Mission-shaped Children

On the whole, I strongly recommend this book. It is good read and I found myself nodding in agreement with most of its contents.

The first section is a useful review of the changes that have led to the decline in the numbers of children around our churches. This section resists the temptation to blame social factors alone and invites churches to examine the way that their own responses to children might also be part of the problem. Withers is particularly critical, and rightly, of an approach that sees children’s work as a means merely to contain and entertain children until they are older.

Having set the scene, the author then looks at the different ways that churches can engage with children. Firstly she examines Sunday worship and her words will challenge many churches to look again at their ‘Sunday Schools’ and how they engage children in week-by-week worship. This can only be a good thing.

Withers continues by looking at other opportunities to engage with children for worship outside the church walls and in the community, including with schools. It is here that the book is at its weakest. It does not really explore how midweek children’s activities can be built successfully into true all-age worship and falls into what seems to be a modern fallacy of calling such work ‘church’ without working through what exactly ‘church’ is. She also seems to fail to notice that children get older and so need to have other groups present for them to move into.

However these are minor criticisms of what is a ‘must’ read for anyone who wants to engage seriously in children’s work. In particular, the penultimate chapter - a methodology for moving towards a child-shaped church - is full of ideas and challenges. This section is immensely helpful to anyone who wishes their church to develop work with children.

The book has numerous examples of good children’s work to stimulate ideas and has challenging questions at the end of each chapter. This means that it would make an excellent resource for a study group. In fact I would urge any reader to spend time looking at these questions.