An effective children’s ministry will go against the statistics and keep kids coming back to church.
By Cindy Sanders
Does it seem like the boys and girls in your ministry walk in each week, sit down and wait to be entertained? Do they think of church as something to check off their list as another thing they have to endure just because their parent or guardian said so? Imagine what it would be like to have the children involved in the ministry. Actually “being” the church instead of church “being done” to them?
First you need to understand why it is critical to reach kids at an early age. Then, work on changing the trend of losing them at an alarming rate.You may need to make adjustments in the way you lead and minister. Are they worth it to you? Will you make the sacrifice to keep children coming to church?
Children’s ministry probabilities
In his book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should Be Your Church’s #1 Priority (Regal, 2003) George Barna reports these statistics:
- Children between the ages of five and 13 have a 32 percent probability of accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- The probability of accepting Christ drops to 4 percent for those who are between the ages of 14 and 18.
- Those older than 18 have a 6 percent probability of accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Barna’s research also discovered that a person’s lifelong behaviors and views are generally developed when they are young — particularly before they reach their teen years. The disappointing news is that the statistics show us children are dropping out of church as soon as they can convince their parents to let them stay home.
In the book Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It (New Leaf Publishing/Master Books, 2008) by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, the 20 to 29-year-old evangelicals who attended church regularly but no longer do so, report:
- 95 percent attended regularly during elementary and middle school
- 55 percent attended during high school
- 11 percent were still going during college
The most alarming conclusion of this information is that 40 percent of these kids dropped out in elementary and middle school. We automatically think that we lose them when they go to college, but we are losing them much earlier. So, what is the solution?
Take a good look at the children’s ministry in your church. An even better idea is to have an outsider come in and look with fresh eyes and give input. What does the environment say to a parent, child, and guest? Does it feel welcoming, warm and comfortable? Is it kid-friendly, safe, clean and appealing? What about your class time? Are you being a good steward of the time you have with kids? Does every child feel special? Is there a greeter at the door and someone to pay attention when the child who doesn’t fit in needs a friend?
After you have assessed the basic environment and class time, focus on using the natural tendencies God put inside each child to involve them in ministry. Some of the first words a child learns to say are, “I can do it myself.” Children must feel they belong. They need a purpose beyond attending a class or worship service. Spiritual gift surveys and basic personality tests are a great way to help kids realize their potential.
Every Christian can learn to share their faith with others. When kids accept Jesus as their “forever friend,” they have a story to tell. Writing out a short testimony of their experience gives them confidence and boldness to share.
When children know what you expect of them, they will rise to the occasion. Talk to them about the importance of consistent attendance. Give them responsibilities in the classroom and during the services. They can greet guests, lead worship songs, pray, dramatize the lesson and create illustrations. With training, some can even be responsible for sound or lighting. Never assume kids can’t do something until you let them try. Regularly offer service projects and watch the children in your ministry blossom and mature.
If children enjoy the environment and feel like they belong to a group, where does the true relationship with Jesus Christ come into play? Kids need consistent, authentic faith modeled by significant people in their lives. Although parents are the primary spiritual leaders, they need church leaders to partner with them. Kids also need intellectual knowledge from people they can trust about current issues they face.
A biblical foundation must be built in the lives and hearts of children. Because of the Word of God, they will think differently and live differently in order to be faithful to that Word.
Point the parents to Deuteronomy 6 and remind them to teach God’s Word all the time, in everyday life. Provide resources, a link on your church Web site, or email activities to the home. Encourage interaction and family service projects church-wide as you emphasize the importance of time together. As life happens, parents will begin to use teachable moments to discuss the ways of God.
The facts state the problem and demonstrate why we can’t keep doing church the same way we have always done it. Assess your environment and make some needed changes. This first step might be to get some new children in the door and make the ones already there feel some anticipation of change. Focus on spiritual gifts and watch your children shine.
Next, build relationships with the kids, parents and ultimately with Jesus Christ. Introduce Jesus and His love in everything you do and watch your ministry change. In Mark 10:14, Jesus says, “Let the little children come.” We want to do everything we can to keep them coming!
