The cornerstone of the building where Altadena Baptist has met for teaching, fellowship and worship since 1958 reads: “TRAIN UP A CHILD IN THE WAY HE SHOULD GO . . (Proverbs 22:6a).”  That inscription is testimony to the prime value this congregation has always placed on the Christian education of its youth.  As we move into the future, we want to reaffirm this priority through the church’s ministries to children.  But we live in a different world in 2014, and what worked a half-century ago may not work as well today.  The Education Department of the Deacon Board has been wrestling with the new realities for the past few years, and we’d like to share some of our discoveries with all of you.

First, we have found that the traditional Sunday School, as an hour of learning time before the morning worship service, is being abandoned by more and more churches.  It’s quite common for larger churches to have age-graded classes at the same time as the morning service, with the children learning while their parents are worshiping. In many cases traditional Bible-based curricula have been replaced by more experience-oriented activities.  These two articles show that this is a nation-wide trend, not just ABC’s issue:

Second, in recent years, we have had fewer young couples in our congregation who are starting families and rearing their children.  One reason for this may be the gentrification of the Pasadena area which has reduced the number of affordable housing units available to young families.  At ABC, this has resulted in some age groups that may have only one or two children.  It has been difficult to set up classes without clustering children who have too great an age span for good learning.

Because of these factors, we decided about three years ago to move to a new model, in which our major venue for educating our children would not be in the Sunday School, but in Kids’ Church, at the same hour as the morning worship service.  We put a great deal of thought, prayer and effort into choosing and adapting the right curriculum for Kids’ Church, and we worked hard to recruit and train a number of rotating leaders for that program.  This has worked quite well, first under the leadership of Ben Zobrist, then under Jacqueline Kyoda, and now under Shaneisha Hendrix and Lauren DeVaughn.

We have still maintained a children’s Sunday School program of some sort, mainly for those families in which the adults are involved during the 9:45 am hour in one of the two Adult Bible Study classes or in rehearsal for the Worship Team.  We have experimented with different models, and currently Melody Lumpkin is committed to developing a creative faith experience for the younger children, with assistance from others.

Another factor we have tried to address is the fact that some of our children have special learning or behavioral needs.  We have decided to see these as special opportunities and to dedicate ourselves to fully supporting them and their families.  We’re developing a team of “special buddies” whom we are training to help integrate each child into the Kids’ Church experience in a positive way.

Finally, we’ve been working for quite some time on upgrading our Child Protection Policies, and we want all staff and volunteers, as well as the parents of the children under our care, to understand and embrace them.  We think everyone should know our “Guidelines for Those Working with Children at ABC,” should be dedicated to insuring that all church activities are safe places for children and should know how to recognize and report unhealthy behaviors.

For all the reasons discussed above, we believe that this Sunday’s “Children’s Ministry Informational Meeting” will be one of the church’s most important gatherings.  We will explain the goals of all our programs for children and will talk about the new leadership, scheduling, volunteer development and curriculum.  We will also be asking for your ideas for improving the quality of all we’re trying to do, so that we can authentically and successfully “TRAIN UP A CHILD IN THE WAY HE SHOULD GO.”

–Pastor George Van Alstine,
for ABC’s Education Department