WHY AND HOW?
How do we engage our kids in church life and keep them engaged in church and faith? We know that more and more young people are leaving church. And many are deciding not to return. There are many factors for this. But how do we fix it? Secular research backs up the benefits of church attendance. Peter Haas lists some of those benefits in his article, “The Jaw-Dropping Benefits.” How do we get them to stick?
An easy answer is “more programs.” Get them a youth pastor and entertain their socks off. That should do it, shouldn’t it? We have found over the last 20 years of awesome youth ministry, it isn’t doing it. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with programs, they can hurt if parents and pastors use them as a substitute for more substantive church connections.
Church life is important to helping our children live healthy, full, productive lives as part of God’s Kingdom. As a pastor and father of 4, let me share 7 things that I’ve seen parents practice with kids who’ve stayed connected and involved in their church communities.
Start early. Even in the nursery, our kids can learn that there is a community of people who care for them. God’s word is planted deep in their hearts in those Sunday School, or Children’s Ministry years. As a result, the earlier we start, the earlier we form our children’s expectations and values. If we can’t start early, start now. For older kids it will be more difficult. We will need to admit that we have been remiss; that our faith is in process. So, this is now a journey we’re going to take together.
Don’t just attend. Attendance alone turns our kids into church consumers. They can end up knowing the church as a program we go to, rather than a community we belong to. Participation is critical. The impact of gathering with the church is limited if it’s not connected to involvement in the other’s lives. It might even be harmful as an inoculation against a faith that touches ever part of life.
Parents must model. Our attitudes toward church, involvement and even the people and frustrations at church are infectious. It’s good if our kids know that Christians aren’t perfect. And it’s okay if they know that sometimes we are frustrated. But the church is a perfect relationship training ground. In the way we handle those frustrations, we teach our kids about God and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Help them experience the mysteries of the faith. Faith is a mystery. Kids love the mysterious. Let them see baptisms and discuss with them what’s happening when someone responds to the call of faith. Help them sit in on the Lord’s Table, even before they are able to take it. They need to see adults taking their faith seriously. Let them ask questions about the presence of God and his work in our lives. Encourage them to exercise their faith in trusting God, his love and his ways.
Value their questions. If we ignore our kids questions, or we push them aside, we teach our kids that our faith can’t handle questions. Jesus never ignored questions. He always used them to point people to himself. Use their questions, their struggles and doubts to spur them into greater discovery. If you get to questions you can’t answer, it might be good to introduce your child to the pastor. Or, in your small group, invite other adults into the process. This teaches that we are part of a community that depends on one another.
Take church home. What we hear and experience when at church should never stay there. We need to practice prayer, Scripture reading, even singing together at home. Talk about what we heard and how it impacted us. At home, talk about how you can be missionaries to others in the neighborhood. Decide together what you’ll give to the family in need. Include your children in delivering meals. Help them see practical ways expressing our love for God, our love for neighbors and our love for one another.
Connect kids with the larger Christian community. It’s important that our kids understand the larger view of what God is doing in the world. Introduce you kids to missionaries. Get them to go on mission trips. Involve them in Christian camping. All these things remind our kids that we aren’t the only “freaks” around! Christians are part of a mission that God is doing in the world. They are part of a world-wide community. (This is one reason we always visited churches while on vacation. I wanted our kids to know we have a spiritual family in every town. And that there was joy in being with them.)
Most of the pastors and leaders I’ve met in 30+ years of ministry were raised in smaller congregations. They were convinced at an early age that they were an important part of church life. And they were encouraged to use their gifts and talents in ministry. They found great value in connecting to the church as a wider support community. This can certainly happen in larger congregations, but it can’t happen if we church is merely something we go to, instead of a people we belong to.
These actions aren’t guarantees. After all God has given our kids minds and hearts of their own. But if we’re going to help, we need to live toward the goal. In the end, we’re not raising kids to go to church. We are raising adults who will live as faithful members of the Body of Christ – Jesus’ Bride.
If there is a way I can encourage you, or serve your ministry, my email is on my “About Jim Renke” page. Or you can direct message me on twitter @jimrenke, or instagram at jimrenke. I’d love to hear from you. You can also stay connected on my facebook page.
Likes, shares and comments help make this article more accessible to others who might benefit. So, go ahead… click a button!