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The Children’s Ministry Doesn’t Replace Ministry to Children

The Children’s Ministry Doesn’t Replace Ministry to Children

Churches see youth who enter the building as their responsibility, but pay little attention to neglected children in the community.  Scriptures are clear that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).  Jesus healed kids, fed kids, raised kids from the dead, blessed them, prayed for them, welcomed them and repeatedly emphasized that adults should be more like them (Mark 10:15).  Children hold a special place in Christ’s heart.  Yet few churches have school partnerships, foster care programs, or ministries to mentor troubled youth.

Churches invest significant amounts in their children’s ministries, but hardly spend a dime building ministries to reach out to kids who are highly unlikely to darken a church door.  Public schools aren’t expecting churches to help, juvenile delinquents congregate on the streets rather than in church pews, and foster care ministries struggle to get churches to engage with them.  “They” are out there but “we” are in here.

Look at how the (approximate) numbers in the U.S. stack up:

  • 400,000 Christian churches
  • 100,000 public schools
  • 400,000 orphans
  • 500,000 juveniles brought to detention centers in a given year
  • 1,000,000 youth arrested annually

There are 4 churches for every school, 1 church for every orphan and nearly 1 church for every detained minor.  If only a small fraction of churches did their fair share maybe truancy, grade-level literacy, child neglect and youth incarceration would be far less pervasive in our nation.  Jesus’ modeled, ordained and commanded ministry to children, not just children’s ministries.  That’s why the dearth of church partnerships with schools, orphanages, juvenile courts, and community centers makes you question why churches throw so much time, energy and money into KingdomKids, DiscoveryZone or JourneyLand.

In other words, if churches truly care so much for children, why aren’t more churches out there caring for children?  I’ve been in many church staff meetings and seen the emphasis placed on building first-rate children’s ministries to attract young families.   I’ve seen that strategy implemented to rejuvenate aging churches, replacing elderly retirees with income-earning parents.  I’ve driven past countless bounce houses at churches, walked into rooms filled with video games, and watched churches replace my son’s memory verses with candy bars.  The general trend is toward teaching kids less and entertaining them more, lending credence to the theory that most churches view their children’s ministries as execution of a strategy and not fulfillment of a mandate.

Assuming parents of kids who go to church are less likely to mistreat their children and more apt to share the Gospel with them, churches find themselves taking care of kids…

  • with fewer emotional needs, while ignoring those crying out for help
  • enduring little physical abuse, while neglecting those suffering in silence
  • who already know about Jesus, while missing opportunities to witness to those who don’t

By choosing to look after children who have parents and attend church, who are in far less distress than their orphaned and unchurched counterparts, churches are failing to practice “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless”.  To atone for that (conscious or subliminal) misstep, churches check the box by doing an annual collection or service day at a children’s home.

It’s Your Turn

#WhereWouldJesusBe?  He went where the kids were.  He didn’t wait for them to show up at the temple.   Given Jesus’ example and commands, which are spelled out so clearly and frequently, how do churches not see the welfare of neglected children in the community as their responsibility?  Do you agree with us that they developed this blind spot by redefining church as a “place” and members as “customers”?


6 Responses

  1. Thank you Jim for exposing this blind spot … important implications for outward focused congregations.

  2. Simple answer. Because CHURCH kids may likely turn into tithe paying adult members, so there is a tangible return on investment. Whereas, community kids’ parents dont attend the chuch, and dont give any financial support. Plus, the kids arent as refined, nor do they adhere to Western Christian cultural ideals and behaviours.

    Same reason most church plants in America are in the areas of the LEAST need. Alluent, professiona, educated, mostly white demongraphics.

    Same reason missions to the places and peoples of the geatest needs are the lowest priority in most American churches. No ROI.

    1. In our town in liberal Connecticut, we have been able to establish a vibrant partnership with the public school. We offer volunteers for after-school programs aimed at “at risk” kids and have been invited to bring in-school programs as a result. We just show up to help the school people succeed… on the expectation that the Lord will build bridges of trust across which the Gospel can flow. Love them, be trustworthy and respect their boundaries and they will welcome you.

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