational ministry for God’s Kingdom. She can be reached at sbennett@cbwc.ca.