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Rethinking Ministry to Children

By Darren J. Daugherty

Whether you are a newcomer to children's ministry or an established veteran, building a ministry to children is a never-ending process. God has commissioned us to be contractors in ministry (1 Corinthians 3:10). Just as we build our lives for His glory, we must also build our ministries to glorify Him.

Growing a Church Through Children's Ministries
"A well-planned, quality children's ministry will attract new families. First impressions are important. Families looking for a new church home usually visit a church only once. Your church gets one Sunday to make a favorable impression...."
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THE CHILDREN'S MINISTRY BUILDER

Builders of children's ministry programs must be aware of trends in children's ministry, be effective in recruiting and training other builders, and know how to work within existing structures. The skill by which they carry out their responsibilities grows with time, but the builders must choose to increase this skill.

Nine years ago I was invited to be a children's pastor. But I had no knowledge of children's ministry. That position stayed open for 9 months. During that time my wife and I took a crash course in children's ministry: volunteering, reading, and attending conferences. We gradually knew God was directing us into children's ministry. He was developing in us a burden for children.

Our first children's ministry position involved a small budget and no other children's pastors within a 500-mile radius. About 5 years ago, I wanted to know more about teaching and ministering to children, so I earned a master's degree in elementary education.

In his book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders mentioned the lives of famous missionaries and church history leaders. Sanders said, "God gave these leaders gifts and talents that fit the mission to which they were called. What raised these men above their fellows was the degree to which they developed those gifts through devotion and discipline."1 As children's ministry builders, we must continue to learn and grow in the gifts God has given us.

EVALUATE YOUR EXISTING STRUCTURE

Some time ago we went through a major evaluation of our children's ministries: Why do I do what I do? Do I ever feel I am just a program director? Am I really making a difference in the children? A clear focus concerning the purpose of your ministry can help you answer these questions.

In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson said, "All these things I am so busy doing-they aren't being done in that pastorless congregation, and nobody seems to mind. What if I, without leaving, quit doing them right now? Would anybody mind?" He then explained, "I did, and they don't."2 How much of our busyness in children's ministry would be missed by people in our congregations?

Our evaluation process can be beneficial for existing, as well as newly formed children's ministries.

1. Blueprint: Specific Objectives

The first step was to make our objectives clear. We must have a clear focus on how we are to carry out the mandates of Scripture. As children's ministry builders, we need a blueprint. Specific objectives become the details that make up the blueprint.

In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren summarized Christ's five purposes for His church: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and service.3 We started with these five purposes for our ministry to children and their families. On a piece of paper we made two vertical columns: one labeled "Help Children" and the other "Help Parents." In both columns we wrote the five purposes and listed specific objectives under each purpose.

2. Inspection: Ministry Assessment

We then listed all the children's ministry programs and events over the past 7 years. (If you are building a children's ministry from scratch, list all of the programs and events you may want to incorporate into your ministry and evaluate their usefulness, using your specific objectives.) We then placed each program and event into one or two of the following categories: discontinue; continue as is; continue after making changes; bring back into commission. We also added a column for programs and events we wanted to start.

We then put each program and event on its own evaluation sheet. This helped us examine each program and event as it related to our objectives. As we evaluated each program, we could then place it in the appropriate columns on the master sheet.

This process is time-consuming, but it has proved useful in our children's-ministry-building process. We are now better able to answer the question, "Why do we do what we do?"

Evaluating your ministry with your goals and purposes as the standard brings confidence to you, your workers, and the children's parents.

3. Accessibility: For All

Builders are concerned with making buildings accessible to different people. There are three areas of accessibility we should be concerned about in children's ministry: 1) Non-Christians. Is your children's ministry an outreach? If you cannot bring kids to the church, are you bringing the church to them? How well do you welcome visiting children? 2) Christians: Is your children's ministry making disciples? Do your programs and activities foster spiritual growth in children? 3) Parents: Do parents feel welcome in your children's ministry? Do parents feel you are on their side?

