Alarmingly, there are many children, in many churches, who will quit church just as soon as they can (Hemorrhaging Faith and Faith For Exiles). Why are so many children leaving the church as soon as they can?
There are many reasons, including the absence of Bible engagement and prayer in the home. As American Pastor Tony Evans says, “The single greatest reason why we are losing our young people today is that the home is no longer the place where faith is transferred.”
Another contributing factor that bears consideration is that many children are learning a lot about Christian behaviour and very little about Jesus. If children don’t get to taste and see that Jesus is a gazillion times better than anything this world has to offer, they will choose the things of the world.If children don’t get to taste and see that Jesus is a gazillion times better than anything this world has to offer, they will choose the things of the world. Click To Tweet
To elaborate. Children are not experiencing the heart-stopping, breath-taking, mind-blowing Jesus because of a persistent focus on teaching children isolated Bible stories with neat applications for particular age levels. The applications are mainly moralizing legalism. Telling children they must live a certain way will not draw them into the family of God. When they reach their teenage years with a belly full of morality and empty hearts, they will plan an exit strategy.
What can we do to amend this problem?
- Exercise critical supervision in the selection of children’s ministry and Sunday School curriculum. Any curriculum that is moralistic and not Jesus-centered, must be replaced.
- Provide basic instruction in biblical theology. Many parents and teachers have received little or no training in how to tell children the whole story of the whole Bible as the story about Jesus.
- Link isolated stories to Jesus’ story. The theme of the Bible, from the beginning to the end, is Jesus. At the very least, exit every Bible story connecting the children to Jesus.
- Major on the Gospels. Jesus is most clearly revealed in the Gospels. Majoring on the Gospels makes it easier to focus on how a story or event testifies to Jesus. Highlighting Jesus should be basic to any lesson because the Scriptures are about Jesus (cf. John 5:39).
Are we training children to be addicted to Jesus or to lesser things? Stop giving children what they want (fun and games), and give them who they need (Jesus). If your teaching methodology relies mainly on entertainment-based approaches, then the only way you’ll keep children in the church is by entertaining them better than the world can entertain them! As the pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof says, “Whatever you use to attract people is what you need to use to keep people.”
Paul himself taught nothing but Jesus! “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
Note the phrase “nothing … except Jesus Christ.” The implications are profound. The content of Paul’s teaching in the first-century church was “first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did – Jesus crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2 (MSG). And what was the impact of this teaching? The church flourished, despite problems and persecution!Let's stop cheapening what should be sacred! Jesus isn't a brand identity for what we do. Click To Tweet
So let’s stop cheapening what should be sacred! Jesus isn’t a brand identity for what we do. And He will never be palatable or popular by the world’s standards. Children’s ministry must be counter-cultural. Teach children “nothing … except Jesus Christ”, and teach it well. For the pure Gospel is more than enough for children to see Him.
The above is to simply say that when we do everything possible to immerse children in the words, works, and life-capturing love of Jesus, it’s unlikely they’ll leave the church.
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© Scripture Union, 2020