When my sister and I were growing up, Liz had a school friend along the street called Kerry. She began to attend church with us and showed some interest. However, although her parents didn’t mind her attending Sunday School or youth fellowship, they very clearly told her she wasn’t to get in too deep. Kerry drifted away. Without reaching her parents, it was difficult to reach her.
I often think about that story when considering outreach to children. Churches find it easier to put on something for the children than for the parents (or adults in general). The grown-ups are a harder proposition.
Naturally, that kind of thought is with me now, in the holiday club season. Our daughter is attending the club at the local parish church this week, and will attend ours next week. I noticed on Monday morning when registering her just how many families we recognised from the estate, often from the school. Very few were known to us as Christian families.
Both the parish church and our church will attempt to make some connection with the families. The Anglicans will have an open evening on Thursday. We end our club each year with a musical that the children have rehearsed during the week. We pack the church with parents, grandparents and siblings. We follow that with a free barbecue.
But the lingering question for me is one of reaching all generations. Reading Jason Gardner‘s book Mend The Gap recently, this came home to me all the more forcefully. He is very strong on the idea that it’s dangerous to separate off children’s and youth ministry from the rest of church, as if that is cross-cultural mission and adult ministry isn’t. All of it is, in Gardner’s opinion. Moreover, there is the question of family. The family has an important rôle in spiritual growth.
So I think that I – like a lot of ministers at this time – have a critical challenge to face. How will we link in our holiday clubs to inter-generational ministry? We run these clubs to try and make a spiritual impact on young people. However, realistically, without being cynical, many of the non-Christian parents are glad to see us as an affordable summer holiday activity that helps them with the difficult problem of what to do with the kids for six weeks. With those conflicting aspirations, it shouldn’t surprise us that we often make little headway, even when we’ve built relationships with the children over several years.
What to do, then? We have an educational task to engage in with our churches. We have strategies to consider in the locality. Parenting courses might be one option – so long as we don’t come across as know-alls but fellow-travellers who struggle with the issue. We also need to avoid the stigma now attached to them, because they have been used in courts as a sentence for parents of errant children. But we have to find approaches that connect. Steve Chalke said many years ago that church is like a family: we do some things together, and a few things apart. In youth ministry, I think we’ve become expert at the latter and need to do more on the former. What do you think?
UPDATE, 31ST JULY: Mary Roberts emailed me this morning with details of CARE For The Family‘s initiative Engage Today. There is a website, a monthly email and a day conference to encourage churches to help families in their communities. She sent me the copy of the first email from a few weeks ago, which features links to a couple of articles. One quotes a survey from The Sun newspaper, in which 85% of its readers said that family was the most important thing in their lives. The other describes the work of the Community Action Team (CAT) set up by Honiton Community Church. They offer the marriage course, parenting resources, prisoner support and debt advice.