I wrote the follow review (“One Generation from Extinction”) a while ago . . and would just add this suplemental – the “church” is sleepwalking towards oblivion. I say that because what is often reported in the Christian media are the accounts of unmitigated disaster . . . or something amazing that transforms lives . . . in between (and obviously not considered newsworthy) is the mundane, the boring, the just “not very good”. The vast number of children and young people who continue to leave the church are not leaving because it is awful . . . it is just that there is not much to what most churches engage in that excites the imagination, forms faith or develops disciples . . . mediocre is going to be the death of us.
This is not a reflection on those serving children and young people in our churches faithfully, week in and week out . . . they, alone, cannot usher in a new age of growth in the Church . . . it will take the whole church to wake up! Church leaders, parents, grandparents, 20 somethings, 30 somethings . . . we all need to get a grip and start making a difference together for the next generation.
Some years ago, Penny Frank wrote a book called, “Every Child a Change to Choose” . . . published in 2002 (with it came a website and resources to encourage evangelism amongst children) . . . it did not last long, and the book is just a footnote in Christian publishing history . . . about the same time, Margaret Withers was a year into her job as “Arbishops Adviser on Evangelism among Children” . . . this post ceased in 2006 (work finished? Children now “reached”?) . . . nope. Please, lets not let Marks book just be an “interesting” read, or something worth thinking about what when we have more time, or something we recommend to others because it is not really “our bag”.
This “bag” is everyones . . . there is an old (and oft quoted) african proberb, “it takes a village to raise a child” . . . we need to rediscover what it means to be Church, literally, the “community of the called out ones”. If as adults in the church there is nothing distinctive about who we are and what we do as followers of Christ . . . it follows that we do not have much to pass on to the next generation. We maybe need to rediscover what we are here for. Marks book helps the church begin to do this – not if we read it, but if we do what it says.[Review] “One Generation from Exctinction”, Mark Griffiths, Monarch (2009) This is the most important book / report written about children’s ministry (and how the church needs to engage with children and their families) for the last ten years. Why do I say that? Well, it not only unpacks some excellent research with some uncomfortable conclusions – hence, perhaps, the title – but, unlike many books before – it goes on to articulate from Mark Griffiths’ own practice how we, as the church, might go about making some changes in children’s ministry that have a lasting impact.
What is great about the whole book is that everything Mark discusses or proposes is based on the evidence found in the research. This is an academically rigorous piece of writing, theologically stretching and yet, at the same time, eminently practical. I guess this is what happens when you have the uncommon combination of an academic and a practitioner in one person!
The first part of the books gives a great overview of where we have come from since the very first Sunday school to the current challenging circumstances the church finds itself in. This, in itself, makes the book worth a read – particularly the eye opening “fifties freefall” – as Sunday school moved from afternoons to the same time as morning services, the church subsequently lost half its children in one generation. There is more to it that that – but you have to get the book! There follows a detailed exploration of case studies carried out on a number of kids clubs.
In the second part of the book as Mark explores how we connect with the un-churched child there is a very helpful exploration of theology and an excellent critique of church practice and what helps (and hinders) effective work with children. There are ideas and concepts, insights and nuggets of truth on almost every page in this section. In Mark’s conclusion, there are recommendations that deserve more notice than a quick read of my review . . . they deserve close attention and prayerful action – if we are to grow the church and make sure the title of this book is not prophetic.