By Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage
Yes, thanks. Hello. It’s me. I’m a kid in your church. Nice to meet you.
I’m sure you’ve seen me before. I’m the one who sits with my family in front of you in worship every Sunday. Remember that blur you saw running around the fellowship hall at the church potluck dinner last week? Yours truly. I sang a stellar solo in the children’s choir last month; I’m sure you remember.
Anyway, now that I have your attention, I thought I’d share with you what I need from the church. Because there are a whole lot of ideas out there about what kids need to grow in the faith and stick with the church when we become grown-ups ourselves. Thing is, no one’s bothering to ask us kids what we think. So here are some thoughts to ponder:
Just tell me the Bible story. I know it sounds simple enough, but it’s amazing how complicated this can get. Honestly, I don’t need gimmicks, flash, fluff. If I want entertainment I’ll ask my parents to take me to the movies. I don’t need a Vacation Bible School that “takes me on an Amazon expedition” or involves surfing, camping or clowns. And please, don’t let some random B-rate Bible cartoon video do it for you. I want you to tell me the Bible story. You. Me. The Bible. That’s it.
Remember: I can’t sit still for long. I know, shocker. Don’t blame me; God made me this way. Anyway, just make your story-telling segments a little shorter and cut to the chase, and help me experience the story with as many of my senses as possible. And when it comes to worship, give me something to do – “worship bags” with chenille sticks, or some paper or mandalas and good crayons or markers would be great (although I’d suggest changing them out frequently so I’m not coloring the same picture of Jesus every week).
Give me, at the bare minimum, an hour a month with the pastor. This would be awesome. Because sometimes it feels like you all think that I’m too little or too young for the pastor. Which is just silly, if you ask me (see: scripture on Jesus and the children). So give me time with him or her. Let them tell me a Bible story or take me on a nature walk or just have doughnuts with me. You tell me all the time how important the pastor is. Well, I’m important too; so it’d be the perfect match, right?
My best adult teachers/leaders/volunteers are the ones that I KNOW care about me. Makes sense. Because they’re not there out of some sense of obligation, or because they were guilted into it by a desperate teacher recruitment committee member. They’re there because they want to be there, because they genuinely like me. And because they like me, they tell the stories better, play the games better, teach better. So I learn more. And I make an adult friend too. Because I really like it when someone calls me by name and says “HI!” The don’t have to comment on how cute I look, just call my name in a nice voice.
Give me some responsibility in the church. See, here’s the thing: you expect me to be a bystander in church until I hit some age (18? 22?) when voila!, I’m suddenly supposed to dive in and do everything. Honestly, that’s silly. If you want me to grow up committed to and participating in the life of the church, you need to empower me to do that now. I’d make a great usher on Sunday morning. I know I could help serve food at the weekly homeless meal if you’d be there to help me.
I like to be with my family and all ages together in worship. There’s this tradition a lot of churches have in worship of escorting the kids out to some remote location following the “Children’s Time.” Personally, I’m not a fan. You think I don’t want to be in worship during the sermon because it’s “boring.” I actually listen to what they say and it sticks with me – as you are well aware in other contexts, I’m great at remembering everything you adults say. All things being equal, I’d rather stay in worship with my church family – we call ourselves a family, right? I might get a little antsy (worship bags will help). But I promise you I won’t fall asleep like that dude in front of me every week. Surely you’ve seen him.
So that’s it, I guess. Mainly just focus on telling the story and letting that be the focus. If you do that, I have a pretty good feeling I’ll stick around in church for a long time.
Steve Lindsley is Pastor/Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Mount Airy, NC. Lynn Turnage is Director of Children and Family Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.