This post by Published Anonymously was originally published at Seventy Two
Jane joined our church about 5 years ago, she was shy but got involved in some creative elements of the church. About a year later she met James, they started dating, but there were some issues, mainly around his divorce not being finalised and some questions she had about his intentions. He also joined the church, and after counselling both to hold off on marriage until he had time to process his divorce they eventually got married, which I officiated.
Not long after, they announced a pregnancy. It was a turbulent time, the pregnancy was not a simple one, but eventually the baby was born premature. Many people in the church community were involved in supporting the family through this time. We did a dedication for the baby a month or so before the government locked the country down and forced us all online.
We are now back in the building and the baby is now a two-year-old, very energetic toddler. Currently we have not got our kids groups back, and some of the people who have volunteered previously have taken a step back. We are a small church and we have limited resources, we do have families that come which means we can have around 5 children on a Sunday, but mostly there are just two. The two-year-old and a five-year-old. Providing weekly children’s groups would mean two people take out of the service each week. We don’t have two people for that every week.
We have now scraped together a small team and said once a month we can offer something, but the mum and dad are part of that team. Apparently for them, this is not enough, they have already told me that they are looking at the church “down the road” that can offer them more.
In my decade at the church, I have been here before. Families that have been central to the church are now spread across the bigger churches in the city. Choosing to drop their church family like a stone when they are no longer being served.
We as a church are quite happy with children in the service, and most are quite happy with a robust two-year-old’s occasional screams, but the family say they are not being fed, they are not getting anything out of Sundays. I can see why, and although I would love to help them more, the simple problem is – we can’t, so I am resigned to losing them, as we have lost so many more!
I look online and see other churches with teams of volunteers all dressed in their team uniforms, or a paid children’s worker, ready to take the kids away. And while we love the kids in our services, and think they make a vital contribution to church life, I would love to be able to provide something that keeps families in our church.
We are not alone, across the country there are smaller church facing the same crisis, wanting to be available to families but without the volunteers to provide the groups. So, they like us, know that there will come a time when young families in the church will start to indicate that that are looking around. This is even more poignant in areas of high deprivation, when we see the families disappear to “successful” churches a few minutes up the road.
We then wonder why some smaller churches gradually get old and die. We say it’s because they weren’t outward looking enough, missional enough, but the reality is that many smaller churches will die because too many Christians see church as a place that serves their needs rather a place where they exercise their gifts. Sadly, in many parts of our nation, urban inner city, rural and seaside towns, we have many areas that will become de-churched over the next decade, often these are the places where a church that is supposed to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and preach Good News to the poor, should be, but we have failed to live by that example, and the failure is most acute when a baby appears and suddenly “our” needs overtake the mission and ministry we are called to.
The danger is that more and more families are going to end up in fewer and fewer churches. Meanwhile churches on the margins or in deprived communities will gradually get older and die. If we are truly to follow Jesus, and to live in cross shaped ways, sometimes that may include taking our families into places that are uncomfortable, and that may mean rather than complaining about the lack of resource, trying to be part of the solution. How different might things be if families with older children relocated to churches with very little children’s work and were prepared to live and serve the community by looking after the children?
As a small church we often bemoan the lack of musicians or preachers, but it seems that it’s the lack of children’s work that will ultimately limit our missional impact.
**names have been changed***