So, hands up class. What is the most significant thing which means that people come to faith and then grow in faith?
Good bible teaching?
Saying your prayers?
Reading the bible every day?
All good…but not the right answer.
Here’s a clue…
…24And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. 25Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
You see, it’s all about relationships and that comes down to….
I’m in the middle of reading a book which talks about being orphans away from God, and one of the most striking bits is the link between angry atheism and those same people having had the loss of a father, be it through divorce or death, which is very sad. Almost seems that there is a sense of anger and the loss of the relationship being taken out on God.
There is another great phrase which is used which I like…
Faith is caught, not taught
So where does this leave us with our ministry with children? Don’t we do the right things with our children?
I have noticed something as I have ministered with kids over the last 25 years,
- The patterns of attendance of families have changed
- The patterns of those leading Sunday groups has changed as the leaders patterns of attendance have changed
- Where there is a full time paid member of staff leading the childrens work, groups seem to grow
- Mid week groups grow (as long as there is at least one person who the kids love)
What I think is that all these things are linked. But they all really come down to relationship building and the patterns of attendance. (click to make the following larger)
In the above info-graphic, what I have tried to show is that a regular family attendance at church can be sporadic. Lots of different reasons…maybe dad or mum doesn’t come…maybe work patterns change…maybe it’s a visiting day. Lots of different reasons, we can’t assume any more that the world is the same as it was and people do miss Sunday to Sunday.
Ok, so what is normally challenged at this point is the attendance of that family. What is interesting is that in the baptism service when I use the liturgy it includes words about bringing the child to church to learn. And on the baptism certificate there is also the same promise that they will bring the child to church.
We put all the emphasis on the child and the parents.
Because the leaders are there every week at church…er…well yes. But are they there in a meaningful way, and I don’t mean the actual teaching of the materials.
If the way that faith is transmitted is through relationship and not through teaching alone, then what happens when we introduce ‘the rota’?
If there is a rota of 4 weeks when the leader is actually ‘on duty’ (often it is once a term…it doesn’t seem to matter if it falls on a family service or other celebration, so long as they connect with the kids meaningfully during that time) then the actual contact time is significantly reduced. Look at the table, the bottom line is where the both children and the leader are having connection.
In the second table I have shown where the leader is there every single week, but the child still sporadic. Remember, we can’t change the patterns of the children, or the parents, but we can be responsible for ourselves. The number of meaningful connections is about four times greater.
So does that mean that if you are leading it is a greater sense of responsibility and will take more time to prepare…what about burn out…can’t I have a week off?
Well heres the thing…you can still do the rota thing. All I am asking for is that you are PRESENT…and by that I don’t mean just in the building. I mean that although you are not teaching the group, you are sitting in the group, joining in. So someone else can still be doing the preparation.
Get real…this is important!
If we are ministers to children because of our calling then we need to see that role as important as the man or woman who stands at the front of church week on week teaching and preaching. Or at least present to connect with the rest of the congregation. What would you think if the minister only turned up ‘when they were on’? (priesthood of all believers! And you should be only working with children if that is your calling from God…you don’t have to be paid or full time, but if you just see it as baby sitting duty and not that you are having a significant impact on a life…get out now!).
Here’s my evidence and theory:
- Midweek groups grow because the leaders are there every week, building relationships.
- The reason why those churches grow who have full time children’s ministers is because they HAVE to be in the groups each week.
And lets take it out of church for a second. If you have kids, have you ever had a school year when they have had supply teacher after supply teacher? The kids come home confused, they don’t progress as well in their education, they are often more stressed, and the class is often more unruly that then travels up the school. See how important relationships are.
So why do we have ‘the rota’?
One reason is we ourselves have messy families that can’t be there every week. I get that. Its hard. But as long as there is someone in a group who can do it, even if it is a granny or grandad who never actually prepares or teaches, they are a significant faith presence. Put 4 people on the rota, and see if at least one of them can make a weekly commitment.
The second reason I think is the weakest of all, and I will answer that at the end of this article.
‘But what about the adults…don’t they need feeding?’
