It was such a delight to gather in person at Shallowford House 20 months after having to cancel our previous conference on the day due to Covid. We welcomed a number of new members.
We spent time reflecting on the challenging times we have been through and their impact on churches ministry among children. Some themes emerged:
- Families reluctant to come back – have missed their sport etc but not church – WHY? What was wrong with what we were offering before?
- Shorter altogether worship works better now (plus coffee and craft/activity time)
- Outdoor spirituality has found resonance – people are persevering with this
- Poor have got poorer – children’s lives have been most impacted by economic fall out
- Relationships need investing in – time, meals, intention
- People are still working out what is safe for them – eg vulnerable people asking others to take lateral flow test
Sarah Holmes from Liverpool Hope University shared findings of recent research, which was very stimulating and promoted much discussion and reflection.
Some observations of Children’s and Family Ministry:
Marks of Covid – despondent, frustrated, confused teams; reduced teams and funding; segregated ministries; exhausted parents; decreased engagement from parents; some marginalised (eg younger/SEN/no tech access)
Programmes, Resources and Activities – Church Views:
- difficultly connecting with children online – despite how engaging they find technology otherwise…
- Transferring pre-pandemic face to face methods to online platforms didn’t work – training needed to help people devise things for their own context
- Churches struggled to shift their mindsets into new way of ministering – people used to come to us, we now need to (re-)engage with them
- More broadly, churches overlooked children’s work – no people left to run it
- 34% said provision was good
- 66% felt negatively about it (disappointed, frustrated, upset)
- 27% said their child was excluded, isolated, not accommodated by their church
- Limited IG opportunities- limited their access to role models of faith and hindered sense of belonging
- 43% parents reported segregated ministry
- 40% reported ministry to whole family
- 12% said segregated ministry felt detrimental
Reflecting on Programmes and Activities:
- Are they meeting the needs children?
- Are they meeting the needs of parents?
- Are they meeting the needs of churches?
- Are churches asking these questions?!?
- Pre-pandemic 95% parents felt child was affirmed and well received at church (but many did not feel this themselves – felt judged
Spiritual Impacts on Children:
Family faith/church discipleship / faith role models – differing engagement across these 3 areas for different children – what gap filling do we need to think about?
Huge gap they have had – beyond toddler groups what can churches do to bridge this gap? NB have not grown up in church so now alien environment.
Personal domain – how do we help children be activity participants and investigators of faith?
Communal domain – relatively continuous group of people who meet to share themselves and grow in faith and shared values, children need to show their care etc
Thinking about Children in this Era:
- What role do children have in our churches?
- To what extent are children and families valued by congregations and church leadership?
- How is this seen?
- 32% said family spiritual activity increased
- 25% decreased
- 17% grown/enriched
- 10 increased discipleship in home = more intent AI on, more spiritual conversations, faith part of everyday life
- 48% main support was family & Christian friends – informal structures
- 18% said church, 8% said school nb churches said main focus was supporting families!
What churches think Christian parents wanted:
- 29% reconnect with church
- 15% support from church
- 15% encouragement
- 26% support to grow Christian faith in the home – nb does not match ongoing activities!
Church seen as service provider rather than partner in children’s faith development
What do Christian parents want from church?
- 50% to support parent nurturing their children’s faith
- 25% to reinforce parental nurture of children’s faith
- Less than 1% to take complete responsibility to nurture children’s faith
Working in partnership with parents:
- 3000 hours per year away time – in church for 40 hours per year
- Team around the Child in church – who is part of this?
A strategy moving ahead:
- 68% churches leader said no set/formal vision/strategy for children’s ministry
- Less than 2% said that they did
- 13% returned to pre-pandemic activity
- 8% said their strategy was to recruit more team
- Others listed hinderances (financial pressures, burned out parents. Church disagreement, church not great at planning ahead…)
What is the role of church? Provider, place to belong, place to serve, partner? How can churches genuinely listen to the needs of children, families and schools?
The way forward
We enjoyed some social time together, catching up on our different contexts and experiences of the past 20 years. We spent time reflecting on our sharing and learning and considering the way ahead for our own contexts and for children’s ministry more broadly.
All churches and organisations have ‘more important things’ that push children down the agenda. How might we work to resource and connect children and those working with them with the key issues the church is wrestling with – environment, racism, gender, sexuality?
Can CMN have a conversation with Safeguarding about Intergenerational ministry and the vital importance of enabling informal relationships to develop and flourish? Do we want to include youth in this?
Working to support grandparents as key people in the faith development of children – could this be a joint piece of work?
CMN Business meeting:
Normal pattern of a 24 hour gathering and 48 hour conference to explore something more deeply each year – now proposing zoom catchups in between these.
Environment – children and grandchildren will live the consequences of the decisions we make today – same with the church
How do we amplify the voice of children and children’s ministry in the church through CMN? Encouragement to feedback to our own organisations and CTBI after each gathering.
- Now called Essentials for Ministry
- 3 groups working on developing this for youth, children & family/intergenerational ministry
- Each covering 10 topics – insights, personal development, skills – in 10 sessions
- Blended learning approach – tutor led groups with online support
New CMN website launched – Suzi been developing this.
Grateful thanks to everyone involved in setting up this gathering, and looking forward to the next one, with hopefully even wider representation from all the member churches and organisations. Everyone valued the peer space for sharing, learning and reflection.