Raising Unitarian Universalists

Beloved community,

The majority of children who are raised attending Unitarian Universalist congregations do NOT become adults who attend UU congregations. It is not that they leave Unitarian Universalism for other faith traditions, although some of them do. It is that they do not become people who attend church.

When we talk about growing our membership, it needs to be part of our conversation that we would grow considerably if the children who attended religious education classes here became adult members. Those of you who have been at Chalice for several years can likely think of young people who grew up here but have not become adult members of a UU church (here or elsewhere).

There may be a variety of reasons for this, but surely one of them is that we do not do a good job teaching our children to appreciate and participate in Sunday morning worship, the central gathering of our community. Encouraging children to enjoy worship is one of the purposes of our monthly multigenerational service.

Part of the challenge, I know, is that the children often state a preference to visit together in the childcare area, rather than coming into the chapel. Their main satisfaction at church is to be with their peer group.

Another challenge is that, well, parents are sometimes perfectly glad to have the children go do their own thing during worship, leaving the parents to enjoy themselves without having to devote time and attention to children. It is understandable to want a break when one is available.

Another challenge is that although our multigenerational services are designed to be less sermon focused than on other days, it is not always a compelling hour for our young people. There is an aspect of attending service that requires young people to develop new skills—trying to sit quietly, keeping themselves occupied with quiet activities, learning to sing with the congregation, etc.—and requires their parents or guardians to work with them on developing those skills. Ugh! Now church seems like work!

Well…yes. If we hope to raise children who will enjoy the benefits and blessings of belonging to a religious community, then some attention and effort needs to be given to nurturing in them the skills of being in community. Attending worship once a month is, hopefully, a step in the direction of coming to appreciate the experience.

For children (and people of any age) who find it challenging to sit still through the service, here are some suggestions:

  • Bring a “fidget bag” of pipe cleaners, small containers of play-doh, puzzles, crayons, small drawing paper, and the like.
  • Settle younger children in as early as possible, and consider sitting near the front so they can see better and feel more involved.
  • Look at the order of service together and help younger children understand what is happening. Feel free to whisper instructions to help children learn “worship etiquette.” It’s okay for children to sit on the floor in front of the first row of chairs.
  • Talk about the service on the way home or over dinner on Sunday night. Look for opportunities to relate what was said or done in the service to daily life.

Bright blessings, Sharon