I have often heard preachers and church leaders talk about children and youth being the church of tomorrow. While I understand the they're point and appreciate their heart, I have to respectfully disagree.
Babies are the future of our family. This statement sounds ridiculous when we read it. No one ever looks at a new born baby and says "Someday this baby will be part of our family." That's crazy. No, from the moment that child is born we look at them and immediately know that they are part of the family. Right away they have a place in our heart and in our family. From day one we rearrange our routines and schedules to make room for them. We look for ways to include our children into the rhythm of family life. From birth, and even before, they are part of our family, not the future of it.
While it seems ridiculous to say that a baby can someday be part of our family, that is exactly what we do with children in the church. Throughout the New Testament the church is referred to as family. Yet in most churches you can only TRULY be part of the family when you grow up. Sure, we will set up special spaces and programming for the children, but that this is not enough.
Kids have ideas. While we might not want to put a child or teen on a financial team that handles the finances of the church, they do have something to offer. In most churches a group of adults sits in a room making plans for how to reach and connect with kids for an event like Trunk or Treat, or an Easter egg hunt. Certainly there are a many logistical details that the adults need to handle, but how often do we ask kids what THEY would like to do at this event?
Youth have ideas, too. Events for teens are often handled the same way. A group of adults gathers and decided what they think will appeal, attract and connect with teens. Why not ask the teens who are already there. Ask the youth in your church what THEY think would attract their friends. Ask them what THEY think would help their friends connect with the gospel. Trust me they know teenagers much better than you do.
Children and youth can do chores. In my house there is an expectation that my kids will do their part around the house. They have certain chores that they are expected to do. These chores are chosen based on their ability to do them. We consider the complexity of the task and the strength required to perform it. After considering all of these things we find work for them to do and then we get them doing it.
Children can serve too. In the same way children can serve in our churches, too. But, don't just plug them into existing areas of service that are too big for them. Consider each child. Consider their age, maturity, and physical attributes. Then look around your church and find ways that they can serve. Consider the work that is already being done by adults and think of how the job could be adapted for kids. Consider how a kid could be trained to do some of the work that the church is already doing.
Can a 5th grader be a greeter? Sure!
Can a 4th grader help receive the offering? Yup!
Can a high schooler mentor a middle schooler? You bet.
Can a middle schooler mentor an elementary kid? No problem.
Can youth help run sound, or be on the worship team, or help serve Coffee, help clean the church... you get the idea.
If not today then not tomorrow either. My fear is that if we don’t allow children and youth to be part of the church today they won’t be part of the church tomorrow either. I will not say that I have the answer to kids that leave the church after high school, but I do know that some of them do because they never really felt like part of the church when they were younger. Let them be part of the church today and maybe they will stick around later.