The other day I was speaking with my daughter (11 years old) about our neighbors. “I really like them,” she said. “Me too! Why do you like them?” I asked. “Because when I talk, they listen to me.” she replied.
It was an interesting response. From a mom’s perspective, I thought that we, her parents, did a pretty good job of listening when she talked and I never really felt like her voice went unheard, but obviously, these particular neighbors stood out to her as unusual. So I asked her about that. Her response was convicting.
“Well, yeah, other people listen but most adults only listen halfway. They don’t really care about what you are saying. They are just polite and listen because they have to. But (our neighbors) really listen. They ask questions and they laugh and they treat me like an adult. I like being heard. It feels good. It feels like I belong.”
Her words struck me. Over the past few years, as I’ve researched and written for this blog and for classes, one theme kept coming up over and over again in regards to why young adults left the church behind when they went to college – they didn’t feel like they belonged. They felt like they belonged in children’s ministry when they were little. They felt like they belonged when they were in youth ministry as teenagers. But once they were in “big church” they felt out of place, disoriented, like strangers in a familiar place but one where they didn’t belong.
This feeling or sense of not belonging could stem from many things.
If the only experience that children or youth have within a church is in age-segregated ministries, then the sense of not belonging in “big church” makes sense.
If children and youth do not have the opportunity to meet and interact with the larger faith community or the chance to worship with or even have their name known by the adults in the congregation, that also makes sense.
But what if the kids have been in some way a part of the corporate gathering and what if their names are known by the congregation? Could it be possible that what we are missing is their voice?
Is there a place in our faith community where our children and youth can talk and really be heard?
Is there a space for them to know that the person or persons they are talking to aren’t just listening to be polite but listening because they care? ‘
Do they know that they belong?
These questions, while challenging, are fair to ask. After all, Jesus tells us that we should be learning from children (Mt. 18:1-5) and that we are to welcome children (Mk. 10:13-16) but often children, even if they are included in the corporate gathering, aren’t given a chance to speak.
Last Sunday at our church, we nearly ended our service without the children having a
chance to speak, until a member spoke up at the end of service and said, “Don’t forget to let the children tell us what they learned!” And we did. And they loved it. And I was struck in that moment to realize that, however unintentionally, we had created a culture where the children were expected to have a voice, to belong. I wish we could say we had done that intentionally, especially as I reflect on my daughter’s words of belonging, but I’m grateful that nevertheless it is an expected part of our church plant.
That being said, I’ve served in churches of various sizes and know that space, time, and the flow of service don’t always allow for these types of promptings. Here are some ways that larger churches may want to consider creating space for the voices of children and youth to be heard.
Display their work
Children love to show off their artwork. If you’ve ever gone to a parent night at school, you’ll find the hallways filled with examples of student work and if you go with your child, you will need to find theirs and let them talk about it.
What if in church, we created the same opportunity for conversation by displaying the kid’s artwork, not in the children’s ministry wing, but in the space frequented by the adults, thus opening the door for conversation between young and old?
Give them a voice
Churches are great at making committees. Come on, you know it’s true! What if each time a committee is created or established, a “youth” chair is automatically a part of the plan? Create a space where older youth can sit and be a part of the discussions that guide the church. Let them know their voice is a needed part of church growth and development by giving them an actual voice in those areas.
Open the pulpit
Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have come from kids and youth. As children and youth pastors, we have the great privilege of hearing those stories, but often the other members of our congregation do not.
What if we intentionally invited those kids and youth who have stories to share the opportunity to share what they’ve learned with the larger congregation? Even if it is something “we” already know? Peter tells us to “stir one another up by way of reminder” and who better to stir us up than the next generation?
Listen. Just listen
Ultimately, that was what made my daughter feel like she belonged. She felt heard. They listened. It was really that simple. If there is room for their voices, I believe the children and youth will speak. But that won’t do any good if we don’t listen. Truly listen with all that we have, not passively because we have to, but actively because we want to.
There’s no silver bullet for reversing the trend of young adults leaving the church, but there are lots of opportunities for us to improve. Listening to our children and making space for their voice to be heard could be one really big area. Let’s give them a voice.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed
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