Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Towards a Strategy for our children's and youth work

I’d love to hear from church members, qualified and / or practicing youth / children’s workers, or indeed anyone who’s interested, about how we can develop our church work in this area, which I think its fair to say is struggling relative to the rest of our church life.

We’re a large conservative evangelical Anglican church in the centre of town with no schools and few residential homes in the Parish. We have 400 on the electoral roll and a strong ministry to holiday makers.

The aims of our church’s children’s and youth work are really the same as those of all its work: to present everyone perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:28f), in this case, particularly, young people.

This will involve evangelism and discipleship. We want to see people go from having no Christian contact to training others to make disciples of others.

In practice, this will probably mean (at least) some groups and activities directed mainly at out-reach and evangelism and some aimed at nurture and Bible teaching. There will need to be training in ministry and some will need specialised training in training others!

As a minimum, we should be seeking to provide evangelism and discipleship for everyone and as far as we can for each sub-group.

We need things outreach opportunities that church children are enthusiastic to involve their non-Christian friends in.

In the case of children and youth, the work most naturally divides up into age groups. So, we need groups or activities directed mainly at evangelism and others directed mainly at discipleship for our 0s to 30s.

In all this we seek to support parents who have the primary responsibility before God for the discipleship of their children. The church’s ministry to parents will be a ministry to their children.

None of our children’s activities should be merely babysitting services.

Some of our most important discipleship and nurture Bible teaching of children might be done in a Sunday School during the main morning service, but increasingly and as much as possible our children and young people should take a full part in the Lord’s Day service of covenant renewal. At the moment, the children and young people are in for the first part of the service (in which there is usually a children’s talk) and they re-join us for the Lord’s Supper (when it is celebrated once a month in the morning service).

We currently have a staffed crèche on a Sunday morning (0s to 3s) and a full children’s Sunday School: Whizz Kids (school years: Reception, 1 & 2), Explorers (school years: 3-6), Pathfinders (school years 7-9) and IMPACT (school year 10 and over).

There is no reason why a reasonably bright 14 year old should not profit from a serious 30 minute sermon. If the sermon usually seems dull, irrelevant and off-putting to the 14 year old, then the chances are that it will seem like that to many adults too. A grammar school child of 11 should manage to benefit from a sermon too. Even with younger children, it may be better for them to stay in church (even if they don’t understand much) with their families rather than go out of the Lord’s Day service. Children and adults will all want their own dedicated teaching and groups at other times (just as adults belong to a homegroup).

For most people, after their 30s and until their old age, their age becomes a less important defining factor for which groups or activities they might be involved with. Things like their education, employment, gifts, interests, background, shape of family, free time might be more significant factors.

All our groups and activities should have clear aims and plans about how to seek to fulfil them that we can prayerfully review.

In our current programme, HT Club (a weekly parent and toddler group, with Bible songs and a story) and SNAP club (Saturday Night All Play, a monthly meeting for 7 to 11 year olds, games with a short Bible Talk) are our only regular outreach events. We need to expand our outreach to ages 4-6 and 11+.

HT Club seeks to encourage parents and children to be involved on a Sunday morning and in our mothers and others Bible Study and is quite effective.

We have probably not seen anyone move from SNAP club to Sunday church involvement in the last 5 years. Although sometimes about 25 kids come along and are taught something of the Bible, the group is not really effective in moving kids on or in reaching parents. About a third of the children attended are involved at some other church.

We have a fledgling Youth Group (for the 14s+) meeting on a Sunday after the evening service. This looks very promising but I’m not 100% clear what it’s for yet, what it will do or how its different from the IMPACT group during the morning service for those in school year 10 and above.

A few students are involved in the church during the vacations.

There are some students and some foreign language students in the town, but our church does not seem to reach them.

Our 20s and 30s used to have a reading group, but that kind of folded because they were involved in home groups and other things anyway and there wasn’t wild enthusiasm for it.

