It comes up in a lot of church meetings. When we discuss ways to help reach a new generation with the gospel, it doesn’t take long to get to the topic of shifting priorities. Over and over, we discuss how church is no longer a priority, especially for parents of school-age children. We bemoan the fact that parents are so busy running their kids around to games, practices, lessons and events that they can’t find time to bring them to church. The conversation always finds it way to sports activities taking place on Sunday mornings and the myriad of activities that have killed any chance for mid-week programs.
As a person of the church and as a parent, I have a suggestion:
Let’s start by giving the parents a break.
What if started this conversation by remembering that, for parents, this is a real struggle. I am sure that parenting has been tough since the very beginning (for the Bible tells me so… refer to Genesis.) I am immensely grateful that I don’t have to hunt or scavenge for food to feed my kids and that I am not particularly concerned about a warring tribe attacking our village. Parents, since the beginning, have wanted what was best for their offspring. I think, in our current era, that has become confusing. We are bombarded by information about what our children need to have full, vibrant, abundant lives. There are reports on the importance of early childhood education, the role of sports in social and physical development, the proper mix of structured and unstructured play. As a parent, the internet has convinced me that I have likely messed up my kids beyond repair, and I better get with it if they are ever going to have a chance at survival.
For the first time since becoming a parent, I don’t work at a local church. Working at a church incentivizes keeping your kids active in church activities. Often, I needed to be there regardless, so it was a treat to have my kids around. But now that it is completely my choice, I realize exactly how difficult it is.
I think we need to ask ourselves a question:
“Are we demonstrating to parents that church is important for our children?”
The church worked many years to make sure church was fun for our kids. But did we succeed in demonstrating any positive effect? I believe we have tried guilt. We sought to prove that it was just wrong to keep our kids away from church. But have we demonstrated that church participation would have a positive impact on the lives of children and families? Have we designed programs with that sort of impact in mind?
Someone will surely counter with, “It is about their eternal souls!” Alright, but as United Methodists, we also claim to believe in a change that takes place in a believer in this lifetime. Do we talk about that when it comes to children?
As Methodists, why is it important for kids to come to church? Is it? Is drawing them in just a tool to get their parents to come? Would that be a bad thing? If it is important, are we helping parents as they struggle through the choices of being a modern parent? Are we helping them wade through all this commitment?
Maybe we are. Maybe we are not. But, if we want to see kids and families growing in discipleship at our churches, we might consider changing the conversation. Maybe it is time to stop blaming sports, blaming priorities and blaming parents. Who knows, maybe they are to blame. But first, I think we ned to ask the question,
“Are we, as the church, doing all we can to demonstrate that church is important to them and their children?”