Baptists in the United Kingdom last Sunday took part in a second “On Our Knees” emphasis aimed at turning around a dramatic decline in the number of children attending Baptist churches.
After discovering that contact was lost with nearly one third of children under age 12 between 2000 and 2004, the Baptist Union of Great Britain last year commissioned a national strategy for discipleship of children.
“On Our Knees” referred not only to a posture of prayer–the first step in the plan–but also of churches’ need to get down on children’s level in order to minister and listen to them.
Signs are encouraging since an initial On Our Knees prayer day in June 2006. Following loss of about 30,000 children in the previous five years, the last two years have seen an increase of about 5,000.
“While we should not read too much into this, and certainly should not be complacent, we can be certain that God has heard our prayers, and that he has been speaking to us about how we might be a part of the answer to those prayers,” said a BGUB Web site promoting a second On Our Knees Again call to prayer Nov. 4. “If nothing else, it seems that the decline has been halted for the moment. Our challenge is to reverse the decline and even exceed the numbers we had contact with in 2000!”
Nick Lear, mission adviser for the Baptist union, said in an interview with Christian Today the purpose of the emphasis is “to raise the profile of children’s work, the need for it, the value of it, the potential that God has placed in each child.”
One of the first things research revealed is that churches doing a better job of retaining children were running activities for them not only on Sunday morning but also during the week, suggesting, Lear said, that “perhaps Sunday isn’t the best time to do church for children.”
A BGUB resource document says for many children, Sunday is a time for sports activities, to visit with absent parents or just to sleep in.
“Initially Sunday school was a means of providing a basic education for children who would otherwise be illiterate–on the only time in the week when they were not working in the burgeoning factories of the Industrial Revolution,” the document explains. “It was also an opportunity to be taught the basics of the Christian faith, but this was not the primary purpose.”
As the government took on more responsibility for the education of children, Sunday school came to be viewed as primarily for religious instruction.
The traditional Sunday school model of working with children was created in the 1950s. Children were sent out to their own groups during the worship service to be taught Bible stories, while the adults remained in the main building. It was based on a model, according to the report, that “saw children as vessels to be filled with knowledge rather than individuals with a faith to be nurtured.”
“There is still a need for children to be taught the stories of the Bible, and there may still be a need to offer some provision during services for children of parents who attend church,” the resource says. “However, we need not maintain the school-style approach in order to do this. We need a more engaging approach to the way we enable children to encounter Jesus than giving them pictures to color in.”
The report says the idea of going to another school is a “real turn off” for some children, and others simply believe they have outgrown Sunday school.
The resource says children’s work is not just the responsibility of those who volunteer or are paid to work with them, but is one of the responsibilities of the whole church. Churches should not just entertain children, it says, but take seriously the responsibility to disciple them.
“We want churches to actually take seriously the way Jesus treated children and their faith and helping them to understand how God’s word applies to them in their context,” Lear said, “what following Jesus means rather than just filling them up with the knowledge of what the Bible says.”
“So why are we On Our Knees Again?” asked a page on the BGUB Web site.
“A significant part of the answer is to offer prayers of praise and thanks that God has heard our prayers and is empowering us to respond,” it said. “The appropriate response to being in the presence of our awesome God is to get down on our knees!”
Along with prayer, the promo continued, “”We need to get down On Our Knees Again to continue to listen to children in our churches and communities–listening not only to their preferences, but also to God’s voice speaking through them.
“We need to be On Our Knees Again in order to continue the process of seeing our churches from a child’s perspective–ready to change if necessary–as we take Jesus very seriously when he said, ‘Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18.3, TNIV).”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.