During our church’s recent Camp Redeemer — during which the whole congregation heads off to summer camp for the weekend — we had a time during the Sunday service where people could simply say things they’re thankful for. I stood up and mentioned how thankful I was for 1) all of the children that God has blessed our church with, and 2) the way in which Redeemer as a whole cares for our kids.
And I’m not simply talking about our church’s Sunday School or nursery services.
I can’t quite explain how much it means to me, as a father, to see other people in my church love and care for my kids, or even just engage with them. There was the young couple who were kind enough to play a round of cornhole with my daughter and her friends. Then there was the epic indoor soccer matches that my boys played in.
I’ve always been impressed by how even my church’s older kids are willing to include younger kids like my sons. To see a college kid give my boys high fives after a goal, or to see another guy in our congregation cheer on my son when he makes a good block… these are little things in the moment but they have an effect. At the very least, they’re modeling the way I want my kids to behave when they’re that age.
Lord knows my church isn’t perfect, but when I see the above (and more), it’s such a contrast to the church I grew up in. There, older kids were too cool to hang out with the younger kids, play with them, take care of them in the nursery, etc. And that was true of me, too, when I became one of the older kids. I would’ve been so embarrassed to play games with some grade school kids, or to care for toddlers in the nursery.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in recent years over various demographic trends that show an increasing number of young people are leaving churches. They’re not leaving because of unbelief or a sudden interest in atheism — they still identify as religious or spiritual — but among other things, they don’t see the point of identifying themselves as part of a church body.
I’m no pundit, but I have to believe that one way of fighting, if not reversing, those trends, is to get your church’s kids involved in the church at a young age. And by “involved,” I mean show them, in really concrete ways, that they’re a valued part of the congregation. That they matter to the church body as a whole.
There are myriad ways to do that, but just start small. It can be something as seemingly trivial as letting them join in a pick-up soccer game. Or by treating them as responsible enough to serve in the nursery. (If/when they’re actually capable of doing so, of course. I know my daughter would love to serve in the nursery because she loves babies, but she needs to be a few years older, first.)
Yes, having good Christian education programs and youth groups and other “official” church things are important, and God bless those who are involved in actual children’s ministry. But the little things are also important, and perhaps even moreso because they’re so easily overlooked, ignored, and written off. But who can know the effect that sort of participation or encouragement will have on them later in life?