Members from rural and urban United Methodist churches gathered on Zoom for the Wednesday Webinar on December 9, 2020 to learn ways to connect with children and youth. The event was hosted by the Conference Council on Young People’s Ministry and the Children’s Task Force.
Guest speaker, Rev. Kevin Johnson, Director of Children’s Ministries with the UM General Board of Discipleship presented “The Top 10 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Connection with Children and Youth.”
“It’s not about a curriculum, it’s not about a program,” states Johnson asking churches to consider how they can be counter-cultural to reach of goal of children faith formation.
“…it’s about shifting the culture, thinking of the children first.”
“Children of today have a different perspective,” states Johnson. He asks churches to consider diversity as something commonplace and to embrace the openness and receptivity to newness that children have naturally. “Engage with an attitude of grace, and humility of openness to different ideas, and receptiveness to something new… to seek to gain understanding from one another.”
As another way to build connection, Johnson discusses ways to listen to children and youth.
“Listening involves flexibility,” states Johnson. “We need to remove the assumptions. And for some of us this means that we must rearrange your faith understanding as an adult. Kids might hear the stories that you’ve heard over and over and over, and [you] feel like you know there is only one way to tell the story, but to a child there is a whole other way of interpreting [it]—we need to embrace that reciprocal way of learning and challenge our faith development as well.”
Johnson went on to explain the importance of teaching children biblical concepts and a larger faith vocabulary. Johnson asks churches to be “Deep and Simple” by not avoiding difficult topics and to teach at the child’s developmental level.
“It’s not just picking verses that are easy to understand,” states Johnson. “sometimes we read the Bible like Old MacDonald—here a verse, there a verse … and we don’t understand the whole cannon of Scripture.”
“The goal for children’s faith formation requires a familiarity with the entire Bible,” adds Johnson. He also emphasized the need for leaders to share their own faith stories. And, explains Johnson, it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” A leader may add that they can work together, alongside the child, to discover answers.
To connect with children and youth involves a “Show and Tell” model of practicing faith. Adults need to show their faith through active participation in justice and service activities. Then, they need to explain what they are doing and why. Johnson asks, “Do we practice the kind of faith we want our children to have?”
Children need to learn and develop their faith by having it reinforced in the home. Finding ways to help families practice their faith at home during the week is vital. “You can’t do faith only on Sunday mornings—for just a few hours each week,” states Johnson. “You gotta do it at home as well… live it out and learn from it and develop it.”
“We also need to empower and let the parents and caregivers be equipped and be involved,” adds Johnson who asks churches to think about offering intergenerational activities similar to the Messy Church model (https://messychurchusa.org). Johnson explains that not all adults grew up in the church or attended Sunday School. “Parents and caregivers need our support … they don’t have all the tools they need.”
Johnson asks churches to think of ways to empower children to lead.
“Trust the children that they’re spiritual beings, let them pray,” states Johnson relating a story of an SPRC chair who was moved to tears by a six-year-old praying in front of the congregation. “It wasn’t cute, it wasn’t funny, it was powerful, and it was moving. And that’s the way you empower the kids.”
The church can connect with children and youth even when there are none in their church by investigating their local neighborhoods.
“Get out of the church location and notice where are the kids are in your neighborhood,” states Johnson. “and ‘Who are they?’ ” Churches can partner with nearby schools or reach out to families in neighborhood apartments.
“Let’s stop fixing churches,” states Johnson. “and start seeing the people God calls us to reach.”
For more information on the Children’s Ministries with the UM General Board of Discipleship go to their website at https://www.seeallthepeople.org/
Other resources listed during the webinar included an Upper Room devotion website for teens at https://devozine.upperroom.org/
And a child narrated Nativity story by Christmas According to Kids - Southland Christian Church
The Children’s Task Force will be conducting a survey of the churches in the California Nevada Annual Conference beginning January 13, 2021. The survey will consist of questions about the children and youth ministry in local churches during 2019. The online form will be sent to all pastors.
“Although we are asking the "point person" for the children's ministry or youth ministry to answer the survey,” states Rev. Jaekuk Jo, Associate Pastor at Korean UMC of Santa Clara Valley and heading up the subcommittee developing the survey. “We encourage the survey to be taken in consultation or with the senior pastor.”
For more information, contact on this survey contact Catharine Morris, chair of the Children’s Task Force at email@example.com or Rev. Dr. Fel Cao, Director of Young People’s Ministry, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This webinar and the PowerPoint presentation is available at cnumc.org