Last Easter I found myself standing in our local park, with tears in my eyes, as my toddler joined others from our church for an Easter egg hunt. For months, the children had only seen each other online, gathering to go through the activity packs dropped off on our doorstep each week by our amazing children’s workers. That day felt like one of the first moments in which the nightmare of the pandemic might just be over. Could things be getting back to normal? I asked myself.
Our church, for whom one of the defining characteristics was the beautiful Sunday morning chaos of children running around, has been much quieter since Covid restrictions lifted. One study suggests that 32 per cent of Christians ceased contact with their church during the pandemic.
Children’s engagement would have similarly declined. Churches like mine have lost young families and, along with that, are struggling to fill gaps in children’s ministry rotas. Many leaders say youth and children’s ministry is their biggest post-pandemic challenge.
Going to church is different when you have children. You feel pressure to keep the kids quiet and entertained; you are constantly thinking about snacks, changing nappies or wiping snotty noses.
These stresses are hardly conducive to worshiping God – or at least in the ways we have understood that God likes to be worshipped.
I can appreciate the decision that many parents have made to stay away, even if it’s just for a season. Doing so can just seem easier. One less burden in an already pressurised week of family life.
But as a parent of two young children, I am grieving that my boys won’t have access to the same spiritual formation as I did. I took the Sunday school experience I had for granted, where wonderfully told Bible stories laid the foundation for my decision, as a teenager, to become a Christian.
We now need a creative revolution in children’s ministry. The next generation needs us to be coming up with innovative ways to engage them in the richness of our faith; a faith that doesn’t ask us to sit still and be quiet, but one in which Christ enters into the chaos and messiness of our ordinary lives.
For children and parents to feel welcome in our churches, we’ve got to find ways to make it easier and more attractive to engage – whether on a Sunday morning or elsewhere in the week. We’ve got to equip parents – myself included – in how to raise children in the Christian faith; children who will stay and not walk away from it at the first opportunity or challenge.
We’ve got to think outside the box, and perhaps let go of the traditional ways we have done things, understanding that times have changed, along with the needs of children and their parents post-pandemic.
This is not just about the families themselves; it’s a key issue if the Church in the UK is to exist when my children have children of their own. Up and down the country, there are many tired people with a heart for the thankless task of children’s and youth ministry.
Now is the time for us to encourage them to run with their ideas, and to give them all the help we can. For all our children’s sake.
Passionate about raising the next generation? Visit premiernexgen.com for free help and resources