Dingwall Scholars

Aileen Pender

Church and Children: Beyond Sunday School

CEAS supported research into Christian education among children in Scotland. Aileen Pender was the Dingwall scholar.

The original concept for this research derived from two fundamental, yet personal, observations.  Firstly, an awareness of the declining numbers of children attending churches nationally.  In 1950s Scotland, children who did not attend or have contact with a church were in the minority. Today it is the minority who do have this contact.  Secondly, the realisation that Sunday activities for children have, in most Scottish churches, changed very little in the same period of time.  Education and evangelism remain the priority while spiritual nurture of the children is overlooked.

Yet, any similarities in children’s lives between 1950 and 2010 are few and far between.  Developments in science, technology, the media, national and world economies and the political arena have impacted hugely upon childhood.  Somewhere along the line however, the contribution and influence of church seems at best to have faded into the background.  This leaves one key question.  Can the trend of declining numbers of children attending churches in Scotland be reversed?

The research has involved a questionnaire survey of children’s ministry in Scottish Baptist churches.  With a 59% return, one of the most interesting responses revealed that double the number of children attend half the number of churches midweek, than attend all the churches on Sundays! This outcome has led to many conversations with church children’s workers across the denominations and ultimately to a street survey of parents. Three hundred parents of primary school age children were interviewed and the research benefited from their varied perspectives on children and church!

Ongoing research has included a comprehensive overview of spirituality as a developmental process in children.  This combined with an in-depth study of the teachings of Jesus in relation to children, will provide the basis for a suggested way forward for children’s ministry in Scottish Christian churches.

There are no easy answers or quick solutions to the problem of declining numbers of children attending church.  However, with enthusiasm, open minds, a willingness to accept and embrace change and a new commitment to children, the trend can be reversed.   Ultimately, children need church and churches need children.  This research, which was completed towards the end of 2012, shall go some way to informing a response to the challenge of nurturing children in Christian faith.

There are no easy answers or quick solutions to the problem of declining numbers of children attending church.  However, with enthusiasm, open minds, a willingness to accept and embrace change and a new commitment to children, the trend can be reversed.

Ultimately, children need church and churches need children.  This research, which was completed towards the end of 2012, shall go some way to informing a response to the challenge of nurturing children in Christian faith.

Lorraine Darlow

Children and Christian Formation

CEAS supported research into the connections between Christian nurture and formation within the worshipping practices of a faith community, principally in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Lorraine Darlow was the most recent Dingwall scholar.

This work looked primarily at the context of intergenerational worship and the formational influences of participation, ritual and wondering.

The original concept for this research derived from these observations:

  • common practice in most denominations is to separate children and adults when they gather for worship services
  • whilst the liturgical patterns of worship with adults include a variety of practices – including sharing in prayer, praise, preaching, testimony, response, and even communion is often restricted to adults only – the common practices with children tend to be shaped as educational environments rather than worship or liturgical spaces
  • whilst previous research in faith formation of children, going back almost five decades, highlights the importance of belonging and participation in the worshiping life of a congregation, contemporary practices are still shaped to engage cognitive understanding rather than Christian practice.  Spirituality and shared experience are not

The shared innate spirituality of all ages seems not to be as important as cognitive learning. The potential for sharing in worship collectively, with all ages and abilities, seems to be less valued due to the assumptions of what learning is possible for all, rather than what can be shared by all – despite the constant decline in the numbers of children, young people and families attending churches in Scotland.

Faith formation requires renewed approaches in church practices in order to create authentic worshiping environments that foster belonging and Christian experience for children and those of all ages in their discipleship together.

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