Children group at church

Anglican Children and Youth Ministries Commission

We are the body of Christ

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Mrs Julie Ward Chair Anglican Children and Youth Ministries Commission

‘How was church?’

‘Oh my God! Becky dressed herself, and I just didn’t look properly until we arrived, and there she is, wearing pink leggings under a leopard print skirt with a bluey t-shirt, but nothing on her feet at all. Nothing! Bubs threw up before we got out of the car, and Paul brought his entire dinosaur collection.

‘We lurched into the building and were collected by someone insisting we sit them; Becky put her hands out for communion, Bubs needed feeding, and Paul made audible growling noises through the prayers'

‘It wasn’t until I left that I saw the sultanas on the floor and the sticky patches on the pew. And apparently, Becky knew different words to one of the hymns.

‘We were the youngest by far, although someone with a sulky teenager came later than us.’

‘Not going back, then?’

‘Oh yeah, we are. The woman who insisted we sat with knew more dinosaur growls than Paul, the priest gave Becky a sliver of bread without pausing, another person sat with Becky while I fed Bubs, and three people thanked me for bringing the children. Three!'

‘And no one mentioned the sultanas and the pew. Although, I did see someone bustle out with a damp cloth after we left.

'I may have accidentally signed up for the Morning Tea roster after being asked what food they could provide for the children next week.'

‘The sermon was rubbish, though, and a kids’ spot could be slotted in easily.'

‘Oh, and the sulky teenager doubles as their barista. Great coffee.’

Overstated? I’m not sure.

Recently, I sat under a tree with a couple of women from different parts of Australia, and we discussed our various experiences of attending church. Given that women generally outnumber men in church attendance, it is probably safe to assume that women decide who, when and where to attend church. In our under-the-tree discussion, these two women told stories of small things that happened in church that significantly impacted their decision to continue coming to that church and to bring their children. In their cases, it was helpful and accepting behaviour from congregation members.

For example, sitting near and quietly engaging with a child, effusively thanking the mother for coming, and having child-friendly food at morning tea.
Interestingly, having a children’s program or even a kids’ spot in the service didn’t rank as high as the 80-year-old saying how lovely your children are, never mentioning the 60 minutes of child-initiated interruptions to every part of the service.

Of course, these are common practice ideas, but sometimes, we can underrate the impact on parents.

So, when asked how to get children and young people into the church, I think ‘attract and keep the parents.’ In addition, engage with the parents in decisions on age-appropriate activities in your church.

Data from NCLS show a decline in children attending church as they age. Young children come with parents, older children might have sporting commitments and later, as teenagers, have the independence to stay home. Data also shows that children and youth are usually happy in a church group or activity, particularly with their peers. Attending services is also an acceptable activity, although boredom levels are higher. Older youth like to be engaged in decision-making about their activities and value being with their peers.

Having observed the decline in children in church, I also wonder how good we have been in building and feeding the parents’ faith. I have noted the church’s inconsistent engagement with young families as full members of the body of Christ. If aging congregations also cry out for younger members, why do we not have a deliberate strategy for ‘church grandparents’ to walk alongside families?

So, how do you get children and young people in your church? I don’t know, but engaged and committed parents will bring their children; the rest is up to us.

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