Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ditch all kids ministry after creche?

In a trends-to-watch post, Trevin Wax makes this very interesting observation about the future of congregational ministry.
Evangelicals are already divided on the issue of ministry philosophy. I suspect these lines will become more defined in the next decade. The attractional model will lead many churches to adopt incredibly entertaining children’s church programs, youth group experiences, etc. The attempt is to hold on to an evangelical culture that is increasingly bored with church. Mega-churches will continue to compete with one another for a decreasing number of “regular church-goers.” Other churches will react to the attractional model by upholding family-centered churches and dismissing event-based evangelism.  
I remember Mum and Dad keeping us in church during the service while most of the other kids trooped out for Sunday School.  (As a concession, we were allowed to draw or read during the sermon.)  It's a model I generally prefer but what so often tends to be the case is that a 'family service' is designed along attractional lines with a "fun" kids church to keep all the kids out of mischief during the service.  However what then tends to happen is that the teenagers have been conditioned to be out of church during the sermon and so they have to have something special just for them and on it goes until people rejoin the main service when they're ninety.

I'm all for creche, if my infant daughter is screaming one of us scoops her up and takes her out.  But the moment you think we should be teaching these little tackers is the moment they should be back with the rest of the congregation.  However in our modern world of broken families, family-discipline can be very lax so maybe the cost of having everyone in the same room is a changed service dynamic.


Josh said...

Hi Luke

Largely I agree with your line of reasoning - a kids church that is merely entertainment and 'crowd control' so that the kids don't cause mischief in the service is pointless and leads to bad habits being developed (i.e. teenagers conditioned then to switch off etc.)
Leaving aside the concern that poorly behaved children (or just children having a bad day) can be very disruptive to not just mum and dad listening and learning, but also to those around them. My main concern with 'they just need to stay' though is not the noise or disruption - but the recognition that kids mental development, ability to understand concepts etc is different to adults. The language that you use talking to a child and an adult is inherently different, and the concepts that you can address are different.
For me, I see then 3 options:

1. Don't change the language/style/content of the preaching - will this lead to the kids asking questions? Engaging with the teaching as they get older? Or will it just reinforce the 'I can switch off now' mindset in later years (because it was inaccessible in earlier years). And I'm not convinced in myself that kids sitting and colouring is any different to them going out to Sunday school and colouring.

2. Change the language/style/content - this approach has its advantages, but as an ex-teacher this normally turns into aim for the middle and hit noone. Adults who need to be challenged and want to engage with the meat of the gospel are constantly fed milk (or mushy cereal anyway). I think this approach can work sometimes (indeed we use it sometimes) but not all the time. It gets tedious.

3. Build a program that disciples the kids, that teaches them at their stages and that encourages them to see the teaching time (sermon, preaching, whatever) as a time to learn about, and indeed from, Jesus. As they get older and more mature in their faith and understanding, encourage them to be part of the service, but provide a time for reflection and conversation afterwards (a 'teen'(?) bible study after church for example) - it would be fantastic if parents did this with their kids, sadly though alot of parents don't, or indeed don't feel equipped or able to engage with their kids on issues of faith. Overall this model is still a working project in my mind, but it is the model that I prefer and what I would like my kids to be involved in.

Luke Isham said...

It's a tricky topic and you've thought carefully about it. However the outsourcing model of either teaching or discipline is ultimately problematic, because it reinforces wider cultural norms of kids and teenagers being separate.

But I agree that keeping kids isn't the perfect solution either because often adult attention spans aren't brilliant as well and kids may tire of church.

The question is it what to do with the pressure to "entertain, educate and discipline" kids in another room so they'll come back to church and the pressure to change family values so parents are more active in their kid's upbringing and faith.

Jon said...

Hi Luke and Josh, I like what Josh says. Luke when you mention "the outsourcing model" I wonder if there's an assumption behind that that sees teaching children the faith as primarily a parental responsibility? I think that assumption is open to challenge - that teaching the faith to all church members, including children, is primarily a responsibility of the Church. The question then is how best to do it.

We also have a problem in Evangelical churches because the sermon is seen as the centre of the worship service, rather than other more interactive parts of worship like singing, prayer and liturgy. You can't have one sermon which meets the needs of your whole congregation, given different ages, education levels and levels of maturity in the faith, so there needs to be some way of getting around this. Having the children taught seperately provides part of the solution although not all of it.

Of course one of the problems is that if as a child you are taught in a creative, effective way by gifted sunday school teachers, you will find it difficult to sit through a sermon where the presentation is a little disorganisaed, there are no visuals and no interaction. Sitting through sermons takes a lot of practice because unless the preacher is a highly gifted oral communicator (which few are) is basically a very poor communication process.

Donners said...

Luke - you know we both discuss this a lot together - but I'll repeat it for your readers...

Ultimately the bible tells parents to teach their children - 'as we walk along the road' etc, explain the covenant and our response to it.

I have issues with kid's church - not because sunday school teachers are doing the job for us but because I've seen it used by parents as a babysitter. Parents are still responsible for teaching their children and sunday school should be used as a a launching point for this.

Jon said...

Should clarify this Amy - I agree that parents have a responsibility to raise their children and teach them. Not sure it's exclusive though - that's perhaps a little individualistic for me. As a church community we all have responsibility for each other, including the children among us. And it's good for children to hear things and see models in other adults as well as their parents. Nothing can replace good parenting though!

I'm interested also in why babysitting would be a problem. I would think it would be good for you as parents of a young child to sometimes be able to sit in church and participate and learn without having to worry about your child. I know I appreciated that when our children were younger. Or are you thinking of parents dropping their kids at church then going off shopping?