In the past the church has employed a youth worker. We have the cash to do so again and there’s been some talk of perhaps buying a house to accommodate a worker but we’re not sure what the best thing might be.



ros said...

Well, here's what we do at my church. Sunday school. For everyone.

9.30-10.20am. Classes for 0-3, 3-6, 7-10, 11-17 and adults.

Then everyone except the very youngest comes to church. Children as young as 3 or 4 will sometimes sit quietly (more or less) through the whole service or sometimes be taken out for the sermon. Children of 6 or 7 and up are certainly expected to be able to sit through the whole thing. Sometimes parents give them books or pencil and paper to play with. There are no children's songs nor any special talk, though the preacher will sometimes address questions during the sermon to the young people.

What do the children learn? They learn that they are part of the church. They learn that church is about everyone learning from the word as we all sit through the sermon together and as we all attend Sunday school. They learn the creed and the doxology that we say/sing every week. They learn hymns from early on.

This is clearly not an evangelistic approach and nor, I think, should it be with children of believers. We do also have evangelistic holiday clubs, for example, that have quite a different expectation. But for children of the church, they need to be treated as part of the church - and what better way than to have them in church?

Marc Lloyd said...

Thanks, Ros. Very helpful. I really like that. I think much with our kids is to do with expectations: even if we have pretty low expectations they probably wont live up to them perfectly. Little kids often want to be grown up, so if everyone is looking attentive and so on.... Maybe one can play a game in the sermon: count how many times the preacher says "Jesus" or refers to him. It definitely helps sunday lunch conversation if all have studied the same thing.

On adult Sunday school, is that just like home groups (or Ebbes style Focus / HTL / St Helen's RML?) on the Lord's Day?

What are the origins of children only Sunday schools? Were they a literacy project? Dont we have some relative of Marion R's to blame?

ros said...

Adult Sunday school varies. We've had sessions that were basically bible studies (I did a series on Proverbs for the women). At the moment we're having talks on 'What it means to be a Presbyterian church?' We've done church government and now we're going through the five points of Calvinism. We do have midweek bible studies too, though I don't know how many people go to them. The advantage of the Sunday school seems to me that you can teach a wider range of things including doctrine, church history, practical godliness etc. The disadvantage (if it replaces homegroups) is lack of accountability or fellowship in small groups - though I guess that depends on how you arrange things.

Gerv said...

Re. the Sunday evening thing for the older children: you haven't said what goes on, but I would suggest that it's as different from Sunday morning as a housegroup social is from a Bible study. You want your church kids to be friends with each other; to be godly influences on each other and encourage each other as they grow up; to prefer to spend time with other Christians than to go out and sit on street corners drinking White Lightning.

Marc Lloyd said...

Thank you, Gerv. I agree with you. I don't think they quite know what it will be yet as the group is in its infancy. I would see value in a youth group social (when we went, we chatted and had cheese and ham toasties and played games etc.). I think I would probably also want non-Christian friends to be invitable so that it could be used for low key pre-evangelism as well as low key mutual encouragement. I guess the more content there is, the more one has to take a decision how to pitch it, who its for etc.

Marc Lloyd said...

Even if you buy what I say here about having our covenant children in church with us for the Lord's Day service of covenant renewal, I guess its worth thinking too about the short term and what happens when a family with children / teenagers moves into town. Some may of course buy the vision I've outlined already and delight that they aren't expected to send their 14 year old out to Sunday school, but I guess most would expect there to be special groups for their teenagers laid on on a Sunday morning durring the service.

I guess there's much here about long term expectations too. It seems a big thing to say to a 15 year old that he suddenly has to stay in for the sermon if every other week of his life he's gone off to whoop it up in the church hall, whereas if he's always expected to sit under the Word of God with his family....

It seems to me we at least need to allow this as an option for parents: you don't have to send youe kids out if they could stay in church without making it impossible for the rest of us to hear most of the time.