For Church Leaders: Engaging children and young people in online church

Leaders blog01

STOP PRESS! 29th June- Recent government guidance states that there must be no shared equipment for childcare (so crèche is still unavailable) and childcare needs to comply with Department of Education guidance (so most of our Sunday Schools can not meet in their previous formats). The need remains for our services to engage whole families online and in person.

One pastor, on a recent FIEC webinar, told the story of a couple in his church who spoke to him about lockdown, “We’re absolutely loving Sunday, the kids play quietly and we get both services, morning and evening. The kids are enjoying themselves. We’re enjoying ourselves. It’s wonderful”

The pastor concluded, “We’re going to bring up a generation of children who don’t like church when we return. It’s crucial that people think strategically about what seeds we’re sowing.”

In lockdown, we are sowing seeds. In church, whether in person or online, we are always sowing seeds. The data tells us that it is particularly true with ministry to families.

In a 2017 survey, 75% of practising British Christians said they came to faith under the age of 18 years old; 56% when they were under 11. Picture your church family, as hard as that is right now, and ponder that half of those people (probably) say they came to saving faith before their 11th birthday. Will that percentage go up or down in the next generation?

The Bible agrees with the data (Proverbs 22:6). Our children are always learning, always forming habits and always watching their parents’ decisions.

Lockdown can be an opportunity for our children, in particular. Here are some thoughts on squeezing value out of our online services for our families. Most of these points will still apply when we start gathering together again.

  • Engaging children in our services does not need to mean excluding all others. Our services should not become childish or child-focused. In fact, that would be deeply unhelpful for the children. We want them to learn how to become full members of the church family. So we want them to join us in “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
  • Children are ‘concrete’ thinkers. It is not until the teenage years that our young people are confident conceptual thinkers. Until then, we need to give practical examples, visual illustrations, props and stories for every concept we introduce. Most adults will thank us for making the Word flesh in this way.
  • Give the service a very clear single big idea. Introduce it clearly at the start. Don’t surprise us with it at the end. Tell us some of the ways that today’s big idea matters to our lives soon after your welcome. Make the big idea practical, applied and ‘concrete’ from the start and continue throughout the service. Make the link to the songs. Ensure the prayers feature the big idea prayed-in. Consider splitting your talk into two or three sections, with each section clearly tied to the big idea.
  • As you preach, signpost for us what you are doing. “If you miss everything else, please notice that…” “I find this big idea hard to understand, so I think of it like this…” “What would I say to someone who wasn’t yet a Christian?”
  • As you apply the key truth to our hearts, give us an examples of what it might mean for a few age groups. Just as you would give us an example for those who are not yet Christians, or those who go out to work, speak directly to different age groups. It may help to remember that under 8s are mostly concerned with what is true and good while over 8s need to be convinced of the relevance to their lives. Teenagers are suspicious that Christianity can’t actually be lived in the face of hostility, so they need to hear about the objections and see how the Christ-like life is better and more beautiful.
  • Finish with two or three questions for families (and everyone else) to talk about for less than 5 minutes afterwards. A couple of manageable, simple, applied questions will grow confidence that Christ can be the centre of normal conversation.

It looks likely that the first gatherings of our churches will require children to be in the service sat with their parents, so let’s get used to this. Let’s use this opportunity to train our families to enjoy church together, because we may be doing this for quite some time. God bless you in it.

Ed Drew