Continuing the series of my discoveries in children’s ministry.

There are many who have produced developmental theories as to how faith grows in children. John Westerhoff used a diagram of concentric circles to illustrate faith development most simply:

• “The centre circle is experiencing. This stage is linked to childhood, and the key is for children to experience the faith community as a place where they feel loved and accepted.

• The second circle is joining. This is a stage in early adolescence and is a time when the young person looks to belong to a faith community and to join ‘God’s family.’

• The third circle is searching. This stage corresponds to adolescence and the natural shift in intellectual capacity. To use Piaget’s terminology, one moves from concrete to formal operations. Adolescents are questioning their experience of faith, the church, and what they have been taught, as well as the experiences of others.

• The fourth circle is owning. This is a stage during adulthood when the person makes a decision to believe and personalize what they have been taught as a child. This person is now believing because they want to” (Westerhoff in Bartlett, Belonging and Believing, 2000).

The diagram simplifies the complex process of coming to faith yet clearly illustrates the need to develop a child’s faith. There seems to be a fear of not allowing children to move into searching phase but rather keep them safe and entertained in the false belief that this will keep them in the church. Some parents are more concerned about their children being, ‘Safe in the faith, not strong in the faith.’ However children who are only being entertained will tire of church programs when they are old enough to discover the world has more to offer in terms of entertainment.