My grandmother was the WMU director of her church when my mother was growing up. My mother recalls being forced to sit quietly during WMU meetings, dragged onto WMU trips, and participating in WMU mission efforts when she was in elementary school. My grandmother lead a very mission-minded family, and still does. Fast-forward to my childhood, my mother made sure I participated in WMU educational programs like Mission Friends (for preschoolers) and Girls in Action (for girls grades 1-6).
My grandmother is currently an active member of her church’s WMU and has spoken to other WMU chapters in our county about her mission trips to Brazil and Africa. However, the WMU environment she raised my mother in is nothing like the WMU environment my mother raised my siblings and me in.
See, while I got to participate in Girl’s in Action, my youngest sister did not. Why? Because we moved to a church that doesn’t offer it. Why don’t they offer it? Because they don’t have a WMU member who has the energy to teach it. The WMU at this church is made up of mostly older women who have been involved in WMU all of their lives; and while they are very mission-minded women, they don’t possess the qualities, resources, and energy to support a program for the younger generation. The result? There is almost no participation of women under the age of 45 in our WMU and younger women in the church have no idea the amazing resource for missions they have their fingertips.
But this trend is a reflection of the church as a whole. In their 2016 annual report, the Southern Baptist Convention reports that while the number of churches involved with the SBC is up, church attendance and membership is down. So, what happened?
In the past 30 years, the center of family life in America has shifted from the church to other things. Instead of Sunday School, kids spend Sunday at the ball fields. Instead of attending Wednesday night church, families spend Wednesday night sitting on their couch watching TV. The measurement of church attendance has gone from how many times a week someone steps into the sanctuary, to how many times a month.
What we see is less families growing their children up in the church and as a result, we see less participation in church programs. This forces longtime church programs to be modified or to be abandoned simply because there aren’t enough people to participate, and there isn’t anyone who wants to lead.
But the WMU is the auxiliary unit of the SBC. At the national level, they lead missions efforts. At the local church level, they are suffering. They provide the educational materials for SBC missions. They provide structures for programs designed to reach specific age groups. But because the local church is suffering, these programs aren’t being used.
Flash forward to the future, where the youngest member of the church is in his or her twenties. Because if trends continue, the next generation won’t go to church. Why? Because the generation now doesn’t know about or how to participate in church missions. Why? Because the generation before them stopped teaching them.
WMU makes it so easy to be involved in church missions and in foreign missions. The resources are all there. And by the work of WMU from churches with large congregations, WMU programs work.
All it’s going to take is one person to step up and be willing to reach the next generation. If you’re interested in domestic and foreign missions, and you have passion for teenagers, talk to your WMU director about leading a program. Because Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the ways of the Lord and when he is old he will not depart from it.”