These are the days when little children dress as sheep and shepherds in Church Christmas Celebrations. They are cute and inspiring and – for many – they “make” Christmas. In yesterday’s traditional Children’s Pageant with HH’s congregation, one woman said to me on the way out, “We just couldn’t have Christmas without the kids, could we?”
Actually, some of us could and do.
Maybe we would like it to be different, but the truth is that the majority of our congregations in the United States cannot field a full nativity cast from our own rolls of children and youth. According to Research Services in my own denomination, 54% of our churches have 100 members or less. Chances are the majority of those small congregations have a handful of children. Or no children.
I regularly worship among churches with 0-4 children. They are often the grandchildren of longtime members. Occasionally a family with children or youth will visit a congregation for the first time and never return because – while they might find spiritual nourishment for themselves – they long for “something for the kids.”
Frankly, most of our congregations have no idea how to minister to 21st Century families, much less people who have never been part of a church culture. If people have never been part of a church community but now have children and want to expose their kids to Jesus, most of our congregations have no idea what to do with them.
In the words of George Bullard explaining 60-40-20 churches:
“Congregations where 30 percent or more of the active membership is at least 60 years old, and they have been professing Christians for at least 40 years, and they have been connected with this congregation for at least 20 years, are myopic regarding the spiritual needs of non-churched culture persons. When 50 percent or more of the active membership is 60-40-20 people, they are not only myopic, but now blind to the spiritual needs of non-churched culture persons.”
Congregations can be and are vibrant without children as much as families can be and are vibrant without children. What every church (and family) needs to thrive is
- childlike wonder,
- opportunities to learn and
- the freedom to figure out who God created us to be, both individually and as a community.
I love the innocence of children who look wide-eyed at the musicians in worship. I love the effervescence of children who freely express their joy like the little girl who exclaimed, “Yay!” after one of the anthems yesterday.
This is what all who gather in the name of Jesus need. It’s just that children remind us and if they are not present we forget. If we have been at this Christ-follower life for a long time, we might have long forgotten what it’s like to be God’s child.