This week’s devotional comes from our District Superintendent, Drew Dyson, and continues some of the themes he shared with us in worship three weeks ago…
Two recent studies on church life captured my attention this summer. The first, conducted by the Pew Research Center, examines why Americans go (and don’t go) to religious services. There are many significant findings in the study and you can click here to read further insights.
However, one of the highlights of the study for me is that nearly 2/3 cite “giving children a strong moral foundation” as a critical factor in their decision to attend services, second only to “becoming closer to God.” This key insight leads me to wonder why children’s and youth ministry are often relegated to the lowest rung of church staffing and budgeting. There is no secret that thriving churches offer dynamic children’s and youth ministries, complete with staffing, programming, and top-notch facilities. I wonder what would happen if churches began to invest some of the “rainy day” funds that are accumulating in endowments while their attendance and participation is dwindling into programs and facilities that will attract children and families. After all, it’s not raining…it’s pouring!
A second, connected study conducted as part of the National Survey of Children’s Health, concludes that “America’s religious communities are failing children with chronic health conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, depression, and conduct disorders.” The study goes on to highlight that “children with conditions that limit social interaction, who are often excluded from other social settings and have the greater need for a community of social support, were most likely to feel unwelcome at religious services.” For parents and families who already experience social isolation, the double burden of having their children (and thereby their families) excluded from church communities is extremely damaging. Click here to view the full report.
The question that we must wrestle with as the church is, how wide is our welcome? Even for churches that are committed to ministry with young people through their staffing and budgeting processes, are there trained teachers and welcoming spaces for children with special needs? What would it take to transform our children’s ministries – and our churches – into welcoming spaces for all of God’s children?
I encourage you to begin a conversation within your worship and education committees – as well as your church council – about how the church can be more intentionally welcoming to children with special needs and their families. One of the best resources I have found is a series of links made available by the organization “Autism Speaks” focused specifically on religious communities. Click here for more information.
All across GNJ this summer, our churches and camps came alive with Vacation Bible Schools and children’s summer programming. I loved visiting various VBS sites, celebrating in worship with children sharing their experiences through music and dance, and following pictures on Facebook and Instagram of children engaged in these local church and conference ministries. At the same time, after reading these two studies, I couldn’t help but wonder who was missing from the pictures. I wonder what would happen if we committed ourselves to broadening our welcome in the coming year to include the most vulnerable in our midst. May we have the courage to do just that – and the boldness to commit the resources necessary to make it happen!
So then, Flemington UMC – how wide is our welcome? What concrete steps are we taking toward a wider welcome, and where do opportunities remain?
Keep the faith!