Post pandemic there has been a noticeable shift in children and in children’s ministries. We must adapt to this shift if we are to be effective with this generation.
When I travel places, instead of seeing a group of children ready to learn and engage with God, I meet a group of children who need more time to warm to me. Or perhaps I should say I meet two groups of children. One group are bouncing and wired, ready to run, shout and go crazy but not quite ready to listen. The other group, in the same room, are sat quietly, as close to the edge as we allow them, and refusing to engage with anything.
The challenge is that each child requires a different kind of support. One child needs the programme to be loud and fast moving so that they can engage, the other needs it to be quiet and slow moving before they can feel confident to participate. Community takes time to build. It takes longer for those who are feeling stretched simply by being in the same room as others (part of the longer social challenges that a significant minority of children are facing post pandemic).
Schools are finding similar challenges with more and more children being diagnosed with additional needs and requiring extra support of some form. It’s as if each child needs their own personal lesson, delivered in their own personal way so that they can engage.
And this is right. This is how it should be. Every child matters to God and while we were made to live in community, we were not made to be a nameless member of a crowd, unknown by those around us. It has never been a case of one size fits all, it has been more a case of one size is good enough to help most people. But now that is not the case.
So what can we do?
There are definitely some practical things we can do.
Perhaps diet is an issue. I know we had one child who would come to church so wired that he could not sit still and was incapable of not disrupting the class. As we spoke to his parents we discovered that they had a lovely family routine on a Sunday where they went to eat junk food followed by sweets before coming to church. When he changed his pre-service diet, his behaviour rapidly changed too!
For another child, they seem unable to follow instructions. They spend multiple hours playing computer games. Their social skills are hindered and their attention span has been reduced. Helping them to disconnect, making our teaching interactive and bite sized will help them.
For other children their brain is simply wired differently. To absorb information they need it presented in a way they can grab it. For these neurodivergent children it is not about changing their environment to aid them, it is about changing our teaching style to include them so that they can engage.
For some group we will need to help children to gradually grow their attention span, for other they will need help to relax so they can enjoy the programme.
And so it goes on.
Which leaves us with a challenge.
While the one size fits all approach has worked to varying degrees over the years, it will definitely not work now. How can we effectively meet the needs of every child in our groups? Where do we even start?
Clearly there are some things we can do in terms of making sure we have a good ratio of leaders to children available, who are trained in looking after a variety of needs. We can also ensure our programme covers all the learning styles, giving space for children to process in small groups.
But I’m left wondering what the ideal would be. If we had a blank sheet of paper, what would be the most effective and efficient way of discipling this generation. Here’s my idea:
What if each child has a personal discipler who knew them well? Someone who not only knew how they learn and engage, but also knew when the best time was for them to encounter God. Someone who could read their facial expressions to know whether they needed more time to process and hear from God or needed a change of activity immediately. What if each child had a trusted adult they could turn to, no matter what they were facing?
Surely this kind of individualized approach is the heart of God – Namely, that every child is seen, heard and valued for who they are? I answer this with a resounding YES. This is exactly what God wants and we must transition to this model of discipleship immediately if we are to be effective.
I propose that we patent this new model of group learning and introduce it into every church. This group is able to faithfully adapt to meet the individual needs of these learning young ones. Or to shorten it, this is the group that is the Faithful Adaptation for Meeting Individualized Learning of Youngsters. Or to shorten it further F.A.M.I.L.Y.
This is God’s design. This is God’s way. This is what works.
Now before we think about the families who can’t do this I want to point out two things:
Firstly, families do not have to be perfect to be effective. Just look at the Israelites in the desert – parents who refused to obey God and enter the promised land were the ones who God tasked with the job of preparing their children to obey God and enter the promised land! I would have thought Moses, Joshua and Caleb were better qualified to teach a generation to obey. The job of running Sabbath School and training the children to live for God should have been given to them. But God thought using the parents in groups called family was the best way. And God was right! We know that because it was their children who entered the promised land led by Joshua.
Secondly, it is never meant to be families in isolation of community, rather it is family supported by the wider community. Some families will need more support, some will be able to support others, but this is what the body of Christ is like. The fact that some parents are unable to do does not negate that God chooses to put children into family to be raised. This is counter cultural to the direction of travel in many nations where the state is taking on more and more responsibility for the raising of children. But we, the church, are called to be kingdom cultured and that means sometimes we go against the flow of the culture we live in.
Parents may not be the experts on the Bible, prayer or anything else compared to others in the church. But they are the experts on their children. It may be hard to adapt teaching for a group of 20 children, but it is definitely possible to do it for 2, especially with so many great resources available to families.
Every family can become this discipleship making centre. Some will require more support than others, but all can do it. Here at Children Can we have developed a number of our resources to help parents disciple their children, including our At Home with God TV show and book.
So, join in this revolution with me and bolster this individualized programme in your home and church. The F.A.M.I.L.Y.