Children dance at the Vineyard Church in Mishawaka, Indiana. | Unsplash/Anna Earl

Churches Overlooked Youth Ministry as Family Engagement Decreased During Pandemic, Study Finds

A new study suggests that amid the pandemic, the level of engagement in children’s ministry in churches across the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil and Canada dramatically decreased. 

The new report released late last month titled “Do we need a new plan for children’s ministry?” was researched and written by a team of academic researchers and ministry practitioners. Based on online survey data collected in Brazil, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. in June 2021, the report was published by Liverpool Hope University. 

Researches gathered the views and experiences of 139 church leaders, 16 schools and 113 Christian parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the report found that the pandemic has “adversely affected” kids’ “faith formation,” and there is an “urgent need for church leaders and para-church organizations to prioritize ministry among children and to form clear strategies for the way ahead.”

The report notes that there has been decreased engagement among children and families with their churches during the pandemic. Additionally, “feelings of exclusion, isolation and marginalization of children from churches has been widespread, alongside perceptions that ministry amongst children is not prioritized as highly as ministry with adults.”

Only 2% of churches in the U.K., Brazil, Canada and the U.S. have sought to create strategic plans for children’s ministry, researchers found.

“Relational connections were highly valued by families but appeared to be one of the most
challenging aspects for churches,” the report states. “Children’s role in churches seems to have become more passive than active. Equally, Christian parents are often viewed as mere conduits to pass on church provision and resources to the child, rather than viewing parents themselves as resources. Hence there is a transactional relationship between Christian parents and the church rather than relational and collaborative.”

The report further notes that Christian parents have “felt ill equipped for nurturing their child’s faith” and that “church support of them in this has been limited.” Furthermore, the collaboration between families, schools and churches “has been minimal.” 

“The Church is often viewed as a service provider rather than a partner,” the report stresses. “A disconnect was observed between how churches support schools and families: whether content or connection is most effective.”

The report concludes that churches must have a “revised approach” that embodies “greater relational connection, rather than being primarily content or program-driven.”

“Ultimately, there needs to be clearer communication, greater clarity and a stronger sense of purpose amongst all who are involved in children’s faith formation in order to best serve children in the seasons ahead,” the report adds. 

Researchers who worked on the report include Liverpool Hope University lecturer Sarah Holmes, Scripture Union Canada President Lawson W. Murray, Pastoral Outreach Coordinator at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge Sue Price and  Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor Mimi Larson. 

“I think if we don’t actually plan and be strategic, then we default to the bare minimum, which is what we’re seeing,” Holmes told Premier Christian News.

“We’re finding that congregations generally are not terribly well brought into the importance of sharing faith with the next generation and even often, the leadership team are not terribly invested in that side of the ministry.”

Holmes added that many respondents reported that some children and families aren’t returning to church following the pandemic. 

“And as I say, this is right across all of the countries that we spoke to, we’re seeing this reduced engagement of children and families, and obviously, for the future health of our churches,” Holmes noted, adding that the findings of decreasing attendance and engagement are “alarming.” 

“If we’re prioritizing adult ministry, which seems to be the case at the moment, fast forward 10, 20 years’ time, ‘Who is going to be in our churches?’ We have very few children and young people and families in there now.”

Originally published on The Christian Post

(c) The Christian Post, used with permission