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I don’t think any of us thought, back in March, that online church was going to become our only way of doing church for a long time.
To be honest, I thought we’d be back in our church building in June – which seems laughable now, as we face possibly another year (or two?) of Zoom/YouTube/Facebook worship.
There are many advantages to the accessibility of online church, but one group of people who are possibly a little excluded by it are children. My own experience, and that of numerous friends, suggests that many kids are simply not engaging with online church.
Some of the reasons for this could be:
- most online services are aimed at adults
- usually no possibility of dividing into age-specific groups like in ‘live’ church
- children’s concentration span for intense screen experiences is short
- children are used to being more active in church – dancing, doing actions, moving freely within a large space
- church is often at the time when children are used to getting out of the house and letting off energy – staying at home, in front of a screen, can be a challenge
So, given that we now have an indeterminate number of weeks/months/years ahead of us when online church is going to be the only way we can meet together as worshipping communities, what should we do if our kids aren’t engaging with it?
Don’t enforce their participation… but do make it clear that you will be participating
If you’ve got into a good habit of your child doing some colouring or craft while you watch church together, then absolutely keep on doing that.
However, if your kids are climbing the walls and desperate to be more active, then I honestly wouldn’t worry about them not engaging with online church. After all, it’s a long time to stay engaged in something which is probably not specifically geared towards them.
So be gracious. This is a big change for them, and you don’t want to turn them off church for life by coming over too legalistic.
More important than your child’s participation, however, is yours. Your child needs to see how you prioritise, and participate in, online church. They need to see that it’s a priority in your life – so don’t be afraid to say, “You don’t have to watch this, but it’s important to me to be a part of our church in this way, so I’m going to watch it”.
By doing this, we’re showing our children that our faith is in a solid, dependable, never-changing God. The world around us might be crazy, but that won’t affect our desire to spend time with our Heavenly Father.
Don’t worry if they wander off or do something else…but do model what it means to you to fully engage in online worship
Our children watch us more than we realise. Even when it looks like they’re not interested, they’ll be spotting when we’re worshipping, when we’re praying, and how attentive we are to what’s going on screen.
Granted, this is REALLY HARD when you have several kids running riot around you – but it’s still hugely powerful to engage in your online service as much as you can whenever you can.
This sends your child a positive message that you’re not simply watching online church out of duty or legalism – but that you’re genuinely excited and expectant about meeting with God, along with the rest of your church family.
Don’t stress about Sunday mornings…but do prioritise what is being provided by your church for your kids
OK, so we’ve established that, in this season, Sunday mornings (or whenever your church meets) may not be the best time for your kids to get their church-based discipleship.
But as long as your children are being discipled, does it matter when this happens?
Church discipleship shouldn’t be the only, or even the main, way our children deepen their faith – but it’s still important. Moreover, keeping up some kind of regular church activity online will help your child to transition back to ‘live’ church when we’re allowed back.
So do make it a priority to enable your child to attend whatever is being provided by the children’s or youth team at your church. Read the emails, respond to what you need to respond to, put the day and time in your diary, and make sure your child has a device ready to access what is being offered.
And if your church isn’t providing anything for kids, search out a church or organisation who is. As a start, you could check out York Schools and Youth Trust (YOYO), who have some fantastic videos on their YouTube channel.
Larger churches, conferences and organisations may also have some really good quality children’s material. Have a search on YouTube, show a few things to your kids, then stick with what appeals to them.
Don’t ignore the online provision…but do consider how you could provide opportunities for your child to meet up with church friends
In addition to discipleship, the community aspect of church is hugely vital to us in our faith journey – and this is no less true with children.
So, as well as attending Zoom sessions or watching helpful YouTube vids, see if you can organise the occasional meet-up with church friends, within the government guidelines. While the weather is mild, maybe you could meet in a park or garden for games, or have one friend round for a playdate (but please double check the guidelines in your area before you do so!).
Finally, I’d say that while church – in whichever form – is an important part of our walk with Jesus, it shouldn’t be the main way either we or our kids receive teaching. Establishing a regular (or even semi-regular) pattern of family devotionals or prayer time will help your child’s faith to flourish in the home.
YOU are the best person to nurture your child’s faith – so step up, and feel confident to do so! God has given your child to YOU to raise, teach and encourage. You have everything you need to do so.
And if you’re feeling daunted by the task, check out the wonderful Parenting for Faith resources. Rachel Turner has an amazing way of communicating so that we feel empowered, rather than guilty.
You may also find my Top 10 Family Devotion resources a helpful place to start.
Overall, I want to encourage you that this season could be a really wonderful opportunity for our children’s faith to blossom.
When churches are open, children go along with their parents, and we often don’t know whether stuff is sinking in for them, or whether it’s merely a social experience – a fun time to meet up with friends. Take away live church, and we’re all forced to confront our own walk with Jesus.
So rather than getting stressed or concerned about our kids not engaging with online church, let’s pray that this shake-up of conventional church throws our children onto God in a way they’ve never experienced before. What revival there might be if this generation were able to shake off the apathy of their parents – speaking for myself, of course…
Over to you. How has your child responded to online church? Does your church offer an online children’s or youth programme? How has your child’s faith been since churches closed?
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