Cindy Sanders is a children’s ministry consultant for Life Catalyst Consulting, Flower Mound, TX. [www.lifecatalystconsulting.com]
Ministry to children cannot thrive unless leadership is intentional about its role
Too often the leaders in charge of the children’s ministries are caught up in the management of week-to-week programs. Attention to the big picture of the church’s role or vision can be neglected.
This mentality can dilute and negate the value of ministry to young children, presuming it to be a “no news is good news” ministry in the eyes of pastors and other church leaders. A challenge exists to those leading young children to rise up, lead and connect. A challenge exists for pastors to invite this connection and let it evolve appropriately for that age group of participants.
Methods for making this connection will be as varied as each individual church. The key to the connection is not the style, but the source.
The four sources
Consider four sources for connecting the children’s ministries to the foundation, or what I call, the big church.
1. Connect to the center. The center of a child’s life is the adults who care for him day to day. Children’s ministry needs to connect to the home. Direct methods can include offering parenting classes or newsletters, providing good customer service and developing relationships with the adult arms of the church through things like class adoptions and new mom representatives.
2. Connect to the core. The core of an individual is their eternal capacity; their soul. Excellent tools, such as curriculum, craft books, toys, CDs, staging and lighting saturate the market for children’s ministry. As vital as these are, they are still simply tools. A connection takes place when the organization knows what they want to accomplish by using the tools. Connecting to the eternal capacity comes from intentionally knowing what spiritual milestones a ministry wants to see children reach as they grow and promote through it in stages.
3. Connect to the community. The community of a church is the tangible location and the individuals who live and work there should not be untouched by that church. Connecting to community involves getting the church moving among and serving the lives and businesses around it. Children’s ministries are no exception to this connection.
A little creativity on the part of a leader can open opportunities to serve or encourage local day cares, nursing homes, family services departments, public servant offices, local food banks, homeless shelters and more.
4. Connect to the commission. There is a purpose for the church being established. It is stated in scriptures. This commission is for the church to be organized in preaching, teaching and giving foot to the Gospel. Alongside this commission individual churches often lay out visions particular to them. The role of a leader in ministry to young children is to connect that ministry to these overall goals. If the goal of a church is to send people to other countries with the message of the Gospel, is the children’s ministry engaged in assisting that somehow?
Intentionally connecting to the big church involves planning and often additional money. Leaders of children’s ministries, who have the responsibility of creating ministry plans and using budgets, should challenge themselves to connect these to the source.
Kim Williams is director of Preschool Ministries, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA. [www.fbcw.org]
International Network Holds Conferences
The International Network of Children’s Ministry (INCM) is a nonprofit, denominationally independent organization located in Castle Rock, CO. INCM is the premier organization in America for training and resourcing Christian leaders from around the world who minister to children and families, and its mission is to train, encourage, motivate, network and resource Christian leaders.
INCM stages the Children’s Pastors’ Conference (CPC), which is the foremost Christian conference focusing on children’s and family ministry. CPC includes four life-changing days presented by experts in children’s and family ministry. Quality speakers and professional performers are scheduled throughout the conference.
Since networking face-to-face with ministry colleagues is important, the registration fee includes six meals connected with each general session. Conference participants have the opportunity to browse the largest gathering of children’s and family ministry resources available.
CPC offers two location options in 2010 for nearly identical events that together attract 4,000 leaders:
January 4-7 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN and March 14-17 at the Town and Country Hotel in San Diego, CA.
The “CPC Experience” offers more than 140 breakouts choices, including a Pastors’ Track with topics such as “The Joy of Leading with Joy” and “How to Wire Families for Serving and Church Growth.” Academic credit is given through Trinity International University.
Inspirational speakers, meaningful worship, excellent focus groups, a jam-packed exhibit hall and an abundance of fresh ministry concepts make CPC the event that cannot be missed for those working with children. Details at www.incm.org.
Children’s Ministry Resources
- Web site suggestion for spiritual gift information and testing: www.mintools.com
- Books for service projects: Hands-On Service Ideas series by Group Publishing and The Big Book of Service Projects from Gospel Light. www.group.com and www.gospellight.com
- Teach your children to share the plan of salvation: www.cefonline.com