Your church can make a greater impact in your community by reaching out to children in ways that appeal to the way kids learn.

Your church can make a greater impact in your community by reaching out to children in ways that appeal to the way kids learn. | by David Welday

The other day, I had lunch with my friend, Jay, who was thinking of moving to a neighboring town to get closer to his new employer. He lamented that it would involve moving to a different church. I asked if he and his wife were seriously considering it as an option. “No way,” he said. “We couldn’t even consider going somewhere else.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because my kids love it there.”

Those words drilled into my spirit. He was saying, “I’m committed because my kids are being fed, and they like coming to church.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The churchgoer’s corollary would be, “If the kids ain’t happy, the family ain’t stayin!”

Our Kids’ Well-Being Depends on Our Ability to Teach Them About Jesus

These days, it seems a new church plant is happening in practically every public middle school and high school that will open its doors to a fledgling congregation. That’s awesome. Let’s reach out to unchurched and marginally churched families.

Too often, though, pastors focus on how slick the adult worship service is, and they miss out on the real opportunity to reach young people. Instead of worrying so much about the cleverness of the tagline on your sign out front or the tastiness of your coffee bar in the foyer, let’s pay attention to the things that really matter. To families, what matters most is their kids!

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Religion and Health by Columbia University revealed that any sort of spirituality becomes a source of health and thriving for kids and that a lack of spirituality in families and youth culture can be a big source of suffering.

Parents are looking for help to provide positive spiritual training for their children. You want to meet families at their real point of need? Teach and touch their children! Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me? Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).

Kids’ Ministries Are Evolving

While most pastors are quick to laud the importance of a dynamic children’s ministry, they are equally quick to admit that they really don’t know how to create an effective one. However, a growing number of creative, comprehensive and spiritually powerful programs is appearing on the market. If you haven’t surveyed the children’s curriculum landscape recently, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that publishers have moved beyond flannelgraphs and mindless puzzles to create high-tech, fast-paced programs that will attract today’s media-savvy, digital-native kids.

Churches can no longer afford to offer discipleship programs for children in one flavor — a Sunday School hour during which the Bible and church doctrine are taught in age- and grade-appropriate classrooms. As our society moves faster and faster, our need to be “entertained” expands as our attention spans shrink. Churches must find ways to adapt to the changing culture without sacrificing or watering down the timeless truths of the Gospel message.

Three Traits of Great Kids’ Ministries

In my experience, both as a children’s ministry leader and a speaker who has interacted with hundreds of children’s ministry leaders around the country, I’ve found that great kids’ ministry programs have these three things in common:

1. The church leadership makes children’s ministry a priority.

2. The volunteers who are recruited to work with the kids are motivated and well trained. Just showing up to regurgitate a lesson printout won’t hold kid’s attention. Kids need to have strong relationships with adults who can effectively share their passion for Jesus.

3. There is a commitment to not just learning about God, who He is and what He does but to creating opportunities for children to experience God at work in their daily lives. They are challenged to have authentic encounters with the living God.

Assess How Well Your Church Is Reaching Children

I believe there are seven key factors that help determine the impact a children’s ministry program can have. How well does your church perform each of the seven actions below?

Rate your church from 1 to 3 on each point. Score 3 if you are very strong in this area, 2 if you are doing an adequate job and 1 if this is an area that really isn’t what it should be.

1. Do you focus on experiencing God or learning facts? Too often, we see children’s ministries as simply a place where children memorize Bible stories and learn about what God did. This isn’t wrong, but it stops far short of what is needed. Children, like adults, want to know that the God they are learning about is real and that He wants to interact with them in a personal way. It’s not enough to focus on simply teaching children Bible facts. In reality, it’s not what children know but whom they know that will change their lives.

Make sure your programs focus on encouraging and expecting children to have encounters with the living God…move beyond education to impartation. One of the ministry components of the Next Generation program is called “God Encounters” because children need more than information…they need transformation! That happens when we allow room for the Holy Spirit to truly minister to, and touch, young hearts in a way that captures their attention. (Your score: ______)

2. Do you have an expectation that children can actually do ministry? In far too many church programs, children are expected to passively listen and learn what is being taught, without being allowed to practice doing ministry.

Make sure your children’s programs engage kids in ministry. Let them serve as ushers and greeters, run the sound system, do prayer walks, raise funds for service projects, lead in praise and worship, participate in the puppet ministry, lay hands on the sick…you know, do the Jesus stuff that He commands us to do. (Your score: ______)

3. Is your church a fun place to be? I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to look forward to coming to church. In the book of Acts, we read how the early Christians met constantly. Do you think they did that simply because they were more spiritual than we are today? I suspect they met so often because they enjoyed it.

Make sure your children’s ministry is fun for kids. (Your score: ______)

4. Is your children’s ministry highly visible? In many churches, the praise band is front and center. In others, the personality of the pastor is the real focus. If you want to reach families with kids, let your children’s ministry be visible. Reference it on your signage. Post announcements and testimonials in the Sunday bulletin. Regularly have kids come into the adult service to minister a special presentation. If you are really brave, put on an entire children’s worship service during the morning adult worship service. Let parents see that what goes on in your children’s ministry isn’t just babysitting or child care but is a powerful ministry of the Word and Spirit. (Your score: ______)

5. Do you set high standards for your children’s ministry team? Too often, we are so desperate for workers that we’ll take warm bodies and stick them in a classroom. But if you want to build a ministry of excellence, you simply cannot staff it with untrained or un-impassioned people. How much time do you personally spend sharing your church’s vision with your children’s ministry workers and training them? Most children’s ministry leaders will tell you that their No. 1 challenge is recruiting enough help. If you make working with children a position of honor at your church, you’ll find that getting the help you need is much easier. (Your score: ______)

6. Focus on both evangelism and discipleship. Of course we want our children’s ministries to train and equip young hearts to do the work of the Kingdom. But part of our Kingdom mandate is to go out and win the lost, to live our lives as lamps shining brightly for our neighbors and coworkers to see. An on-fire children’s ministry program can be one of the most effective outreach programs your church has. (Your score: ______)

7. Partner with parents in training children. The Bible makes it clear that we are to “train our children in the way they should go…”. God is a generational God whose plans and purposes cannot be contained in the span of a lifetime. Part of your ministry is to win your generation, but another important part is to make sure that the next generation is prepared to step into their divine destiny and calling.

There’s a church in Nashville whose motto is that it is called to neighbors, nations and generations! They understand that part of the evangelistic mandate to “go and make disciples” applies to winning the next generation so that in every generation, there is a remnant that declares the work of the Lord. But it’s not the church’s job to train up a child; that’s a parental calling. Again, parents are looking for help. A very real and strategic part of your children’s ministry needs to be focused on supporting, equipping and training parents. (Your score: ______)

If you are really brave, don’t just take this test yourself; ask your children’s ministry leader or some parents to answer the same questions, and then compare your answers. It’s unfortunate, but I find that many senior leaders are not all that tuned into what’s really going on in with the children’s ministry at their churches. They tend to assume that “no news is good news.”

Are you ready to see your church reach new levels of impact in your community? Are you ready to take seriously the call to pastor not just adults, but children? Let’s go! CGM

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