Not only does the Northern hemisphere seem to be warming up with conferences interesting anyone involved in Child and Family Ministry. In the past few weeks we have had Orange, http://orangeblogs.orgin the USA, though generously available to anyone “upside down” who is able to be sleep deprived with live internet sessions; Messy Church,https://www.messychurch.org.uk in the UK, and InterGenerate 2019 http://www.intergenerateconference.com
USA, about to start. Such a collection of people and ideas involved in Children’s or Intergenerational ministry, is indicative of how important Ministry with children is now.
But there is something else emerging with the warming weather, a collection of long needed statistics.
were the first stats out of the northern winter, followed by the publishing of a paper in the Journal of Research on Christian Education on the Impact of a Paid Children, Youth or Family Worker on Anglican Congregations in England ://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10656219.2019.1593267?journalCode=urce20, and then the publishing of the data from the Gen On questionnaire completed by congregations, worldwide.https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0177/8392/files/Faith_Formation_in_Churches_Research_Report.pdf?160
Before we hurry, and we should with great excitement, towards the statistics, we should also stop and ask a few questions. It is important to be aware of the aims of the studies and where they are from. Does data coming from the Northern Hemisphere reflect the social realities of the Southern Hemisphere? What of these statistics is universal, and what are cultural? really must be one of the first questions we ask ourselves in the Southern Hemisphere. Also, we should ask ourselves Who produced the statistic? under what conditions? and we need to ask ourselves if we believe we would get similar results in our own culture.
Unfortunately, Australia lags with statistical research around Child and Family Ministry and there would appear to be several reasons for this. The first is that getting research trials involving children through values committees is harder, more complicated than in any other time in Australian history. Second, We don’t have access to data banks with the types of statistics required, though you can put in a request to https://cra.org.auor https://mccrindle.com.au/about/ to see, but as many Uniting Church in Australia have not replied to their questionnaires, there is little, especially Victorian data available. Also, to access what is available requires money.
When we combine with the Northern hemisphere our data is minute and makes no difference to the statistics. For example, only 32 Australian churches and 5 New Zealand churches are represented in the Gen On data, less than 3 %.
But it is Data, and I have been asking for data for a few years now, primarily because Ministers and congregations have been asking for proof of the need to move away from the Sunday School model that most church council members grew up with. Until now, all I and others involved in Child and Family Ministry, have had available to us is Theory, primarily borrowed from educational and spirituality theorists, and Biblical basis grown out of the Child Theology Movement. A form of theological analysis not encountered in the traditional form and structure exegesis. and Child Theology a Theological Response by Francis Young in Anvil Vol.35 Issue 1 https://churchmissionsociety.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/Anvil_Complete_Volume_35_issue_1_2019_low_res.pdf
Asking congregations to trust, to have faith in a new structure has been difficult for many. It has worn out many involved in Child and Family Ministry. I am not saying that the incoming statistics will solve our capacity to sell change, but that it is another resource available to congregations to help guide social and structural changes in the education of our young. But we also need to be wary of using data without due consideration and which may not reflect our cultural experience. And may I encourage more garden variety data of our own. And we have had some https://theconversation.com/new-research-shows-australian-teens-have-complex-views-on-religion-and-spirituality-103233
Dr Vivien Mountain, Children’s Prayer: Multi-faith Perspectives (2016, Christian Research Association, Nunawading)
Bunge, Marcia J. (ed), The Child in the Bible, (2008, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids)