“Children are the future of the church.” If you’re a churchy type you’ve probably heard that. Maybe even said it.
My own denomination, the United Church of Christ, which publishes this blog, used that phrase a few days ago. In tweeting out a great article about bringing kids to church, the UCC referred to young children as the future of the church.
Children are not the future of the church. Children are the present of the church.
Referring to kids as “the future” makes them sound like a commodity. It sounds like old(er) people saying, “We’ve got to have some younger whipper snappers around to take care of us in our old age (or take care of our institution).”
Or, “If you grow up and come back to church, you’ll have been worth it. Otherwise, nah.”
The kids-as-the-future approach seems to value young persons for who they may be tomorrow or what they do down the road, not who they are and the abilities they have in the moment.
Remember Joe Camel? He was the mascot for the cigarette brand, R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco company that produces Camel cigarettes allegedly used Joe Camel to target children as future smokers.
Okay, targeting kids as the future of the church is not as bad as targeting kids as future smokers, but the kids-as-future-church members idea sounds a little bit like that kind of marketing plan. It treat kids in a transactional kind of way.
The church can do better. We can recognize kids as the present.
Kids are not at church just to be taught skills for the future by adults. Adults can learn from kids. Try it sometime.
Here are five ideas:
- If you are a grown up, volunteer in Sunday School. Sure, prepare the lesson, have the craft ready to go, make sure good snacks are on hand. But don’t just go follow the curriculum. If you read a Bible story, say to the kids, “I wonder how the Samaritan felt,” or “I wonder how that story makes you feel.”Then listen to them.
- Sit near a family with kids. Draw funny pictures of the preacher on your bulletin, and pass it down the row to the kids. (I’m a preacher; it’s okay, I promise.)See how the children react. When you sing, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” ask a child after church what an “Ebenezer” is. (When you find out, email me.)
- Don’t have a Children’s Sunday. Have children’s Sundays. All the time. Ask a third grader to read the scripture. Invite a fifth grader to play a recorder. Let the first graders collect the offering. Don’t just do it on special occasions, or you run the risk of producing “look-how-cute-they-are” talent shows. Do it often so that their gifts are ongoing parts of the life of our community.
- Find two or three other adults (in accordance with your church’s safe child policy – you have one, right?) and take a group of kids out to lunch or to get ice cream. Their parents would be thrilled, I promise. Ask the kids questions about school or soccer or God or ponies or movies. Treat the kids like present-day humans.
- When someone says, “Kids are the future of the church,” smile kindly and say, “And they are the present too.”
Timothy Tutt is a wanderer, wonderer, husband, father, laugher, liberal, Texan-by-birth, Washingtonian-by-choice (yep, DC). He is the senior minister at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda. Take a look at his blog ZenTexas.blogspot.com