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Walk Your Talk

The nationwide study Grading Grown-Ups shows that adults
care about kids, but they aren’t doing what they know is important.
You can help them.

Why is volunteer recruitment the #1 need for the vast majority
of children’s ministers? Could it be that while adults in church
say children are important, most of them don’t act as though they
are? Suppose you were in a church where all the adults saw
themselves as having some responsibility for children.

That idea — every adult taking responsibility for children —
is the heart of a major new national study of American adults from
Lutheran Brotherhood and Search Institute. The study suggests that
your congregation is filled with adults — people with or without
kids, young and old, people of all income and education levels —
who believe it’s critically important to be active in the lives of
children and teenagers. But if your congregation reflects the
national poll, only about one out of 20 members are actually
engaged in kids’ lives.

As shown in the chart on page 50, the vast majority of American
adults (at least 70 percent) believe it’s important for adults to
take at least nine different positive actions to contribute to kids
growing up healthy, caring, and responsible. Another nine positive
actions — including discussing religious beliefs and passing down
traditions — are supported by at least half of all adults.

Despite the strong consensus, only two of the top nine actions
are actually taken by most adults. Though people who attend church
weekly are slightly more likely to take these actions, the basic
message is the same: Adults — including those in churches —
aren’t offering kids the guidance and support they know kids need.
They aren’t walking their talk!

Why? Perhaps adults feel disconnected from the children around
them. Perhaps adults who aren’t parents depend too much on parents,
expecting them to be the only ones responsible for kids. Perhaps
adults worry that parents could be suspicious if they show too much
interest. Perhaps they’re hidered by an unspoken assumption that
adults who aren’t parents or who don’t “work” with children don’t
really have a responsibility to children.

Whatever the reason, it’s evident that we’re letting kids down.
Kids are missing out on important relationships, guidance, care,
and modeling that can make a major difference in their lives. Sure,
kids need parents, teachers, and children’s ministers to be there
for them, but their world will be so much richer if dozens of
adults know them and look out for them. Here are 10 ways to help
adults in your church develop the motivation, skills, and
opportunities to connect with kids.

Lay A Foundation Of Intergenerational

Identify ways to nurture basic connections across generations —
connections that make it possible for adults to engage in all the
positive actions examined by this study.

  • Share the results of the Grading Grown-Ups study with your
    church members and leadership. Ask adults to reflect on the study’s
    implications for your church and their lives. Encourage them to
    brainstorm intergenerational opportunities with you.
  • Use your worship service, newsletter, adult education, and
    other settings to urge all adults to get to know children in your
    church, neighborhood, and other places. Challenge adults to list
    the names of children they really know — and then to double that
    list in three months. Host a panel discussion where parents talk
    about what kinds of involvement they’d welcome in their children’s
  • Extend service opportunities for adults to serve as teachers,
    leaders, and volunteers.
  • Find, affirm, and honor the adults who are connected with
    children in your church and in your broader community. Look to them
    as role models for other adults.
  • Focus your training for leaders and teachers on the importance
    of taking time to build relationships with kids. If possible, form
    small groups within your children’s ministry to encourage
    meaningful relationships.

Encourage School Success

Nine out of 10 adults believe it’s “most important” for adults
to encourage children to be successful in school.

  • Tell everyone in your church about children’s milestones and
    accomplishments in school — entering kindergarten, going to a new
    school, or completing a school year. Remind adults that children
    appreciate notes, pats on the back, words of encouragement, and
    friendly inquiries about what’s happening in school.
  • Provide opportunities for adults to serve as tutors for
    children in your congregation or community.
  • Encourage adults to volunteer in children’s schools. Have
    adults look for kids from your church while there.

Expect Parents To Set Boundaries

Eighty-four percent of adults believe it’s important for parents
to establish clear and consistent rules and boundaries.

  • Talk with parents and adults about appropriate expectations and
    boundaries for children at church. Encourage all adults to
    reinforce those boundaries by telling children when they cross the
    line. Publish the boundaries in your church bulletin every now and
  • Encourage adults to talk directly with parents if they have
    questions or concerns about a child’s behavior — not as a way of
    blaming, but as a way of being supportive and learning how to work
    together. Remind adults not to focus only on when boundaries are
    crossed but also to tell parents when children do something

Teach Shared Values

Four out of five adults say it’s most important that adults
teach children and teenagers a set of shared core values, such as
equality, honesty, and responsibility.

