Challenges & Opportunities

Challenges & Opportunities

Posted on January 19, 2018

BY TERI CAPEHART, DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN'S MINISTRIES - SYDNEY CHURCH PLANT 

When I walk into a church for the first time my instant desire is to see their children’s ministry.  It’s partly because that’s been my job and ministry for the last 20 years, and it’s partly because I’m just a big kid myself. I get excited to see people’s vision and creativity in bringing the Bible alive for children. I love seeing children engaged in God’s story and finding their place in the Church.

When I got to Sydney, Australia I was excited to see what children’s ministry looked like there, and I caught a vision for where I would fit. First, let me say there are some churches doing an amazing job! But, generally, I’d define children’s ministry in Sydney with two words: challenge and opportunity.

According to a senior pastor in the Sydney area, there are several challenges, but the main two are resources and an old school approach. Children’s ministries vary widely so it’s hard to generalize, but most small churches struggle with resources of money, people, and vision. They also struggle with not many children to work with, lack of focus on children, and a lack of training or “out of the box” thinking.

Resources such as people and money are not surprising challenges. Most churches are around 40-50 people, have limited staff, and a culture where tithing is not the norm. With an average church attender being in their late 50’s many churches have few children to participate in a children’s ministry. We visited churches with no children’s ministry at all - or no children.

There is little importance placed on children in many churches. It’s often not seen as valuable. Commonly a children’s ministry starts at 3 years old, so children under the age of 3 are with the parents in the creche - it’s like our Wiggle Room at Grace. A parent that has multiple children, each a couple years apart, could miss attending service for 6 or more years! According to Pastor Oscar, from Nairobi Chapel, the highest number of people worldwide coming to Christ are between the ages of 4 and 14. However, this age range is emphasized the least, as most churches focus on those 25 and older. Thank you, Grace Church, for always having such a strong focus on children!

There’s also a scarcity of trained children’s pastors and youth pastors. When we asked one of our partners what we could do to help them they said, “send us 10 youth pastors!” The need is great. Without trained children’s leaders the tired ways of doing it “how it’s always been done” will continue.

The Church in Sydney is in a general decline as well. The number of people claiming no faith increased from 18% to 30% over the last 10 years. Many churches are closing and we’ve seen congregations of 10 or less people. While the Australian culture is friendly and accepting, the people have a strong sense of “we can take care of ourselves.”  That leaves very little space for a need for God, and that’s the legacy that’s being passed to the children.

But there are amazing opportunities! There are pastors and ministry leaders that have a strong desire to work collaboratively, think of new ways to reach out, and are open to how to raise up new leaders. We’ve been privileged enough to work with them already and I’m excited to partner with other children and youth ministry leaders.

There is a mandatory religion class in all schools that outside teachers come in and teach. There is a school right next to our church! There are several hundred children that pass by our door every day on their way to and from school. God planted us in an amazing location for a vibrant children’s ministry!

There is a great need for affordable childcare and we have a lead on providing that through one of our partners. Young mothers are encouraged to stay home the first couple years of their child’s life, leading many to look for opportunities to connect. This makes starting a morning-out for mom’s (and children) program high on our list.

We are in a highly diverse area. Our church staff is Kenyan and American. The community around us is Cantonese, Vietnamese, Indian, Nigerian, and much more. While this brings some cultural challenge it also brings something amazing. Each of us brings an idea of what ‘church’ should look like based on where we come from. We have the opportunity to listen, learn and share. We have so much to learn from each other through listening about each other’s hopes, fears, family heritage, community focus, history, ideas, and passions. And I’m unbelievably blessed, having spent the last 15 years in Grace Kids, to share the best of what I’ve learned about children’s ministry with what fits culturally. Together we can create an atmosphere where children are welcomed and valued and safe, taught Biblically, creatively and age appropriately, find their place to be involved in the Church at every age and where I believe God is going to do amazing things in the children of Sydney!

You Might Be Asking, "What Can I Do?"

If you've been around Grace for any length of time, you know that we are focused on social justice. It's at the core of who we are and we won't stop until we heal all 6 Broken Places (learn more about those here). So, here's what you can do:

1. Pray. That might seem small, but we believe in the power of prayer...and we need you to pray for this team and this church plant. Contact Teri and she can get you connected to the Syndey Team.

2. Pick a Broken Place & Heal It. We know that none of us can single-handedly heal a broken place. It takes all of us doing our part. So, pick one and get started. Not sure how or where to start? Contact us and we will point you in the right direction!