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The elephant in the room

Children's ministry is changing but have most churches failed to notice? This month the Barnabas Children's Ministry Team asks some provocative questions about the future of our work with children. What do you think?

Over the past 10 years there have been huge changes that have affected all of us. The explosive rise in the influence of the Internet and associated social media is just one example of something that has touched everybody's lives. Just think, it wasn't that long ago when, if I wanted an illustration for my Sunday group, I would laboriously trace or copy something from 'So you think you can't draw', whereas today in about two or three clicks of the mouse I have just the picture I want and in any size or format. This 24-hour access to news, information and entertainment is the only world that some of our children have known. However, for most of us as leaders this is only one of so many changes, which in turn must mean there have been changes to our children's ministry.

The social context in which our children are being brought up is also dramatically different. Family configurations are much more complex and confusing. In some sections of society, marriages are now happening later - if they happen at all - which may mean adults are becoming parents older. And in our risk-adverse culture, parents are often required to accompany their children everywhere and so opportunities for group activities and explorative play are under threat.

Then there are life's myriad 24/7 distractions, which mean that attendance at regular church events is increasingly difficult. Finally, we can add to all of this the growing range of opportunities for a variety of extra-curricular experiences for children which inevitably results in competition with anything church has to offer. Yes, a lot has changed for children, for us as leaders and therefore surely for children's ministry, but are our churches refusing to recognise this?

If your church is still relying on you to provide spiritual childcare so the grown-ups can worship separately, then, in so many ways, this is not in step with the way things have changed. If your church is still expecting you to offer a 'Sunday service' for children, then arguably this is just as out of date as the weekend buses that no longer turn up as they used to. Children simply cannot come regularly any more, and even when they do appear with their precious, if somewhat pressurised, carers, why should they be separated off again, only adding to their experience of an already fragmented world? Children are learning in ever more sophisticated ways - using technology of course as commonplace - but also they are used to being allowed to participate and to receive their learning in a variety of styles. Has your church noticed all this, or does all this remain 'the elephant in the room'?

All this has prompted many of us in traditional children's ministry to ask some important and profound questions. Perhaps the most profound of them all must be:

So, if you agree that for most of our churches there is perhaps an elephant in the room, then maybe like us in the Barnabas Ministry Team you are prompted to wonder how the church in the 21st century needs be different.

This month, we celebrate the greatest change of all - the new beginning that Jesus' resurrection from the dead brings for all of us: a new way of thinking about life and death; a new way of being in this world that is intended to transfigure it and unite all things as a new creation in Christ; and, most of all, a radical change in how we relate both to God as King and to each other as equals - and not as children or adults, us or them, or each age group as separate, segregated members of Christ's body.

I wonder:

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