  • Educate all adults about their role in nurturing faith as they
    pass on shared positive values.
  • Highlight for adults that they’re always modeling values — but
    sometimes not the values they want to pass on. Remind them that
    children notice when they’re dishonest or show disrespect, just as
    children also notice when they’re honest or respectful — even when
    it’s tough.
  • Ask your pastor to address shared values in sermons in ways
    that all generations can understand.
  • Plan opportunities for generations to discuss what their values
    mean and how to apply them. For example, at church dinners provide
    “table talk” sheets that guide all generations in discussing

Teach Respect For Cultural Differences

Between ages 6 and 8, children tend to develop an awareness of
similarities and differences in people. As this awareness grows, it
can either lead to a respect for others or to the cultivation of

  • Remind adults to expect, model, and talk about respect for
    cultural differences. Then respect becomes an integral part of
    children’s developing values and identity.
  • Invite adults who have experiences with different cultures to
    talk with children about their experiences.
  • Help adults examine their lives and attitudes about other
    cultures. Explore whether there are subtle ways they’re giving
    children messages that they don’t value cultural differences.

Guide Decision Making

Adults can be important guides and resources in helping children
learn how to make responsible choices.

  • Encourage adults to include children in making decisions. Have
    church committees invite children to join them every now and then.
    By involving children in their decisions, adults model
    decision-making skills.
  • Teach adults skills for guiding decision making. For example,
    while it may be tempting to tell children what to do, instead ask
    questions or share information that helps children learn how to
    decide for themselves.

Give Financial Guidance

Clearly addressing saving, sharing, and spending money with
young people can help equip them to make responsible financial
choices in a financially complex world.

  • Ask adults who’ve made faithful choices about money to tell
    their stories to children in church.
  • Encourage adults who collect the offering to invite children to
    collect and count the offering with them. Use this time to talk
    about why people give to the church.
  • Have intergenerational workshops to help everyone learn about

Have Meaningful Conversations

Three-fourths of adults surveyed believe it’s important for
adults to have conversations with children that help adults and
children “really get to know one another.” In reality, though, it’s
rare for adults to say more than “hi” to a child in church —
unless they’re teaching or have some other official role.

  • Examine your congregation’s current activities (worship,
    education, fellowship, service projects) to see if you can do more
    to connect generations through these opportunities.
  • Invite people from all generations to participate in simple
    one-time events and activities where adults and children get to
    know each other.
  • Place intergenerational discussion starters on tables in
    fellowship areas. Encourage adults to reach out and begin
    conversations with children.

Discuss Personal Values

A whopping 73 percent of adults believe it’s highly important
for adults to “openly discuss their own values.”

  • Give adults opportunities to talk about their values with other
    adults. Many will be more comfortable talking with children about
    values after they’ve talked with other adults.
  • Provide opportunities for adults of all ages to share their
    faith journeys, beliefs, and values with children. Encourage them
    to ask the children about their beliefs and values too.
  • Include parents in conversations with their children if the
    topics are particularly sensitive or there’s a wide range of
    opinions about the issue.

Expect Respect For Adults

Adults are united in believing it’s important to expect children
and teenagers to respect adults and elders as authority figures.
Sixty-eight percent of adults believe that this respect is highly

  • Create a respectful, polite environment in your church and
    children’s ministry programs. Have clear expectations for how
    people treat each other.
  • Challenge adults to show respect for children. Respect begets
  • Talk with children about what kinds of things they respect in
    adults. You may be surprised! Report what they say to adults in
    your congregation.

The Grading Grown-Ups study offers a clear challenge and
opportunity to children’s ministry leaders: To motivate and equip
all kinds of adults in the church to connect with children in
positive ways — ways they already believe are important. Those
connections aren’t made through volunteering alone. They’re made by
friendly, welcoming, and interested people who see and interact
with children.

As people who are already involved in children’s lives and
committed to their growth, you’re a model for other adults. You
have the opportunity to invite other adults to experience the joy,
satisfaction, and gift of being there for and with children, making
a difference that can last for a lifetime.

For more information, see Grading Grown-Ups: American Adults
Report on Their Real Relationships With Kids
, a nationwide
study by Peter C. Scales, Peter L. Benson, and Eugene C.
Roehlkepartain. The in-depth report, a summary, a discussion guide,
and other information are available for free downloading from and

Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, chief communication officer for
Search Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a co-author of the
Grading Grown-Ups study as well as Prescription for a Healthy
Church (Group Publishing, Inc.) Please keep in mind that phone
numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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