The Reformed Church on the Sunshine Coast
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A lot of families, when they’re searching for a church, base their decision in large part on the children and youth ministries of the prospective church. As loving parents, they want a church in which their children will be well nurtured in the faith.
So I’m happy to say that at Grace Covenant Church we have the most effective children and youth ministries in the world! At the same time, we have very minimal children and youth ministries! How do those two fit together?
Well, it turns out that the very structured and busy programs that many people think will be the most effective at nurturing their children, and what actually nurtures children in the faith, aren’t the same. In fact, the structured and busy programs might actually hinder more than they help.
Let me describe our youth ministry before I explain why the typical youth program can actually get in the way.
A number of studies1 have shown that children who stay faithful into adulthood have a number of things in common. Three huge ones are: parental nurture, intergenerational worship, and meaningful relationships with Christian adults other than their parents (‘family friends’). In biblical words, parents are nurturing their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), children are worshiping on Sunday mornings together with everyone else,2 and the older generation is coming alongside the parents to help nurture the younger generation.3
What this looks like at Grace Covenant Church is that parents are encouraged to lead their families in instruction and family devotions at home, children and youth are with the adults during the worship services on Sunday mornings as they worship God together, and older members are intentional about knowing and encouraging the children both at church and also when their families visit together outside of the worship service. It’s simple but biblical, and the most effective children and youth ministries in the world!
Now here’s how a typical youth program can actually hinder more than it helps. We live in an extremely busy culture and our children often have activities scheduled for many nights of the week. Which makes it harder and harder for parents to have the time to instruct and nurture their children in family devotions, and harder and harder for families to spend time with other Christian families who can also know and encourage their children. We’re so busy. So when the youth program takes up another night or two of the week, it just compounds the problem. Or when the youth ministry has its own worship services, separated from the other generations, separated from the very thing they need – to worship God together. So it’s no surprise that youth leave the church of their parents – that’s what they do every Sunday morning!
Children and youth ministries need to be simpler, not busier. More biblical and more effective. At Grace Covenant Church, we are a congregation of young and old, worshiping and serving God our Savior together.
1 See Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press), 226-27; the interview with Kara Powell at http://collegeandseminary.com/college-life/the-1-reason-why-college-students-leave-the-church-could-surprise-you/; You Are What You Love, 154.
2 For example, in Colossians 3:20 and Ephesians 6:1, the children are addressed, indicating that they would have been worshiping in the congregation when the letter was read.
3 See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Israel as a whole is commanded to teach their children; see also Titus 2:2, 3 and Philippians 2:22).