This article is from Dustin Lampe, Lead Pastor of one of GCI’s congregations in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Last winter, Grace Communion Seminary (GCS) offered its youth ministry course as a short-term “intensive.” I took part, and left inspired to make the youth and children within the congregation I pastor (Christ Fellowship Church) more visible. The statement in the course that inspired me to change my approach was this: “The youth are not the church of tomorrow, but the church now.”
The goal of the GCS course was to help us see the church as a family in which all the members are important, involved, heard and respected. During the intensive, we discussed how to bring this concept out of the realm of theory into the lives of children, youth and adults in a church that values and loves them.
Recently, I witnessed some of what I learned at the intensive being translated into tangible church ministry. The idea that was developed in the course was that if the youth are the church now, we should connect the adults in the congregation to the things that are important to the youth who attend. In my congregation, we were already working to connect adults in the church to adults in the surrounding community. But we had to ask ourselves, “Do we know how to connect the children in our church to the adults in our church?” The answer was clear—many of the adults in our church do not know our kids in a personal way. So we asked, “Why?” The answer was not that our adults do not care for the kids, it was that they do not know what to say to the kids.
To facilitate these adult-to-kid connections, our youth ministry leaders turned our attention to what matters to our children. They pointed out that our kids are involved in various events outside church. These events are important to the kids, and our adult members can show love to the them by talking with them about the events and also by attending with them. To help that happen, we posted in our fellowship area a “church family calendar of events.” We then asked families with kids to write down their children’s events on the calendar. One of our newer families with children posted their six-year-old daughter’s dance recital. Though I would be out of town that day, I let the congregation know about the recital via email. The afternoon after the recital, I received an excited text from the girl’s mother: “My daughter did well, thank you so much for the support!” I assumed this meant that some of my adult members attended. Unfortunately, that was not the case. However, many of the adults in the church had asked the girl how the event went and rejoiced with her about her performance. The older generation in my congregation is beginning to build stronger relationships with the younger generation. Mission accomplished!
As an older congregation, we have tended to view ourselves as having “a leg down” on churches with more children and better, bigger children’s programs. But we have some good news—we are seeing a turnaround and some growth in our children’s ministry! Due to applying the belief that the children are the church now, we are learning that a lack of young adults and children is not a disadvantage to growing our children’s ministry. The advantage kids have in coming to our small church is that they are surrounded by church aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas who will love them and their parents with the love of Christ.