Recently has my attention been drawn to some key research on young children and church sponsored by the Church of England, HOPE Together and the Evangelical Alliance. Undertaken in February 2020, just before the coronavirus hit the UK, it was released on 18 May 2020 under the title Talking Toddlers. I felt that the findings of this twelve-page research report were so important for churches wanting to reach out to their communities, that in this blog I would simply highlight the main findings.
In the first paragraph the report states:
We began this research when we discovered that 40% of practising Christians said that they ‘came to faith’ before the age of 5. This means that we have the greatest impact on this generation; it is a bigger impact for people coming to faith than any other age group. Yet ministry to this age group can be hidden and seen as a secondary or fringe activity to the main activities in churches that focus on adults.
The sample was of 1,182 parents with children under the age of five from across Great Britain. To analyse the data, the sample was subdivided into three subcategories: practising Christian parents; ‘fringe’ parents; and ‘unreached parents’. It came up with some fascinating results.
- 12% of all parents of children aged 0-4 are practising Christians
- 62% of all parents of children aged 0-4 are in contact with the church (fringe parents)
- Only 25% of all parents with children under the age of 5 are not in contact with the church (unreached parents)
Amongst the fringe parents, 45% listed themselves as “no religion” and yet they said they come along to family services and Sunday worship, primarily “because they thought their children would enjoy it”!
A key factor in parents coming along to church activities was the timing of the activity. This was heavily influenced by the fact that 76% of all parents of children aged 0-4 are employed. The report noted that any church wanting to grow their church with this age group would need to find out about the best times to put things on.
The most effective method of invitation and promotion of church activities is ‘word of mouth’: 73% of fringe parents who came along said it was because someone had told them about it. 55% of all fringe parents have explored their own beliefs because they attended with their children.
Although 35% of all unreached parents would welcome an invitation to something that the church put on for them and their children, 79% said they had never received an invitation, and 72% said they did not know any parents who regularly attended church. The report notes that to reach the unreached, the church needs to work with practising Christian parents to find ways to enlarge their friendship circles.
The report ends:
We hope that churches will read this [report] and recognise the opportunity, turning a strategic eye on their work with the under 5s, giving it more of a priority and greater resources, so that every under 5 has the opportunity to grow up knowing God. We are praying for lasting church growth that begins amongst the under 5s and their parents.
Would that this were the case for all churches! Sadly, there are some churches which do not want young children to come on a Sunday because they can be noisy. Indeed, I know of one church which instead of welcoming a young mother and her baby, told the mother to leave – not surprisingly the mother and her baby never came to church again. Hence the reason for the heading of this blog, which is an adaptation of words Jesus spoke to his disciples when they sought to prevent children being brought to Jesus by their parents: “Let the little children – and their parents – come to Jesus!” (see Mark 10.13-16).