What’s the best way to connect children with Jesus?
Children’s ministry leader DeAnn Stull says, “You can’t get children to Jesus if you don’t get them in the church door to share the Gospel!”
Is she right? Is church attendance the best way to connect children with Jesus?
How congregations spend their time, energy, and resources provides the answer. Tens of thousands of children’s pastors, teachers, and volunteers run vacation Bible schools, camps, and mid-week clubs. Millions of dollars are spent on Sunday School facilities. Thousands of children invite their friends to church events. And countless work hours are poured into planning and running children’s programs and activities.
Succinctly stated, the primary approach to children’s ministry is attractional. Most congregations focus on bringing children to church to see and hear about Jesus. So yes, many Christians essentially believe, along with DeAnn Stull, that the best way to connect children with Jesus is to get them through the church doors.
But is this tactic working? Research indicates that mainly large churches have a measure of success with the attractional approach. The overwhelming majority of small and mid-size churches struggle to get children in the door.The overwhelming majority of small and mid-size churches struggle to get children in the door. Click To Tweet
Which raises another question: Do children who attend a church make robust connections with Jesus? In Western nations, most of them don’t! Disastrously, when children from large and small churches become young adults, 75% leave the church.
So I’m wondering: What if Jesus were physically present in the world today? How might He connect with children?
Would He select a curriculum, form a worship team, plug in a sound system, decorate rooms with murals of Noah’s Ark, gather resources, schedule events, advertise on social media, and invite pagan children to come to His church?
Probably not! The attractional approach wouldn’t even be a blip on his strategic radar.
Jesus would be incarnational. He would embody and exhibit the grace and power of God. Where we find children, we’d find Jesus. He’d be out and about sharing His love for them through actions and words. And He’d be telling us to be the sent people of God – to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16) – to go and make disciples by personifying the Good News in our day-to-day lives (Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Matthew 28:19-20).If Jesus were physically present in the world today, He wouldn't be trying to get children to come to a local church - He'd be hanging out in the neighbourhood! Click To Tweet
Jesus wouldn’t be trying to get children to come to a local church – He’d be hanging out in the neighbourhood! Telling stories (parables) that conceal yet reveal His radical message about God’s kingdom. We’d probably find Him chatting with children at the Community Centre, mingling at a playground, coaching a children’s soccer team, feeding street children, healing the sick, walking kids to school, visiting families, or teaching parents how to nurture their children’s faith.
Jesus would demonstrate the kingdom of God 24/7. People, not programs, would be prioritized. There’d be no slick marketing plans. He’d pour His time and energy into children who didn’t know Him, showing them who He is and inviting them to follow Him. And He’d go to children anywhere and everywhere. Make no bones about it. Jesus would be on the streets, rounding children up, fostering true fellowship, proclaiming truth, and modelling how they should love and live for Him.
So back to the question. What’s the best way to connect children with Jesus? Is it an attractional or incarnational (also called the missional) approach?
DeAnn Stull firmly believes in the attractional approach. She’s convinced that “Big things happen in the church.” She also suggests, “There are a million ways to skin a cat, and we should focus on all of them.”
I’ll not digress to comment on the million ways to skin a cat! But I will say that while attractional approaches may dominate in most churches for years to come, I firmly believe our future hope for revitalizing children’s ministry lies increasingly with an incarnational approach.Our future hope for the revitalization of children's ministry lies increasingly with an incarnational approach. Click To Tweet
The long and short of it is that an incarnational approach is theologically sound, takes both Gospel and context seriously, embodies what we preach, enables us to fulfil the Great Commission, and mediates the presence and compassion of Christ.
Children’s ministry today, perhaps more than ever, needs Christians who will be seen, heard and active in the world at large. Vast numbers of children, in increasing numbers, are disconnected from the Church and never enter our buildings. They’re living lives without hope and without Christ. It’s a simple truth, yet ultimately people, not programs, change people. Children don’t need more churches with more activities; they need more Christians living among them.
So in my humble estimation, an incarnational approach is better than an attractional approach for connecting children with Jesus.
Reimagining Children’s Faith Formation
Developing a New Plan for Children’s Ministry
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What’s the best way to connect children with Jesus?
© Scripture Union, 2022
I agree totally that an incarnations approach is needed to connect with Children personally. Each child is unique and children sense when someone genuinely cares. It makes them more receptive to what you have to say. It is sad when, children’s ministry revolves around only a spectacular programme, and how many attended,. Pleasing, man and statistics must be replaced with Pleasing the heart ofThe Lord.
Amen to your comment about “pleasing the heart of God.”