Where Are The Children?

The Church Trends and Research Association is an evangelical group in Taiwan that provides statistics on Taiwanese Christians and churches every two years. Since the 1990s, the numbers of Christians in Taiwan had been continually increasing, rapidly approaching a million believers on the island. The Association expressed a goal to reach 2 million Christians into the 21st century. The last investigative report was done in 2017, with little sign that the trend was slowing down. Then COVID happened, and everything ground to a halt. The latest data release was not completed until 2022, and if the statistics hold true, not only has the number of Christians dropped to less than a million, but it’s possible that there are half as many children in Taiwanese churches as there were six years ago.

How does the number of kids involved in Taiwanese churches drop by half? Some pastors are blaming COVID as an excuse for loosely connected attendees to leave and not come back. Others are blaming school and extracurricular activities for taking priority over church. Some are blaming the plummeting birth rate in Taiwan. Others are pointing out that the number of high schoolers transitioning to university students is hard to account for in these church statistics. Truth be told, it’s probably a combination of all these factors, and even more complicated and compounding issues. And yet, the majority of Taiwanese churches are self-reporting a dramatic decrease in church membership, especially children. Where are they?

When we followed God’s direction to move to Taichung City and work alongside Taichung Victory Church, our desire was to help a struggling church. Our host church in Zhubei is special compared to many other Taiwanese churches. Their attendance is often over 300 people, the church is full of kids, and it is common for families to have three or four children (which is very uncommon in Taiwan!). By contrast, Taichung Victory is located by Feng-Jia University, with a ministry focused on university students. We had much experience doing student ministry in the US. However, our initial time at Taichung Victory revealed to us a demographic missing from the church: families with children.

In October, my wife Sara made the decision to take the Sunday School children to nearby Wenxiu Park. What began as just an idea to get the kids outside to burn some energy eventually became a monthly Sunday School activity. Every month the children walked to the park for a story, art activity, and some playtime. But even more than that, families and children in the park became interested in what we were doing and wanted to join. This also became an opportunity to spend some time talking with parents in a laid-back, relaxing atmosphere.

The Wenxiu Park community is new to the Feng-Jia area. There are many newly built row-houses and apartment buildings, with many residential properties still in progress. All of this signaled to us that there are families near our church, families not connected to any church, families in need of a church. We communicated to the Taichung Victory Church coworkers our desire to focus on families in the Feng-Jia/Wenxiu community, and they have also started to feel this need as well.

The church coworkers decided to host a “Gospel Sunday” event at Wenxiu Park on Mother’s Day. This was an all-church event, and it was encouraging to see our church get involved and be excited about community outreach. Everybody had a part to play, whether it was blowing up balloon animals, leading music, or just chatting with parents at the park. It instilled in our church a desire to use Wenxiu Park as a ministry platform. And it helped our church understand that when people are uncomfortable coming into the church, then we can bring the church to them. We should be the church in our community, sharing Jesus in word and deed outside of the sanctuary doors.

Mother’s Day just paved the way for another idea we presented to the church: a three-day VBS at Wenxiu Park in July. Of course, when you’ve never hosted a VBS before it can seem like a daunting task. But it was encouraging to see our church coworkers communicating, sharing ideas about crafts and activities, giving feedback on Bible stories, and just thinking about what it would take to connect with families at Wenxiu Park. VBS was not only a great opportunity to build relationships with the kids in our church, but we made some connections with mothers of the children at the park. We had new families join our activities each day, and even some who returned from previous days. We didn’t focus on the numbers, because every new friend made is a success. We used this as an opportunity to learn, to discuss logistics, to think about what we could do differently next year. We came away from VBS tired—but encouraged!

Some churches here in Taiwan are still a bit discouraged and still asking the question: “So, where are all the children?” But they haven’t looked outside the doors. They haven’t walked to the park. Like many churches in America, they are more focused on how to get people into the church instead of bringing Jesus to the people who are uncomfortable walking through the door of a church. In this way, we have been encouraged by our church, that they see Wenxiu Park and the surrounding community as a place that needs Jesus. Jesus is already there, and we can go there and be his hands and feet to the families in that community. We asked the question: “Where are the children?” We received an answer: “They’re at Wenxiu Park. Why don’t you go and meet them?”

Continue to pray for Taichung Victory Church as they make Wenxiu Park a ministry platform. Pray for the families that we have made connections with through Sunday School at the Park, VBS, and other activities. Pray for our church as we also look for a new ministry space in the Feng-Jia community that is suitable for ministry to families and university students. Pray that we would make Jesus known in our community, and that through the ministry of Taichung Victory Church, others would desire to follow him.

Rev. Ben Hosch and his wife Sara serve as missionaries to the unreached peoples of Taiwan.
The Hosch Family on Mother’s Day at Wenxiu Park.
Sara chatting with parents during VBS at Wenxiu Park.

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