Children represent arguably the largest unreached people group and the most receptive people group in the world. Yet the church is largely unprepared to take up the huge opportunities for mission to children. (Evangelization of Children – Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 47 (2010))
Various surveys and investigations done over the last 20 to 30 years indicate that the church is still ineffective in the ministry to children and young people. Parents and church leaders are still complaining about the attitude of today’s children and youth and that they are not willing to listen to instruction. They feel that young people lack commitment and dedication and cannot be depended on for anything. On the other hand the young people are complaining about lack of opportunities being given them to express their faith and worship in our churches. They feel marginalised and on the periphery and are not involved in general church activities, especially in decision making. They would rather leave the church than grow up in an environment that does not suit them.
However, the list of issues (and perceptions about one another) are endless and too many to list in this article. In our experience in Southern Africa, we have summarised our top priority problems, as being:
- There is a disconnect between Sunday School and youth ministry and parishes are struggling with the transition. The fall off rate after Sunday School and Confirmation is far to high and only a small percentage will find their way into Youth Groups (if they are fortunate to have access to one).
- Sunday School Teachers and Youth leaders are definitely not adequately trained and prepared to handle the spiritual development and formation of our children and young people. Many Sunday School teachers volunteer to take a class with little or no formal training. There is also no back-up support for these teachers, many of whom are inexperienced and will therefore teach from a very thin spiritual experience themselves.
- No clear guidelines or curricula exist to help teachers and leaders to develop our children and young people to spiritual maturity. Moreover, we do not have a clear picture of what we have to develop our children and youth towards. Programmes and activities on their own are not enough. It has to progressively help the child or youth to deepen their faith experience and to ensure that they have ample opportunity to exercise their faith in practical terms.
However, new approaches are required. We need to think a whole lot more differently about this ministry if we are going to make a reasonable impact. Here are some of our thoughts we grappled with:
1. We have to move the ministry into the middle of our mission – and inject more passion and compassion into it. We have to get everybody at parish level involved in this ministry.
2. We need to look at the ministry more holistically and continuous – it’s more than just bible stories and it is a life long learning experience.
3. We need to explore moving from teachers and instructors to life facilitators.
4. We definitely need to start as early as possible. Age 3 or sooner. Start as early as the child is able to develop understanding and corresponding behaviour.
5. We must integrate learning with practical implementation
6. Outcomes based spiritual development is needed – we need to aim at tangible outcomes (knowledge, understanding, behaviour, practice, achievement, etc.)
7. We have to re-examine the role of parents and ensure they are equipped to develop their children and support them on their spiritual journeys. A few sessions on Baptism preparation is not enough.
8. We need to ensure a we provide a well staffed and equipped Sunday School / Bible Class for at least their entire schooling life (at least up to age 18).
These may sound like high ideals, but it is nothing short of what Christ would expect if we are going to make great disciples of our young ones.
So what are we doing about this?
The Provincial Youth Council in the Province of Southern Africa has just launched a project to put a Development Team of experts together to develop a more outcomes based curricula and training programme for the spiritual formation and development of children from age 3 to 18+. It seeks to define the outcomes expected of any age as well as a curricula which provides tools, guidelines and materials to help the facilitators (Sunday School Teachers, youth leaders, instructors, etc.) achieve the outcomes. In addition, a facilitator training programme will be developed for all those involved in children and youth ministries
So, instead of just plugging in programmes and activities, etc., we hope we will end up with a clear framework for the ministry against which we will be able to assess and measure the success of the development of the young.
This outcomes curriculum will define the minimum that a child or young person will need in order to develop as good Christians and to make a meaningful contribution not only to the life of the Church, but also in the community where they live. It is foundational in nature and sets the platform on which much can be built using all the gifting and passions of the person.
Comments and suggestions are welcome.
The project document can be downloaded here : Project 2013h