A couple of summers ago, I had the privilege of visiting a rural church in Northern Michigan during their vacation Bible school.

Every summer, this church welcomes about 20 children who walk across the street from the daycare center for five mornings of singing, play, prayer, and storytelling. During snack time, I sat next to one little girl, about five years old in pigtails. As we ate our animal crackers, she told me that she hadn’t seen her daddy in a while because he left and never came back. She said it so matter-of-factly, but also with the weight of sadness that revealed the brokenness in her heart and her home.

Studies show that this little girl will probably never be inside of a church building at any other point during the entire year, and likely not in her whole lifetime. Because a growing number of adults in America today are post-Christian, they are not likely to take their children to church. A 2010 Barna study revealed that only 5% of parents said that having children helped them become active in a church for the first time. Consequently, the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is today.

Vacation Bible schools, summer camps, and backyard Bible clubs can all be great ways to share the love of Jesus with the younger generation. As you begin planning for your summer youth programming, consider these three questions:

1. How has our neighborhood changed since we started using this particular summer outreach program for the youth?  If the cultural, ethnic, and spiritual demographics of your community have changed, then you need to consider if the program and curriculum you’re using still fits. The best way to find out is to ask your neighbors and to listen to them about what they would find helpful.

2. What knowledge of the Bible do the children have? The level of biblical understanding and knowledge that the children bring to your summer program today is probably much smaller than it was in the past. At the end of the day, what is the most important truth that you want to embed in their hearts? Every child needs to know, through your words and actions, that Jesus loves them.  

3. How are we building relationships? The church in a post-Christian culture has to move beyond event-based outreach to relationship-based outreach. What opportunities are you creating to develop long-term relationships with these children and their families?

Over the past year, I worked with Faith Formation Ministries to develop thoughtful questions and resources to help you plan mission-oriented summer programming for youth. You can find these ideas in their Children’s Ministry Toolkit under the Summer Ministries tab. May the Holy Spirit fill you and work through you as you love the children in your neighborhood this summer!

Written by Amy Schenkel, Resonate Global Mission’s Regional Mission Leader for the Great Lakes Region. Resonate exists to equip CRC congregations to join God’s mission, both in their local neighborhoods and throughout the world. Do you and your church want to live more missionally? Resonate ministry leaders like Amy are here to help. Send us an email, and we'll connect you with a Resonate ministry leader near you.