Baptists in Great Britain next year will observe a national day of prayer for children, prompted by news that the number of those 12 and under in Baptist churches had declined by 30,000 during the last two years.
"We need to get on our knees about these issues as a denomination," Nick Lear, adviser to the Baptist Union of Great Britain mission department, said, quoted in the Baptist Times. "This may well involve some repentance that we have neglected what Jesus said about the importance of children in the Kingdom of God, as well as asking for national and local vision about what is happening and how we can respond."
After remaining stable at about 100,000 since 1990, the numbers of children in British Baptist churches dropped sharply to about 65,000 between 2002 and 2004, according to recent figures. The mission department planned a major study to discover reasons for the decline.
In his verbal report, Lear suggested that one reason why there are fewer children in churches is that the number of adults of parental age is also declining--by 20,000 since 1992. Most children who stop attending do so between the ages of 10 and 11, but, he said, had decided to leave much earlier.
The day of prayer and awareness, which has not yet been assigned a date, would be designed to focus churches' attention on the issue and pray for renewed growth.
Speaking at the Baptist Union Council meeting in Swanwick, Lear called for a national strategy focused on the local church. "This may well affect what churches do with children during Sunday morning services, on other occasions when children are on their premises, in schools and perhaps in detached work in places where children congregate in in their homes," he said.
He said significant increases in the number and quality of work with children would require major investment, and called on Baptist leaders to consider the funding implications of new work which might be identified.
Lear contrasted the low level of support given to children's ministry with that given to work with adults. "With children, we are still mainly marking time," he said.
He quoted a Church of England report referring to churches which see their ministry as "predominantly one of keeping the children occupied until they can join the adult congregation."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.