Is Your Church Hospitable to Families with Children?

October 29, 2009

kids-outsideFour places where churches often fail families in Sunday hospitality: signage, nursery, worship, fellowship/coffee hour.

What about the signs in your church? Is it easy for first-time visitors to find a place to park? the nursery? the sanctuary? Sunday school rooms? the church office? the bathrooms?

The nursery is where effective children’s ministry can begin and also where visitors can get turned off a church. When parents return to pick-up their child, an upset baby with a dirty diaper will trump a great sermon.

Creating effective worship for all ages is a daunting task. Liturgy, music, sermon, prayers, creeds, the sacraments of baptism and communion all present unique opportunities for churches to include people of all ages, especially children. Today’s family wants family/intergenerational worship. Churches that continue to divide people by age, that continue to send children out of worship are missing the chance to nurture the family as a whole and to support those parents who wish to worship together.

The fellowship time that often occurs right after worship, but is a term that can also include any informal time where refreshments are served and people are invited to mingle, is usually planned with adults in mind. When children are left to their own devices, they will fill up the time and space with their own games. They may run around, grab food at will, and be disruptive. A progressive congregation understands this dynamic and plans this gathering time to include all ages—with appropriate guidelines and activities for all. Chaotic fellowship times can turn-off members as well as visitors.

There may be an unspoken attitude among adults in churches that relegates children “to be seen but not heard”…to be separate, not included. How can you change the attitude from “adults only” to “everyone is included, everyone matters!”? Approach your leadership now and start some discussions:

• Do the signs inside and outside of your church help visitors know where to go to find what they need? Can the signs be read or understood by children, too?

• Is your nursery staffed with two adults at all times? Does it address the needs of infants, toddlers and preschoolers? Does your nursery staff understand that they are in ministry to these little ones?

• Does your church send the children out of worship causing them to miss singing and praying with adults, witnessing baptisms, partaking in communion? Does your worship include opportunities for people of all ages to participate both as leaders and as worshippers?

• Are your planned congregational events always inclusive of children? Does your church welcome children at fellowship times or do the adults grumble about the children eating all the cookies?

• Is your congregation intentional about children’s ministry and about why it is vital for the church?

• Does your children’s ministry enjoy an equal priority with other ministries of your church?

• If you polled the children in your congregation, would they say they were valued and important to the church?

Raise the hospitality quotient of your church by making it a place where families feel welcome to gather together for mutual, life-giving activities and worship…welcome the children in the name of Jesus Christ!

Read the October issue of Heartfelt for more about helping your child prepare and participate in worship. Click here.


How Do We Make Worship Truly Intergenerational?

October 20, 2009

IG-worshipWhy do churches divide people by age?

“Nobody ever talks or debates about whether adults should be in worship. But we do debate whether children should be heard or seen in worship. Yet God’s continuing self-revelation is not age-specific. Your children may experience a relationship with God long before they can articulate it,” says Steve Burger, director of children and family ministries in the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Christian formation department.

Churches too small to staff children’s programs during worship should take heart, according to Faith Communities Today 2005. This survey of 884 randomly sampled U.S. congregations found that keeping children with adults can help churches grow—if they also involve children in worship through speaking, reading, and performing.

Howard Vanderwell, Resource Development Specialist for
Pastoral Leadership at the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship and editor of a book about intergenerational worship, says, “The phrase ‘all generations’ appears 91 times in the Bible. Intergenerational worship has all ages present—embodying the truth that the whole church is the body of Christ.”

Steve Burger agrees. “Who or what we choose to exclude from our worship gatherings says as much about our community of faith as who or what we choose to include. And, really, does excluding anyone make sense when you realize we’re spending an eternity together?”

What does your church do well for intergenerational worship? Speak, sing, dance, pray, listen…children can do all of these things too. The sermon is not the only way we hear the Word at worship. The goal for anyone planning worship is to provide plenty of connecting points between the worshipper and God.

Read the entire article “Vital Worship”

• As a whole, does your worship speak to everyone present?
• Does it engage all of the senses?
• Where could your worship service improve so that the whole family of God can worship together?


When Should Children Attend Worship?

October 13, 2009

church-going_to_worshipWhen should children attend worship is a parental choice and parents—and churches who encourage or discourage such attendance—choose for different reasons.

Here are some good reasons for children attending worship:

1. Children learn to pray, to speak to God from their heart, by being with adults who model prayer.
2. Children can experience a time to be silent and present to God; a time to talk to God and to listen to God.
3. Children can hear & feel the power of our love for God as they listen to the words and music of worship.
4. Children learn and experience God’s love in the fellowship within a faith community.
5. Children are introduced to music and dance that expresses the longings of our hearts, the laments of our lives, our praises to God.
6. Children hear the stories of God’s people, and begin to understand that those stories belong to them, too.

What do you think? What would you add to this list?


