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Bridging the Adult/Child Gap

(The following article was written in response to a letter from a children’s worker who was dealing with this issue in his church.)

Question– 

I have been reading a book whose premise is that traditional youth ministries pull youth out of the church, away from the adults, with the long-term result being a loss of interest in church/Christ after the teen years.  It recommends bridging the gap between youth and adults, encouraging as much interaction between parents and other church adults as possible.   Would you have some ideas on this subject that you could share with me?

Response– 

I believe that building a family feel in a church is positive.  I hope that the church can help parents and youth to value each person’s own judgments and perspectives.  I hope the church may help facilitate interaction between parents and other church adults, too.  I think this may be done in a number of ways: 

A.  Ministry Projects: (cleaning days, food pantries, sports camps, missions trips, inner-city outreaches, clown ministry teams, and various other ministry teams) These projects give purpose and reason to interact with each other.  Ministry teams become task-oriented small groups.  We’ve said for years that clowning bridges the generation gap.  It allows for a common interest, and a common ministry objective.  People become friends as they join together to accomplish something of purpose. 

B.  Outings: (baseball trips to a professional sports team, fishing trips, church picnics–kids love trying to beat us old fogies in volleyball, softball, etc., family campouts)  People joke about dad and son sitting in front of the T.V. football game every Sunday, but honestly, I think it’s great.  Sports (or any number of things) that bring parents and kids together to view something, and to interact with each other (…even if it’s in unintelligible grunts) seems to be a positive to me.  The event is simply a reason for families to be together and have a base to begin communicating from. 

C.  Specialty Sunday School Classes:  These can discuss the culture of today, how to live in it, and show Jesus to the post-modern culture.  This is something I think youth should understand.  This is something I think all-their-lives-Christian-adults generally have no concept of.

In your question, you said, the premise is that ‘traditional’ youth ministries pull youth out of the church away from the adults with the long-term result being a loss of interest in church/Christ.  This could be but I don’t think that the answer is to pull youth INTO adult services that they don’t relate to.  I think THAT will result in a long-term loss of interest in church/Christ. 

I believe that people equate the relevancy of the method to the relevancy of the message.  For example, if someone presents sock-puppetry to a group of Jr. High kids, the Jr. Highers are going to think that the message is irrelevant, no matter how biblically accurate it may be.  It isn’t that the message was irrelevant–the method was!  A pastor may preach a doctrinally rich, life-changing message, but if he’s boring while doing it, people walk out and say, This doesn’t relate to my life. 

To me, this is the issue in the church.  That is why at age 14 many people leave the church.  They were forced to sit through flannel graph stories week after week after week.  By the time they were in fifth grade, programming their parents VCR’s at home and jumping on the Internet at school, they are realizing that the methods of communication in the church are irrelevant to them.  They then conclude that the message must also be irrelevant.  They are forced to continue to go to church by their parents.  Once their parents cannot force them to go anymore, they don’t.  But honestly, the decision was made far before that time when they stopped attending.  They did not sense relevancy to their lives. 

I want children to grow up understanding that Christianity is relevant to every area of their every day lives.  That’s first of all taught best in the home.  In the church, I don’t believe that it’s best demonstrated by forcing children and youth to sit through an adult-oriented, adult-communication-styled service.  I think of the church as the body.  If we are a body, we should learn from body builders.  Every body builder understands that they need to do isolation exercises at times to bring a weak part up to balance.  Different vitamins are taken to help different parts of the body.  Different exercises help develop different areas of the body.

I believe the church is erring when it thinks that forcing kids into adult-mode is somehow more spiritual. Usually Family Worship is simply an adult service that kids are forced to sit through.  It has nothing to do with meeting the needs of kids.  The adults simply do the same thing in that service that they would have normally done if the kids were not there.  I don’t believe this is servanthood to the young ones.  Fact is, I tell folks, if you want to have family worship you should: (#1) Do it at home!  Kid’s need to see you worship, and not just one hour a week on a Sunday morning.  (#2)  Come sit with your children in the children’s service.  They’ll get a lot out of it, and fact is, you’ll get something, too! 

Jesus said, Even as you welcome one of these little ones in my name, so you welcome me.  So ask yourself this question, If I really want Jesus’ presence in my church, how can I better make the little ones welcome?  Because this is one of the few places in scripture that Jesus tells us how to make him welcome.  Yes, I’m talking about a church becoming much more focused on meeting the needs of children, rather than trying to force them into an adult setting. 

I see the world of children and youth as their own culture.  They are mission fields.  Compare it to an African bush culture.  A middle-aged w.a.s.p. cannot walk into that tribe and say, Think like me, dress like me, get your haircut like me, talk like me, use my style of music, and you can be a follower of Christ.  NO!  He needs to look at their culture, understand it, and then use portions of it to connect spiritual concepts to their everyday lives.  He needs to ask, What do they like?  How can I use it?  (I become all things to all men.)  Unfortunately, the bulk of the church does not approach youth or children’s ministries this way.  I think it should.  We have a vast mission field to reach, and we won’t unless WE are willing to change and step into THEIR world. 

I believe that may be done through small groups (Sunday School, etc.)  Specifically, I don’t see having teens sitting in an adult Sunday morning worship service as a negative.  I think having third graders and preschoolers forced to sit and watch the talking head above the pulpit is not a positive.  I’d rather they be entering into meaningful worship (which means they understand the words, among other things)…and a music style they enjoy.   

I don’t know if that clarifies anything for you….but it’s my opinion!  

© by Rev. Randy Christensen
Children’s Pastor , www.randysinfo.com

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