If the “perfect attendance” kids in your class yawn when you open the Bible, read on to learn how to make Christ relevant to Christian kids who never miss a Sunday.
I’m a Cradle Christian. I was taught when I was very young that I should ask Jesus into my life, so I did. In a refugee camp in Hong Kong, I made a faith decision…and that day wasn’t any different from other days.
After that, I learned all the Bible stories. I prayed before every meal, at bedtime, when people I knew were sick, or when tragedy struck. I did everything a good Christian ought to do (and stayed away from things good Christians ought not do). Of course, I did all this because it’s what I was taught in the loving Christian home I was born and raised in.
I was filling the mold my family shaped for me. My Christian faith consisted of going through the motions with very little meaning. It’s the faith I’ve known all my life, never my own — always my parents’ — until college when I began to own my faith as my own.
Cradle Christians in Your Ministry
Here’s a quick quiz for you. The word “cradle” means:
(a) a baby’s small bed,
(b) the earliest period of one’s life, or
(c) the place of a thing’s beginning or early development.
Do you have your answer?
It’s all three, according to Webster’s. So we’ve defined Cradle-Christian kids as children who, from the earliest period in their lives, have had a basis in Christianity. Their family immerses them in faith. They’ve known about Jesus all their lives. And they’ve made a faith decision at a very early age (some probably don’t even remember it).
So if they already have a relationship with Jesus, what’s the big deal?
According to the Barna Research Group, 71 percent of American adults attended church regularly as children, but only 43 percent of American adults attend church now. And of that 71 percent who attended church as children, only two out of three take their children to church. What’s not working here?
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the story of two sons. One son is lost; he squanders his riches and returns to his father begging for mercy. The other son has been with his father all his life; he works diligently as he obeys his father.
When the lost son finally returns and the father throws a huge party for him, what happens with the good son who always obeys? He turns angry and jealous. Check out what happens in Luke 15:29-30.
Jesus used this parable to teach us compassion for people far from God — to celebrate new Christians being “found” in God’s family. But every time I explore that parable, I wonder what happened to that “good son.” Did he continue obeying his father? Or did he get bored with the same routine, never really developing anything deeper? Did he ever experience the grace his brother experienced?
Then I think about the children who’ve been Christians all their lives. Do they get bored? Are they given an opportunity to experience God’s grace like those who have a major turning point in their lives?
Characteristics of Cradle Christian Kids
My first Sunday school teaching experience was in a sixth-grade class. Among the children in the class were three Cradle-Christian kids: Kyle, Austin, and Jacob. Each week I worked diligently to plan a lesson from which the class would glean great knowledge and biblical understanding. Then I’d present my prepared lesson with one-of-a-kind energy and excitement.
Somehow, though, these three would still manage to get me down. Kyle moped, throwing out negative comments here and there, such as, “I don’t wanna do that,” and “That’s stupid.” Austin didn’t really like to get involved either, but he had a goal to see how much he could stay out of his seat. And Jacob sat quietly, participating only when there was no other way out for him. I’d often find him distracted and off-task.
As I continued my ministry out of high school, through college, and into my adult years, I noticed that those same characteristics continued to pop up in the same types of kids — kids whose parents were leaders in the church, those who came from good Christian backgrounds, and children whose families were highly involved.
Let’s take a look at the three classic characteristics of Cradle-Christian kids.
1. Expressing “I Don’t Care”
Cheryl Wong, a children’s pastor in Loveland, Colorado, says of kids who’ve been raised in the church, “They have an I-don’t-care attitude. They’re the ones who complain, ‘Why do we have to do this again?’ and ‘This is stupid.’ ”
This is the most common characteristic in Cradle-Christian kids. They attend your ministry event or class, but they don’t care to participate because “it’s stupid.”
Wong explains that this attitude can also be contagious. The negative attitude can infect kids who usually participate willingly and with enthusiasm in the planned activities. Allowing this attitude to continue in a ministry can be deadly.
2. Acting Out With Distracting Behavior
When a child loses interest, he or she will often choose to make the activity more interesting for him- or herself by acting out and distracting others.
“You find yourself having to deal with more discipline problems,” says Wong of Cradle-Christian kids’ distractions. It causes you, the leader, to lose focus on the lesson or activity and redirect your attention to the child who’s using the drop ceiling as monkey bars.