A Wonderful Blessing From God

October 12, 2009

child-prayingScripture clearly says that raising children is a wonderful blessing from God. Among other parental duties, we are to hand down our faith, teach the importance of prayer, and teach our children to love God with all their hearts.

Will your children have faith? Will your children’s faith matter? Seriously, will your children’s faith matter?

When children are a priority, God smiles. In this complicated and often frightening world, children need a spiritual home—literally. Ellen T. Charry, Princeton Theological Seminary, says “We must realize that ALL baptized Christians are responsible for forming one another in Christ… even skilled parents can’t raise children alone; the authority of popular culture is too strong. They need the advice and support of the church.”

How can the church help families? How can you make children’s ministry the priority in your congregation?

1. Churches need to support parents, grandparents, godparents.
2. Churches need to honor and appreciate the work of Christian educators who can keep family education a high priority.
3. Churches need to teach adults to develop warm, trusting, safe relationships with children in order to provide moral and spiritual guidance.
4. Churches must fully integrate children into the life and worship of the congregation.

Charry says, “We need churches to turn their full attention to children, not to simply applaud them, but to lead them gently and steadily to God.”

Amen, Ellen!


Shift by Brian Haynes

October 1, 2009

Brian Haynes’ new book “Shift: What it takes to finally reach families today” was a book I really wanted to love.  After reading it, I found that I loved the premise and the purpose but not so much the practice. Haynes believes that God’s plan for spiritual formation of generations is found in “the shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9):

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

I agree!  And there’s a chorus of voices agreeing as well…George Barna (“Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions”), Ivy Beckwith (“Postmodern Children’s Ministry”), Walt Mueller (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding), Mark DeVries (“Family-Based Youth Ministry”), Ben Freudenburg (“The Family Friendly Church”), Mark Holman (Faith@Home Movement), Kara Powell (Fuller Youth Institute), and Gene Roehlkepartain (Search Institute) to name just some. The voices seem to be getting louder and louder saying not just that parents need to teach their children how to love God but that the church must be charged with equipping parents to do so.  Haynes puts it this way, “To equip the generations effectively, we [the church] must reach and equip parents.”  So simple…yet so hard!

The practice that he lays out in “Shift” involves equipping families through seven age-appropriate milestones “that every person growing in his or her relationship with Christ experiences and celebrates.”  The child or youth (or adult) must learn key truths to progress from one milestone to the next.  The church teaches each milestone to the parents and the parents reinforce them through “faith talks” at home and resources that the church provides.  There are church events that teach and celebrate each of the milestones and that connect parents with one another.

I see one gaping hole in the plan…the connection to community for the kids.  As it should, “Shift” describes a structure of stability for the family and sets up an environment for the parents to learn and grow together.  But without a strong system of relationships for the young people—in addition to those with their family—there is a lack of connectedness to the wider body of Christ.  Children and youth in the church need plenty of opportunities to build and deepen relationships with one another and with mature Christian adults…in addition to their parents. Inter-generational relationships within the church community are critical for building disciples of Christ.

Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a former youth pastor says in an interview in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal that the standard ratio in youth ministry is one adult for every five kids. “My colleague here at Fuller, Chap Clark, says we need to reverse the ratio and strive for having five adults build into one kid…I’m talking about five adults who care enough about a kid that they learn her name, ask her on Sunday how they can be praying for her and then the following Sunday ask her, ‘How did it go with that science test?’ Our study shows that even these baby step connections can make a real difference.”

I agree with Haynes that each milestone is critical, each should be taught, each should be celebrated and that the parents should be at the helm.  But despite the church-based events proscribed for each milestone, we create individual “silos” around each family when we don’t intentionally bring families together to live out experiences of community. He lays out a great plan where the church and family are supported in traveling one common path (and rightly so) but not connecting with one another. Maybe I missed that or it was implied? Where are the children while the parents are in each preparation seminar?

And okay…there’s something else that concerns me.  As I read about each family’s faith talks and the celebrations (simple or grandiose) around the passing of every milestone, I imagine the “perfect” or “good” church families participating.  I’m sure there might be stories to prove me wrong but I struggle to see the plan drawing in the adults and/or the children who are troubled or confused about their faith or life in general. I’m all for setting the bar high and creating high expectations to grow the faith but again think the relational context needs to be there in order to help many of our families step into the process. Does this work on those “marginal” families or those “marginal” children within our church families? Does it draw in those from the community–a non-churched population that is growing larger and larger?

Brian Haynes is wise in counseling his reader (the church leader) to rethink how to engage families and change the culture within each church’s own context and culture. And I love the question that he encourages each church leader to ask, “How would our ministry paradigm need to shift to integrate church and family for the spiritual formation of the next generation?” It’s a critical question that too many avoid. Kudos to him for bringing it to our attention.  But let’s complete the picture with intergenerational connectedness within the body of Christ.

Brian Haynes’ “Shift: What it takes to finally reach families today” via Amazon.com


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