Goals, Plateaus, and Progress
The old saw says that "if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." We've heard that a thousand times, but we act as if we haven't. Case in point: what are you aiming for with the children in your family? In your church? Let this serve as a plea to develop congregational targets for each age group, and for each individual within each group.
For example, we could have as a target that every one of our 3rd graders would know the books of the Bible, where to find the parables of Christ, the names of the patriarchs, etc. By the sixth grade, each child should know the major doctrines of the church (I'll let your church decide which ones those are!), the different kinds of Psalms and how they are used, and how to defend their faith.
You can take this and run with it. It will require a great amount of discussion, prayer, and effort to graph out knowledge goals for each level all the way through high school but it is worth it! When a child comes into the church late, there is still time to catch them up with special attention and with materials, perhaps shared with the family. Families would know what is expected of their child -- and this would give them a starting point on family devotionals, moving them along until they become a Deuteronomy 6:4-9 family.
But there's more. Other goals are service goals. By the second grade, the children should be expected to be involved in serving others. That could take many forms and those forms might change as the child gets older, but every child -- and every family -- would be expected to be at work in the kingdom. In our congregation that includes (this is by no means an exhaustive list) sorting clothes and food at God's Helping Hands, sitting with the people who come in for help at that warehouse, mowing lawns and doing errands for people who are sick, in the hospital, or on a mission trip, writing letters to missionaries, raising funds for mission or charitable work... all the way to joining a short term mission work -- at least once -- before graduating from high school. Volunteering at Christian camp or at inner city missions/camps/sports is also part of the list of goals we've set for our teens.
Set goals for your children, for all children of the church, and for the families. Be flexible and realize that not everyone can do everything, but help them do as much as they can and honor them publicly when they achieve their goals. Let part of your gathered worship on Sunday be a time where we celebrate and encourage the kids on their pathway to spiritual maturity.
Because, if you don't, you are aiming at nothing. And we know what that means!