Where are the Children?
As we come to the end of 2022 and move into the December ministry theme of wonder, I thought I might talk about a wondering you might have. Where are the children?
It’s a common question for congregations right now, and one that many people are asking. In a recent blog post by Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region, this question was explored (link to full article at the end of this post).
Evin writes, “The pandemic has been deeply disruptive and traumatizing for many and this is continuing for families with children… What families really need is a break!”
Across the entire nation, UU congregations as seeing this absence of families with children. Regardless of the size of the congregation or the wonderfully skilled religious educators, attendance by families is seeing a marked decline. In Evin’s blog, they noted, “Between 2020 and 2022 certified <religious education> enrollment dropped by about 39% nationally and in our region. Adult membership dropped only 6-7% in the same period.”
But you might wonder why this is happening. Well, let me first say that we’ve been thrilled to welcome back the families we have seen, as well as several new families who have recently joined us! And we should be really excited to have them, because life right now is super hard for families with children. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Not only has the time that’s passed with the pandemic been intense for kids, it’s also just been really long! 1-2 years in the life of a child is huge, and they are not the same people they were before. This means they may not feel like they know each other anymore, and they may have gotten used to not participating in community the same ways they used to.
- People want to feel normal, and to see similar programming “like it was before.” Truth is, we are not the same as we were before, and pushing too much on lessons and curriculum can push families right back out the door.
- For adults with children, the pandemic totally upended their family infrastructure, their routines, and how they prioritize their time. It may take a while before families work this out.
- Enrollment was already in decline pre-pandemic. Between 2018 and 2022, there was a <1% drop for adults, while enrollment for children and youth saw a 17% decline.
Now you might wonder, What can we do? There are many suggestions for this, but the main one is to just be patient. Families with children will make their way back on their own time, and new families will hear about us and find their way to us. Many sources of church leadership in religious education also offer these suggestions:
- Center connection rather than education
- Bring in more play and less lecture
- Accept the wiggles and noises of all ages (people haven’t been around each other for a while)
- Support the staff and leadership in events, classes, and general welcoming with families and children. (Our trunk-or-treat was a GREAT example of this!)
- Include children and families more in the life of the church, such as multigenerational worship, whole church activities and events, and social justice opportunities.
Yes, this is a difficult time for families, and it is understandable they may need time. We will keep doing as much as we can to give them space, while also making programming and worship that is open-ended and inviting.
Families of UUCCH, we see you. We love you. We welcome you. We honor your struggle. We hope you remember you are appreciated and accepted here, no matter what place you’re in right now.