Where Have All the Children Gone?
As you sit in your pews on Sabbath mornings and gaze out over the audience, do you notice anything missing?
Listen carefully. Do you hear the scratch of crayons in Sabbath coloring books or soft whimpers from a baby behind you? I’ll have to admit that I’m seeing fewer and fewer Sabbath bags lying on the floor in our churches. I don’t hear as many voices singing in the Sabbath School rooms. I think to myself, “Where have all the children gone?”
I belong to a small congregation in Belleville, Michigan, in the heavily populated area of metro Detroit. You would think we would have lots of families in our churches around these big cities. We are surrounded by homes and families, yet you won’t find many of them inside our buildings. As my own precious girls sit alone at prayer meeting or with two or three friends at Sabbath School, I’m beginning to wonder what we should do.
Our Adventist schools are getting smaller and smaller. Sabbath School rooms are combining more and more ages. Pathfinder groups include children from multiple churches. Where have all the children gone?
It’s time for us to take a closer look at our churches. What are we doing to attract young families? Can we invite them to exciting events like church socials, game nights, mission trips, and family-friendly Bible studies? Do we ask children to read the scripture, participate in special music, and present a 13th Sabbath program each quarter? Are we providing creative, well-prepared Sabbath School programs each week? Do we really believe what Mrs. White wrote in Counsels on Sabbath School Work that the Sabbath School is more important than day school? Do we see great care being taken in family worship where parents ensure that “their scripture lessons should be learned more perfectly than their lessons in the common schools?” (Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 57).
In my new position as the Michigan Conference Children’s Ministries director, I am focusing on growing the churches across Michigan. It is our goal to provide you with materials that will grab children’s attention and bring them closer to Jesus. We’re presenting workshops on Vacation Bible School and Sabbath School to give you the tools you need to provide successful children’s programming. Our misdakids.org website is filling up with more materials to help you, and our regular Facebook and Instagram posts can give you encouragement for teaching, and outreach ideas to show love to kids in your church and community.
Cheryl Bernard, our Children’s Ministries assistant, and I are currently developing Sabbath School kits, such as the Armor of God, that you can check out to use in your churches. These will not only provide you with an outline of activities to teach, but they will also give you hands-on resources you need for working with children. We are searching through the conference archives to find backdrops, props, felts, and stuffed animals that you can use in your teaching. We are planning to provide life-changing meetings for our kids who attend Michigan Camp Meeting. Care packages have been put together for our little friends who need encouragement. A lending library and weekly tips for teaching the Sabbath School lesson are being planned. We’ve even designed cute MISDAKids bags with our logo to assist you in carrying your new teaching materials.
As I think about all the resources we’re trying to develop, I’m also aware that there’s another issue we need to address. I truly believe it is going to take every one of us to bring back the children and their young families. We must work together on community outreach. We must all show up for Sabbath School and prayer meeting. The Sabbath School teachers should remember that this time is “one of the greatest instrumentalities, and the most effectual, in bringing souls to Christ” (Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 10).
Ellen White also writes that “those who are really seeking for communion with God will be seen in the prayer meeting, faithful to do their duty and earnest and anxious to reap all the benefits they can gain. They will improve every opportunity of placing themselves where they can receive the rays of light from heaven” (Pastoral Ministry, p. 183).
It’s time to take a more hands-on approach in our churches. I invite all of you to adopt a child in your congregation or community. Make it your personal goal to pray daily for this individual. Tell them you’re praying for them at a specific time each day. Bring small gifts to them at church. Visit them if they’re missing. Invite them to an upcoming program if they don’t regularly attend. Start praying and start doing something today. Begin with those in your church. Go next to the missing members. Move down the church’s interest list. Head out into the community with Vacation Bible School flyers and Sabbath School invites. Begin praying today that God will use you to bring a child to Him.
We will do everything in our power to support your churches. Our ministries are working together so we can have a greater impact. Come to our trainings and seminars to learn creative Biblical methods to reach children. Let’s start working together today to bring back the sounds of tick-tock sticks hitting together in the Sabbath School room and children playing in the halls after potluck. In Matthew 9:37, 38, Jesus said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Won’t you partner with us in laboring to reach God’s children?