Actively Forming the Church of Tomorrow

In May 2022, The Barna Group, in partnership with Awana, released a report that churches and church leaders should give significant attention to. “Children’s Ministry in a New Reality”* seeks to look at the church of today in order to form the future church. Awana CEO Matt Markins asks a question that we should all be concerned with. It is not a question of what the future church is, but how we can be a part of actively forming it today:

“If today’s kids are to be the church members and church leaders of 2050, how should we change our thinking?”

Here are four critical areas research shows we need to develop our thinking around child discipleship.

Child discipleship needs to be high priority.

Barna’s research shows that among adults ages 18-29, the church dropout rate sits at 64 percent.** Typically, the church handles this information by focusing more ministry efforts and resources on youth and young adults. However, we know through the research efforts of George Barna that spiritual beliefs are largely set in a child’s life by the time they reach 13 years of age. What we do in children’s ministry forms who young people will become by age 13. The work of child discipleship is the foundation on which youth ministry builds. Simply put, without a solid, intentional plan for children, the work of youth ministry cannot stand firm. Investing in children and their faith today must be a high priority for a strong church of tomorrow.

Child discipleship needs to be a partnership.

Child discipleship needs to be a full-on partnership between the church and families. One is not “more” responsible for forming children in faith than the other. Child discipleship is a tall order and a big responsibility, and both children’s ministry leaders and parents have confessed that they are afraid children will one day leave the church and faith. In this tension, Barna suggests “a third space.” This bridge between church and home can contain both people and resources that serve as powerful allies in growing faith in young disciples. Looking outside the church and the family can strengthen the quality, creativity, and theology of child discipleship. For a strong church of tomorrow, seeking resources to help bridge the widening faith formation gap between church and home is vital.

Child discipleship needs to be supported.

Children’s ministry leaders feel the weight of their work in forming the church of tomorrow with their work today. Yet, Barna reports that 56 percent of leaders agree that children’s ministry is forgotten by their church. Being forgotten often means that children’s ministry leaders don’t have the support, resources, or equipment to help raise the next generation of Christian disciples. By actively participating in the ministry, we can better support those called to lead child discipleship. For a strong church of tomorrow, children’s ministry needs the time, talent, and treasure of everyone in the congregation today, including parents, pastors, parishioners, and staff members.

Child discipleship needs to be relational.

In many churches, a congregation’s first introduction to a child is usually through an infant dedication, baptism, or blessing. These include a time for congregants to express their commitment to being active in each child’s spiritual journey. The way we engage in this act is critical to the church of tomorrow. Research shows us that children who have a meaningful relationship with an adult in the church are more likely to be rooted in Scripture, to be grounded in the life of the church, and to externalize their faith and move toward generous, countercultural behavior. Intergenerational connections rarely happen by accident. For a strong church of tomorrow, we must invest in relational community-building relationships today.

Scripture tells us often about our blessed calling to declare God’s power, goodness, and might to the next generation. Psalm 71:17-18 reads, “Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come” (NIV). I encourage you to claim these words as a renewed commitment to raise a strong church of tomorrow, steadfast in their faith and passionate about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth!

*Children’s Ministry in a New Realty:
**Church dropout rates:


You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 39

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