There have been countless studies on how children learn, how they interact with information and how they grow.
One of the themes of this research is that there are three primary environments in which children learn – classroom, apprenticeship and immersion:
# Classroom – The child is taught something by somebody. They listen and then process the information being shared with them. # Apprenticeship – The child is shown something by somebody. The child is involved in, and so learns from, a process. Information is engaged with and processed through implementation, experimentation and application. # Immersion – The child experiences and gathers information from the culture, environment or context within which they live.
Sunday morning kids work is 45 minutes, an hour at best, in the week of a child’s life. There might be activities, object lessons or games to go along with the bible teaching to help the children think through how to apply what they are hearing. It’s good sharing of information but it’s still a classroom environment.
Missional community, extended families of 15 to 30 adults (and any number of children!!) on mission together, give children & young people the environment to learn by being part of a community that lives out its faith. They are given the opportunity to be part of a group that looks to share its faith with others that don’t know Jesus. They don’t just attend an event but learn from many different and varied life experiences. They are encouraged to take more responsibility and participate; to be part of the community – not just to be talked at but talked with. In a missional community context children are not just waiting for adults to define something but shaping and crafting it themselves. They can be involved in, and contribute to, the life of the community.
Children learn by living out their faith – not just learning about their faith from others. They take hold of it for themselves through apprenticeship and immersion – seeing their parents lead, learning how to study the Bible for themselves and share Biblical reflections themselves. The community necessitates that young people help with younger children. Children can share with adults their thoughts on a passage, serving and sharing faith together as family.
There are many different ways communities function as they gather but three ways we found missional communities can ‘work’ well as they gather together have come by thinking about family environments; environments that are normal to families, both Christian & non-Christian.
Three environments all families interact with are:
1) The Educational environment (i.e school, nursery)
2) The Coffee Shop environment (i.e. Starbucks, restaurants)
3) The Party dynamic (i.e. birthdays)
# The Educational environment – is where the parents & children are learning together. We encourage families and extended families (missional communities) to think about rhythms of family prayer, worship and study. One of our family missional communities had gatherings where they took a bible passage and the children & young people came up with a drama, craft and teaching lesson from what they’d learnt and then shared with the adults. Lots of applause and then good conversations were had afterwards!
# The Coffee shop – is an adult environment with children present – tables, papers and coffee with activities in the room. This environment encourages the informal relationships and interactions between children, parents and the extended family. One geographical missional community did this as an access point for non-Christians with prayer cards and opportunities for conversations on the tables.
# The Children’s party environment – (if you haven’t yet got kids there’s a treat in store!!!) is an environment where parents serve the kids – everything is set up for the kids to have a great time together – noise, mess, chaos, games, fun………sweets!!
This is a great way to really help relationships & their faith come alive because if there’s one thing kids can do it’s have fun!! This is also an environment where non-christian parents and children can engage – enjoying the experience together.
Parents taking the responsibility as primary disciplers of their children and doing this in the context of a missional community is often a major but important shift
Effective missional communities use some or all of these dynamics as they gather and disciple their children rather than abdicate to the children’s workers or do a smaller, “worse” version of sunday school in a side room whilst the adults gather. Central children’s ministry should function to resource the communities – prayer, training, resources so that families can express their faith locally in community.
The synergy that comes from both a Sunday celebration (with central ministry resourcing) and a missional community lifestyle for discipleship of children is a dynamic that works for both parents & children. They are able to grow not only in relationship with God but also each other and they learn, together, how to be a family of missional disciples.