New Opportunities in Children’s Ministry – by Andy Willis
It’s no secret that there are lots of children around our congregation these days. On any given Sunday, we see up to 30 children of Sunday school age, plus several more under age 3.
The presence of so many young ones brings us to some wonderful and important questions: How are we currently passing on Christian faith to the children of our community, and are there changes we might make to do this in a more whole and faithful way?
To help us think through these questions, a congregational forum was held after worship on 17 June. I want to take this opportunity to share a few of the key themes from our time together.
Children’s ministry is both about what happens at church and what happens at home. Sometimes we can imagine that the only way children’s ministry happens is through the classroom time of church school. But the formation of a child’s faith is about much more than that. Tim Fieldsend noted that if a child attends church school every Sunday we offer it in a given year, she will have been in class for the equivalent of two to three full school days. It’s a very short amount of time.
Far more significant than those 25 or 30 minutes a week is the time at home—time spent in conversation about faith, reading the Bible together, singing songs, or praying as a family. How can our congregation better support families in fulfilling their baptismal promises to raise their children in the faith? This is a key question for our community and one we can pay much more attention to.
Worship is one of the key ways children learn the faith. Church school certainly has an important role to play in introducing children to Bible stories and themes of Christian life; but it is no substitute for participating in worship. In a worship service, children are exposed to a multi-sensory experience—the sights of others praying and serving one another, the smells of bread and wine, the sounds of a community singing together. No matter how young, children can begin to internalize much of the Christian faith simply by being present regularly for the experience of worship.
We can experiment with our worship space to make it more welcoming to children. Physical space can greatly affect children’s experience of worship. The area currently designated for children in our sanctuary is squeezed under the stairwell at the back of the room and has space for no more than three kids at a time. Now may be a good time to revisit both the size and placement of this area.
Churches in many places are experimenting with creating children’s spaces that are much larger, more visible, and closer to the “action” of worship. Take a look at this article for one example:
While we might imagine that putting a larger carpet closer to the altar and bringing in some children’s chairs, cushions, books, and quiet toys would make the sanctuary much louder, that’s not been the general experience of churches that have tried something similar. Generally, when children are in a place where they can see, they are much more engaged with the experience of worship—and if anything, the volume level in the service goes down. Summer could be a great time for us to experiment with a space of this sort in our sanctuary.
There are pros and cons to our current church school time; it may be worth trying a new time. Our current model—where children are present for the beginning and ending of worship and attend church school for the middle—certainly isn’t bad. It gives children both some experience of worship and some class time, and it clearly works for us logistically.
But what would happen if we made some small changes to the worship space (making it more welcoming for children) and the worship service (shortening it a bit and maybe including more regular direct involvement of children) and then moved the time of church school so that children could attend the whole service with their families? Church school could either take place before the service (during the adult education time) or after (during coffee hour). I personally think this could be a great opportunity to introduce children—from a young age—to the whole sweep of worship, and it could help them feel that they have a place there from the very beginning.
This is an ongoing conversation in our community now, and I hope you’ll join in as you’re able! If you’d like to listen to audio from the forum and click through the presentation slides, go to our new website (genevalutheran.church) and click on the “Latest” tab—you’ll find a link there.
The presence of so many children in our community is a wonderful gift, and we have the opportunity now to embrace the task of passing on the faith in some new and exciting ways. Thanks for being part of this ministry together.