Are churches missing an opportunity to reach children and youth?
Growing up, I rarely missed church. It was not because I was super spiritual or ultra self-disciplined; we frequently attended church every time the doors were open because my mom was the secretary for our youth minister and she also sang in the choir. If the church was open, our family attended.
Recently, I had the opportunity to read some very compelling thoughts from Elmer L. Towns, the co-founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
I'd like to share a quote from his article “What God is Doing in the World: Observation of the Past Four Years.”
“Jesus chose His disciples, ‘Follow Me.’ However, the church has asked people to adopt a set of principles, practices, rituals, rites, creeds or conducts...Christianity is relating to a person. The heart of Christianity is a relational God who will relate to us. We need to introduce people to Jesus by a living relationship (cells, house churches, family evangelism, etc.).”
As a frequent church attender, I was taught about Jesus, stories and characters from the Bible, and about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I can relate to what Towns stated, learning all of the “principles, practices, rituals, rites, creeds, and conducts.” Yet as a child and youth, I was never taught how to have a vibrant, personal, life-changing, living relationship with Christ or how to have a solid, close community with other believers. And I attended a phenomenal church with a fantastic pastor who was—and still very much is—in tune with his congregation and their spiritual needs.
I think it's easy to assume that vital relationships with Jesus and other believers are being developed through teaching the Bible, Sunday school classes and small groups. What if we are better able to teach our children and youth how to have a vibrant relationship with Christ, and also each other, through active, living application?
I was a leader in both children and youth ministries for many years, and I found a missing ingredient seemed to be encouraging children and youth to view their relationship with God as something to be greatly treasured.
They were always taught that God was magnificent, holy, and awesome, yet were never encouraged to view this most special, incredible relationship as something which had the potential to be the greatest adventure and treasure of their lifetime. I wish I had been taught about God from a limitless perspective of a living, breathing, most creative relationship. I truly regret the years I lost from not understanding how great my relationship with God could be and grow. I count it as a missed opportunity because I could have grown much earlier and ministered to more people had I realized how deeper my relationship with God could be.
The question we need to ask is how do we effectively pique our children's and youth's curiosity about God? We don't want to miss the amazing opportunity to pour into them and teach them how to develop a deeply reverent friendship with God—even at an early age.
Some will never discover or experience this most treasured friendship with God. I know I almost missed it.
Through pivotal moments in my life, I learned how to have a dynamic relationship with God. I knew about God and read His Word while growing up in church, but experiencing God was a whole other ballgame—and a grand adventure.
As I grew closer to God's heart, I found I didn't have to settle for having a 15-30 minute quiet time of praying and reading the Bible and trying to be a good person.
I no longer went “through the motions” of what I was taught...I began to grow in my relationship with the Lord and saw Him in everything—and everywhere. Life took on new meaning, and I found great purpose because, for the first time, I was taught how I could dive deeper into my Christianity which made a tremendous difference in my heart, life and relationship with others. I truly doubt I'd have a ministry today had I not been taught how to have a livingrelationship with God.
As Towns stated, “The heart of Christianity is a relational God who will relate to us.” How many children and students could benefit from – and more importantly, be used by God – by training them to seek...and truly look for...the living God in their everyday lives, and everywhere, and in all things – every second of the day?
When we take the time to share our hearts with the precious upcoming generations, and show them how to love genuinely, delight in and experience God—in and through their lives, families and church—true community is a natural by-product.
With so many amazing pastors, leaders and volunteers in our churches, it's a great time to be alive and an even greater time to make an ongoing impact on the lives of this new generation who will be the upcoming salt and light of the earth.
Kim Niles / Kim Niles is the author of Getting Your Breath Back After Life Knocks It Out of You and is the co-founder of Grief Bites. She is also a writer and partner for YouVersion, a Community Leader at her church, and an inspirational speaker.