It’s easy to think and write about the many needs in Children’s ministry while I’m sitting here by the pool in the warm ocean breeze overlooking the beach. But the reality of ministry is much harder. The busy life of a Kidmin leader leaves little time to stop and think, let alone learn something new or read a book about change. Our schedules are so encumbered by the seemingly endless tasks, that to stop and evaluate any major changes is just not a part of our “to do list”. The urgent constantly pushes out the important.
But we know the statistics. 75% of churched kids are leaving when they grow into adulthood. What we might not know is that the age of their departure is getting younger. Kids are now leaving the church as they enter middle school, and their parents are leaving with them. We might be the last stop before they exit.
We know it’s true. In our minds, we can see the empty chairs of the missing children. Perhaps it was baseball season, with its many weekly practices, which placed a time crunch on a family you knew, only they didn’t return when the season ended. We wonder why?
Maybe for another family, it was the quarterly dance recital with its accelerated rehearsal schedule, which they told us was “only temporary,” but after it was over, their return attendance was sporadic before it became non-existent. And we wonder why?
Thankfully, some new families came, filled the missing gaps and perhaps reduced the questions. Why did they leave? Are they attending another church or have they stopped altogether? Where are they? What happened to them? Why did they leave?
We ask ourselves, “could I have done something to prevent it? Is there something I can do to entice them back?” Is there any hope? The thought of losing more is unbearable. What do we need to do? Can we do something? Bell, in her book Resilient says,
“Today’s church kids are growing up in both a secular and church culture that are unlike the cultures in which most adults grew up... I fear our assumptions of “sameness” – our cluelessness in the midst of huge cultural shifts - may lead us to be unresponsive to the needs these shifts present.”
With more resources than ever before, the research seems to suggest that kids are more spiritually distant than ever. How can this be? With a retention rate after children’s ministry of only one in four, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions. Where have we gone wrong? Why are so many leaving the church? Perhaps, more importantly, why do some stay?
A Different Target
One reason may be that the target has moved! The kids have changed. They are a new generation. Did you know that the children who are currently in kidmin are called Generation Alpha. A research analyst from Australia was working on a book about the emerging generation but it was as yet, unnamed. He conducted a survey to find out what people thought the generation after Z should be called. Generation A was the most commonly mentioned, but he didn’t like it. Instead, he looked to the model of hurricane names where the names ran through the usual Roman or Latin alphabet and then on to the Greek alphabet. “He settled on the next cohort being Generation Alpha ― not a return to the old, but the start of something new.”
My husband grew up hunting and wanted me to learn to at least be able to handle a gun safely. We spent some time doing target practice, and I have to say, I was pretty good for an amateur. At least that’s what I thought, until he had me try “trap shooting”. That’s the kind where you load a round clay target into a machine which then flings it into the air. The flying clay is intended to simulate the action of a live target. I didn’t hit a single one. It’s a completely different task when the target is moving.
Our target is different than it was. The kids who are now in our ministries have so many different needs and life challenges than in years previous, and my guess is that most of our ministries are still the same.
“The challenge for the Church is that our current children’s ministry systems were designed for a different era... Gen Z and now Gen Alpha need a different system.”
We Need to Understand Them.
We must understand our audience well enough to know how to reach them. The church in America risks losing more families if we are not willing to rethink its approach to children’s ministry. We must stop the hemorrhaging of the children and families who are leaving in droves for what seems to be greener pastures but in fact, is a very dark world.
"It will require unprecedented imagination and collaboration in approaches to children’s ministry."
I know – you don’t have time to do that. But we must. The old methods might need some adjusting. Our message must never change, but our strategies for communicating that message must be constantly adapting to our audience. We must adjust or be resigned to losing an entire generation and that is unacceptable!
Our next article will dive further into the changes we need to make!
 Bell, Valerie, Resilient, Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Pub. Co. 2020, 28.  McCrindle, Mark, Fell, Ashley & Buckerfield, Sam, Generation Alpha. Understanding our Children and Helping them Thrive. Hachette Australia. Kindle Edition.  Matt Markins, Barna Group, Children’s Ministry in a New Reality. Building Church Communities That Cultivate Lasting Faith, 2022.  Barna, George. Children’s Ministry in a New Reality Building Church Communities That Cultivate Lasting Faith, 2022, 9-10.