We must reach the children

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Where are the children? Church observers are noting a decline in the number of children involved with the faith. Generations of smaller families have reduced the youthful age groups in many congregations. Brad Roth writes about the subject in the Doxology Project at Patheos.com, in an article titled The Case for Having More Children in the Church. 

I share Roth's observations and concern. From my viewpoint, many of the churches I know are experiencing aging congregations with corresponding declines in the younger groups. Recently, we had the opportunity to attend services at a church we had attended years ago. The difference was startling. While it was joyful to see familiar faces, I believe everyone there that day, save two or three, was over 40, with many over 60. In our past experience, this congregation had a large proportion of children and teenagers. Those young people have grown up, and in many cases have left the area for opportunities elsewhere. Sad to say, their absence was palpable and heartbreaking.

While there are still congregations with strong, vibrant children and youth populations, it takes some effort to find them. By and large, in my experience (and apparently that of other observers, too) the children and teens are a vanishing component of the body of the Church.

Memories of a generation or two ago bring back concerns of children being drawn away from the church by the lure of television. Oh, to be able to go back to those wonderful times when all parents had to do was go into the living room where they could easily look over the kids' shoulders and see what program was attracting their attention and interest. The fact of easy observation and knowledge of what programming was offered did not lessen the prevailing impression that television was an insidious evil that was stealing the minds and souls of the younger generation.

As we are mid-way through the second decade of a new century, how things have changed. Parents and faith leaders face competition for youths' attention from the internet, social media, gaming, as well as many older distractions and potentially dubious attractions. Along with this competition, the modern education system has moved in directions unfamiliar to parents, and unsettling for older uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Today's youngsters' minds are turbo-charged with information, concepts, and ideas alien to even their older siblings. Smarter kids with smartphones and assorted other gadgets might as well be living on another planet. Left more and more to their own company and their own devices (both kinds), children can be involved in unimaginable experiences, sometimes involving unimaginable people. Simultaneously, young parents already overwhelmed are challenged with new economic norms, a volatile employment environment, and myriad other obstacles unknown to past generations.

Candidly, few churches and congregations are equipped to compete with the subject matter and attractions to be found on a tiny telephone screen. As a practical matter, by the time churches and resource providers catch onto a trend or fashionable digital media offering and then work it up into a program or project for youthful congregants, the tide has turned and what had been the 'new thing' is forgotten and something totally different has taken its place.

This subject is too important and ultimately critical for every church. We must share Roth's noting of Matthew 18:5, with the addition of the following verse: "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (KJV).

If this trend continues, the church as we know it, will not exist by the end of this century or much sooner.

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