We often hear and celebrate the stories of the growing church bursting at the seams with families and struggling to find room to fit everyone in the service. But what if this isn’t your story? What if you look around at your church gathering and there are no children, or only a few? What if you don’t have any community ministries to families?
This can just be a season – a hard season, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent season. When a church finds itself in this place of very few families one of the first things to do is to be preparing for the next season. Are you getting ready for when things will change? Have you got some resources ready for the day a family turns up at your church? You don’t need to be ready with an instant Sunday School lesson, but you could have a “Welcome to our church” pack for kids, which includes some hands on activities. Do you have something for morning tea for children or is there only tea and coffee available? Have you got several people trained up ready to connect with the children and know what is to happen? Have you thought about what will work for children with learning difficulties or other special needs?
Effective small churches do their gatherings differently to large churches. Trying to run a weekly kids program for 4 kids can be doing everybody a disservice. It’s like permanently setting up the kids dining table you need when all the relatives come over, even when its just mum, dad and 2 kids. Perhaps you could find ways to stay together for more of the gatherings. One church has the kids go out every second week and only for half of the service. In that time they aren’t learning more Bible stories; they are being equipped to participate in the times they are part of the whole gathering.
Do you give children the opportunity to serve? Kids are entrusted with significant leadership roles in schools, and are mentored and given feedback as they learn to lead and serve. Yet sometimes in the church we think we are being forward thinking if we let them collect the offering. With mentoring and support and feedback – which many of them are crying out for – our kids can do this and much more.
Even if there are currently no children in your Sunday services, there are plenty of ways you can connect with families in the community. Each little act of demonstrating what the kingdom of God looks like makes a difference. Is there one thing you could get involved in the community with children and families? Maybe it’s a one off event, or joining with something the local council is running. Maybe it’s advertising a simple story-time for young families at the early childhood centre.
Overall what’s important is how we think about kids and families. Cultivating a culture that genuinely loves families and kids is key – and it has to be championed by the leadership of the church. Church is a place for discipleship for all ages. If we only equip adults then in the end we will only have adults, but if we commit to building church cultures that empower the emerging generations, the ‘season without kids’ can be turned around.
MACQUARIE FIELDS BAPTIST CHURCH – Thinking like a family.
Our church at Macquarie Fields in Sydney’s outer southwest is a small congregation. We don’t have many children in our church and most of them come semi-regularly. We don’t run any kids’ programs at the moment. During our church services we try to have some kind of activity ready in case children do come along.
For now I think it’s important that we remember that our church is a family, and that means that all ages are welcome and all ages are included. We are focusing on learning together and fellowshipping together. We try to hold regular interactive services that everyone can participate in, and also fun events like games nights and picnic days. We want to create a place where we meet together as a family and enjoy the fun, mess, chaos and silliness that entails.
We recognise that our church family has been stripped back to a small group and in many ways we are the kernel of what God’s church is going to be here at Macquarie Fields. Children and family ministry is something we value and something we’re keen to see grow, but all that takes time and energy and we just don’t have the resources those ministries deserve at the moment. For now we are praying that God leads us into the future he is planning for us and we are waiting on him to see where he’ll take our church. We are keen that all ages come along for the ride.
LOWER CLARENCE BAPTIST – A heart for the future.
We are going forward very positively. We have around 40 at our morning service, which includes 4 primary school age children and about 6 teenagers. We have a monthly teenagers (Saturday evening) activity and get around 8-12 at it. The key here is a real heart for kids. An attitude of preparing for the future, rather than just looking after those who are here now.
We have also combined with other churches to provide SRE full time in the local high school. We couldn’t do that alone, but when we join with the other churches we can have a big impact.
PAMBULA BAPTIST – Stepping out and trying something new.
Pambula Baptist is not that small in some ways with nearly 100 adults, but there are only about 6 school age kids who are part of the church. This year we decided to step out and try hosting a kids club in the July school holidays. It was fully booked a month out with 50 children. At the end we ran a families bbq lunch. Georges River Baptist Church shared resource ideas and we had 20 volunteers from the church. The feedback from the community was so positive! We will be following up with a family camp out in October. We are excited to see what God has in store for the future.