3. Not Wanting to Be There
Many Cradle-Christian kids are expected to follow their parents without ever being given an opportunity to know why they believe or to experience their own faith. Wong says, “It goes back to parents. They teach their kids, ‘This is what we do; we go to church.’ ” But they never clearly explain why.
Those attitudes and feelings of duty don’t help children experience God and build a relationship with Jesus. Rather, Cradle-Christian kids view church (and worship) more as responsibilities than privileges.
As Christian adults, we know that God’s Word withstands the test of time and culture. It’ll never become stale or outdated. But it may seem stale for kids who’ve been around it all their lives, never experiencing something new.
“Kids are growing bored,” says Carol Taylor, a children’s pastor in Anderson, Indiana, and a pastor’s kid herself. “The attitude of many kids who have grown up in Christian homes is, ‘I’ve heard it. Why should I pay attention?’ We have to get past that,” she says.
Watch Out for These Stale-Makers in Ministry
We often force children into a routine, not really allowing them to truly experience a relationship with Jesus. Does this prayer sound familiar? “Dear Jesus, thank you for this food. Thank you for today. Help us have a good day today. Be with Aunt Sue in the hospital. In Jesus’ name, amen.” I know it was the way I prayed for so many of my growing up years.
Here’s a true test for you to see the impact of routine in Cradle Christian kids’ lives. Ask them these three questions: Why do you go to church? How do you worship God? When do you pray? The responses to these questions might surprise you (or not). The routine in their lives will be evident.
Consider the last time you went to the doctor for a flu shot. The point of your visit was to get inoculated against the flu. You received a weak dose of the virus so the real thing didn’t have as much of an impact on you. It’s usually quite effective in weakening our experience with such a strong illness.
In the same way, when kids come into our ministries and receive only a weak dose of God’s Word, we’re effectively inoculating them against a true experience with God’s amazing power and love. We often tend to produce the same material over and over, rather than creating for kids a new experience with the living God.
What Cradle Christian Kids Need From You
The Daily Bread hasn’t gone stale, but it’s up to us to make it fresh for kids who can lose interest quickly. Try these practical ideas to create a fresh learning environment for Cradle Christians in your ministry.
Opportunities for service are sure to take kids out of their routine. Responsibility and leadership are key to getting kids out of the ho-hum routine they find themselves in. Taylor encourages other children’s ministers to get kids serving even at young ages. She says, “We don’t let kids serve in the church early enough.”
Try these service avenues:
Getting kids leading their peers will dig into their character and allow kids to use the spiritual gifts God has given them.
Wong suggests offering a special class to dig deeper into the stories kids know so well. Even better: Have kids help prepare and teach the lessons! “They know the story of Moses, but they may not know that Moses was scared and lonely. This gives kids something to connect to,” Wong says.
Help kids find places they can serve in your church, even in your ministry. Whether it’s nursery care, home-bound meal delivery, or ushering, kids can do it!
Relationship With God
Cradle-Christians have trouble remembering a time they experienced God’s grace and relationship. They became Christians because “it’s what we do.”
“They need to be taken back to when they experienced God,” Wong says. Here’s how.
1. Remember When
Wong suggests having a remembering session. Sit down with the kids and discuss when they remember feeling God’s protection, God’s love, and a friendship with the Lord.
Have kids write about their relationship with God. Taylor remembers a time she’d write notes to her daughter in a journal. “Our relationship grew so close as a result of that,” she says. Have kids talk to God, too, in their journals.
Encourage Cradle Christians to talk to younger children about their relationships with God. This is sure to create a fresh experience.
The Barna Research Group reports that 85 percent of parents believe they have the responsibility of spiritual growth in their children. Suggest these ideas to your faithful churchgoing families.
1. Change the routine.
Families can do a devotion at different times, serve together in a church ministry, or list prayer requests before a prayer. The key is to do things in new ways.
2. Get out of a rut.
Have families make going to church a fun outing with a special breakfast beforehand or a lunch afterward. Families could all wear the same color, or they could challenge one another to see who can name the most people they talked to that morning. Have families realize together that church is fun.
3. Talk more.
Encourage families to talk about why Jesus is important to them and to share ways they’ve seen God at work in their lives daily.
We need to have a heart for all the prodigals who need Jesus in our ministries, but we must never lose sight of the “good sons” who need us to make God’s Word fresh for them every week. That way they can also experience the celebration of being in God’s presence all of their lives!
Scott Kinner is a former missionary kid who lives in Colorado.
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