Firstly don’t you know that the Holy Spirit will teach your hearts?
Secondly, the person who I have heard this most from over the years isn’t so much the leaders of the Sunday school groups, its actually from the minister! Do you know, when the Sunday school goes out of a church with all the leaders, your church empties by half. And if that Sunday school sits at the front of church, it can be very worrying for a leader. I know the feeling! So the leader wants to feel nice a warm and cosy. Trust me, I am just being honest.
But turn that around! Your church has emptied because you are reaching children! Praise God!
When an actual leader says they need feeding and fellowship, there is often a reason that they aren’t getting feeding elsewhere. Dig a bit…or examine your own heart.
Are you spending time with the Lord each day?
Are you praying and reading the bible?
How do you connect with other Christians at other times? Remember that the early church MET DAILY!
Do you think I’m wrong? At one church I worshipped at, without a full time childrens minister (I was working for Scripture Union at the time so I wasn’t full time) I still committed to be with those kids, as did my wife, week after week. We put into place the ethos of being with the kids week after week for the leaders too. So we had leaders week after week with the children. The Sunday school grew rapidly and by the time we left there were 70 children, I think even more now and we have been gone 5 years. They still don’t have a full time leader, but the ethos of being there for the kids has been there from the start.
And alongside that, the number of adults attending grew has grown continually. In fact at what point we discovered the kids were nagging to come to church! And now they have a thriving youth group of 30+
So this is what it comes down to
As ministers we need to sacrifice the feeling of a full church who we are preaching to and work out other ways in which we can teach the people. I suggest you get a simple recorder, set up a website, and get your recording up online if you don’t already have a system. Just put the recorder on the lecturn and get on with it.
Heres a good machine that will do that for you. A bit expensive but doable.
Zoom H1 recorder – see more details on Amazon
You can add a lapel mic to it…
Sony lapel mic – see details on Amazon
And there is a socket to plug it straight into the sound desk if you have one. Easy upload to a computer too. Just one thing: don’t record the rest of the service because music is under copyright law (otherwise in the UK look to CCLI).
If you do need to edit the sound afterwards, then it comes with software (download) to edit and trim…or download a program called audacity for free.
Do you need a website to get the word out? Again, dead easy to set up, but if you need help, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and use the subject line ‘website help please’
There is a cheap option (me) and a more out the box option that costs a few pounds more (my colleague)
Whatever your solution, and if you already have the functionality of uploading the message then encourage your leaders to make use of it…make it even easier and create an online podcast they can subscibe to with smart phones…or online, or even cut CDs everyweek. There are ways around it! (email me…talk to me).
The second has to be from the leaders. You have to work out a time and a way that you will connect with your peer group to worship and read with them. That means maybe a bi-weekly/weekly study you can attend. Download the sermons online from the recording made for you above! Or even meeting up in coffee shops or online. I do all of those (actually we use whatsapp and a bible study program on our phones!). You see, if you give of yourself completely, then Jesus will meet all your needs and then some!
And here’s the real kicker, as they say. When you do give yourselves to the mission and ministry with the children then you don’t miss out. You really will experience the most amazing moments of God, greater than just sitting there listening to a sermon. Because those children will question you and make you think about your faith. As you teach and explain, you will have to think about how to express things more simply, and to express something simply you must know something profoundly.
It is costly…it is a risk. You have to do more if you are going to do that AND meet Christians at other times in the week. But it is soooo worth it. In fact, it is almost like being missionaries…because missionaries don’t get to sit in church every week.
Trust me. I have done this for years, giving myself utterly to the mission and ministry of children. And I have always felt closer to God in those times (even the frustrating ones) than being in the main service. My spirituality has grown so long as I have put it alongside connecting with other mature Christians at another time.
So if you really want to see your children grow in faith because of relationship, do the simple yet costly thing of dumping the rota. Spend time in the groups even if you aren’t taking the lead of teaching. Find another time of the week to get your ‘feeding and worship.’ Read your bible and pray daily. Ask the Spirit to be part of your life.
And watch your church grow.