Saturday Night Worship, Children in Worship and Family-Based Youth Ministry

Sharon and I are going to a Saturday night service tonight. I love Saturday night services. There is something about them that seems to loosen people up, make them more conversational, and give the service less “official-ness,” which has some real upsides for me. It also allows for people to hang a bit, have families over afterwards, go out for coffee or dinner. Many years ago I went to Saddleback’s Sat evening service. They have huge windows so people, particularly those with young ones, can be out on the patio enjoying the sun and manage the children more easily. There are no children in the inside service at all. They could see us, we could see them and it all felt very good. (BTW, Saddleback Church was one of my best church experiences in visiting. One could feel the healing power of the place, the peace that was there, and the very intentional process of inclusion without giving the bum’s rush. Rick Warren’s teaching style is not what I prefer, but his warm spirit, confidence in Christ, belief in fresh starts and humble presence create encouraging atmospheres).

Children in the service is an issue that churches need to intentionally manage. By manage, I mean know what they are doing, do it intentionally, and communicate it to guests and regulars alike as a decided philosophy of worship. I remain convinced that doing real soul work with adults while children run amuck in the service is virtually impossible. I remain convinced that for many a mother serious alone time in adult worship to meet God is mission critical. To do this she needs to know that her children are being given the best experience in their programs. I also remain convinced that children should be in the service for at least a portion of the community’s worship. In some churches, like Saddleback, you can go all the way through high school and never actually be in the worship service and regularly see adults respond to Jesus together.

Churches create hothouse conditions for spiritual growth for each age segmented group and then wonder why when kids go away to college they don’t know how to do church and don’t go. BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TAUGHT THEM!! Everything they have been given at church is built around them and then when they enter the larger and more diverse worship of adult years, they don’t know how to give up preferences and tastes for the sake of the larger group.

One of my most important experiences as a child in church was the wonderful way that I saw other adults love my parents and love me. They were all like uncles and aunts to me. I loved them. I wasn’t trying to get away from them. The kindnesses they showed to our family were so much a part of our lives, and the way that mom and dad spoke of them around the house created a sense of something beautiful. It was a seriously big family.

I never had a youth group or youth pastor. I served the church and entered into adult responsibilities in the way i could. I handed out tracts along with my dad on the street corners in downtown Norfolk inviting sailors to church. I went on the church bus with my dad to pick up the elderly, the poorer who could not afford cars, the children whose parents did not go. I helped count change from the offerings so dad could get it deposited. On and on it goes. I don’t think it ruined me.

One of the critical books that was popular for awhile is Family Based Youth Ministry, published by InterVarsity Press. It is a stunningly honest book. The author did his research to identify the factors that led children to live out authentic Christ following in their adult years. Guess what didn’t make it onto the list – youth pastors and youth groups. What did make it onto the list big time was giving children serious contact with adult Christ followers and bringing them into the adult community as children. The book’s author has a huge youth group in a large church. He is not asking churches not to do youth groups but to do youth groups with these kinds of factors in mind. I haven’t seen many churches develop a firm philosophy on these things. Most parents are simply happy if their children go to youth group. They haven’t thought through the question of what will turn their youth-group-going child into an adult member of the spiritual community. They just assumed it would happen. BTW, it doesn’t!!!!

The church we will visit tonight is Bridgewater Baptist Church, near Bridgewater State University. Here is their website.

Here is the link to the above mentioned book.

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