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Nurturing Children of Unchurched Parents: a Report from the Family Life Committee
The Family Life Committee of the World Methodist Council has just released a report entitled Nurturing Children of Unchurched Parents. In the report, author Sarah Friswell touches upon the notion of a “missing generation” of children brought up without church or God in their lives. The report offers a background, suggestions for action, resources, hymns and prayer materials for those dealing with this phenomenon. A PDF copy of the report can be found here, as well as the full text below.
Nurturing Children of Unchurched Parents
by Sarah Friswell, Methodist Church in Britain
In the UK there is a ‘missing generation’. There are children being brought up now who have never heard of God and have no concept of the church. Once at school they learn about religion as a subject alongside Mathematics, History and Science. One of the main problems is that their parents, those adults in the 20-40 age bracket, have had no experience of church themselves, or if they have it was as very small children in Sunday School.
In order to address this ‘gap’ in society and to give unchurched families an introduction to the Christian faith many churches in the UK are turning to ‘fresh expressions’ of church, an initiative being followed by several denominations including the Methodist Church. ‘Fresh Expressions’ are new ways of being church, often organised along side a traditional church but with their own identity and way of expressing themselves.
One such ‘fresh expression’ is Messy Church, which was been growing and developing not only in the UK but across the world since 2006. Messy Church combines Bible-based craft activities and worship with the chance to share food together as a whole family. Messy Church is ‘trying to be a worshipping community for all ages, centred on Christ, showing Christian hospitality – giving people the chance to express their creativity, to sit down together to eat a meal and have fun within a church context.’(1)
Those churches which have started a Messy Church have seen a positive response from families who have previously had no church experience. Families, both the children and adults, ask questions, because the atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to discussion. There is no pressure to ‘do’ anything or join anything nor to attend regularly, but experience has shown that over time families begin to get a sense of belonging to Messy Church, friendships develop and the questions get deeper. Messy Church is a place where new disciples can be very carefully nurtured – never forcing ‘religion’ but allowing the seeds of faith to start to grow.
(1) Messy Church (Fresh Ideas for building a Christ-centred community) by Lucy Moore. Published 2006. Page 21
See 2014 Conference report ‘Statistics for Mission’
From that report (Section 3.30): Children’s attendances have fallen considerably – from 77,900 in 2003 to 32,700 in 2013, a reduction of around 58%. This equates to an eight percent year-on-year fall over the course of the decade.
On this website you will find details of books, DVDs, a magazine – all of which will give you background information about Messy Church, ideas for getting started and suggestions for themes etc.
Other Useful Links
Suggestions for Action
Consider if your church would like to see its ministry with young families grow. If the
answer is yes, sit down together and find out what you might like to achieve. If you
would like to reach out to unchurched families in particular, Messy Church might be
right for you (but there may be other models more appropriate to your setting).
See if there is a Messy Church in your country. They exist in USA, Germany, South Africa to name put a few countries. If yes, contact them and ask if you can go along and find out more. If not, look at the resources online and see if this is something you could start in your community. Get a team of people interested in organising this. It needs a committed team, so only go ahead if you have the necessary resource in terms of space, time and staff (volunteers).
Feeding of the 5000
This familiar story is a great example of when Jesus took the opportunity to talk to people of no faith and to share a meal with them, even though he had not expected to do so. At the beginning the disciples are expecting to go somewhere quiet with Jesus, so that they can learn more from him. But the large crowd stops that and potentially the disciples could get very angry that their ‘private’ meeting with Jesus has been spoiled by the huge crowd. But instead Jesus uses the opportunity to teach these people and to heal the sick. The people in the crowd must have come from a wide variety of backgrounds – some will have known about Jesus, others would not and were probably only there because they were curious. Jesus talks to them all and then shares food generously with them, a great act of hospitality.
Singing The Faith 409 Let Us Build a House where love can dwell. This is a modern hymn with the refrain ‘All are welcome in this place’, which encapsulates the aim of Messy Church in valuing all people, no matter what their background.
Heavenly Father, thank you for those churches which are using Messy Church to grow communities of new believers. Give strength and encouragement to those who seek to spread Your Gospel amongst people who have never heard Your name. May those who are just embarking on a journey of discovery of Your love continue to ask questions and find a warm and open welcome in Your church and amongst Your people.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.