Growing a Children's Ministry on Any Budget
"Many churches postpone children's ministry for lack of funds or personnel. But there are some ideas leaders can incorporate to develop good ministry programs for children...."
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MYTHS ABOUT CHILDREN'S MINISTRY CONSTRUCTION

Though the list of children's ministry myths can be long, I mention two:

  1. Parents want "tons" of programs and events for their children. There are a number of things children and parents can do without. Just as Eugene Peterson wondered if his congregation would mind if he stopped doing "busywork," we also stopped a few things. Most people didn't care. Those who cared soon understood we were trying to be more effective.
  2. Parents do not want their children with them in church. This is not true for every parent. Many parents would like to have their children in the worship service, but they are not able to for two reasons: The church fosters family separation more than togetherness; and parents are not aware of ways to create enjoyable together-in-church times.

In her book, Parenting in the Pew, Robbie Castleman said, "Churches sometimes develop programs for children because parents are not equipped or willing to train their children in the things of faith."4 Many parents are not willing because they are not equipped. The church and children's ministries can do a better job at helping families experience church together.

During my first years in children's ministry, I took it personally when parents would not send their children to children's church. I thought, Why would anyone not want their child in my children's church? I look at it much differently now. If parents are truly training their children in church, then I am thrilled when children sit with their parents. But if parents allow their kids to play around during the sermon, having the children there can be counterproductive.

CHILDREN'S MINISTRY + FAMILY MINISTRY

The biggest aspect of our children's ministry remodeling process is a deliberate focus on parents. We decided that if we really want to make a difference in the lives of children, we must focus on making a difference in the entire family.

In his book, The Future of the American Family, George Barna said, "After a 5-year period of experimentation, Boomers have been departing from churches in record numbers."5 Many came back to church for help with their families, but left again because of the lack of practical help. Others wanted to experience church as a family, but were disappointed because the church did not foster family togetherness. Barna explained, "People will be open to ministries that provide tangible help. In fact, how adequately a church responds to family needs may well determine how that church grows in the years ahead."6

Family ministry at our church is seen in three different avenues: 1) providing parent education; 2) being available as a resource and support; 3) coordinating events that bring families together. In parenting education, we offer classes, small groups, and one-evening seminars. We have also held a parenting retreat. Being a support to parents is accomplished through ministries such as a network for home-schooling parents, a Bible study for young moms, and a parents' newsletter. Being a resource means being available for questions and counseling and providing a number of meaningful times with parents. We do not attempt to have all the answers. We simply connect parents with those who have been dealing with similar issues.

Our family events are: father-son retreat, father-daughter dinner, mother-son picnic, mother-daughter tea, dad's day out with preschoolers, family camp out. Other events that were just for children in the past-kids' crusades-are developed as family events.

The first event we established was Family Worship Sunday the last Sunday of each month. Elementary-age children join their parents for the first two-thirds of the morning service. I share a 5-minute lesson, and the children are then dismissed to children's church. Two events we are planning are: the "We Love Parents" banquet and the parent-child Sunday school class. The "We Love Parents" banquet will provide children with an opportunity to serve their parents. Kids will buy tickets, invite their parents, and serve as waiters and waitresses.

Our parent-child Sunday school class will be open to parents and elementary-age children. We plan to use interactive lessons, drama, and other creative teaching methods. Each week a different family will be assigned to act out next week's Bible story. The class sessions will work in cooperation with weekly family devotions that we will provide.

It is exciting to see the difference a family-ministries focus makes on families. I have seen moms and dads take their parenting more seriously, children and parents sharing spiritual experiences, and children being a witness by the ways they conduct themselves and show love to others. We must help parents disciple their children. God gave the responsibility to them first.

You may wonder how a children's pastor can focus so much time on family ministries. We do not have as many children's ministry special events as we once had. We simply make sure we do the basics well (children's church, Sunday school, Wednesday evening programs, and a few other programs and events).

10 TIPS IN BUILDING AND REMODELING

  1. Grow in the gifts God has given you and try new ways of growing.
  2. Do not start too much too soon.
  3. Develop ministry purposes and objectives, then develop programs and events that support them.
  4. Do not give up. If you are a new children's ministry builder, do not get discouraged if you are the only one "building" for some time.
  5. Try not to add without taking something away if remodeling an existing structure.
  6. Spend time with your workers to build relationships.
  7. Include parents.
  8. Stick it out. Longevity in a ministry position will bring great rewards.
  9. Keep your own relationship with God top priority.
  10. Keep your family before your ministry.

ENDNOTES

  1. J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 52.
  2. Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 25.
  3. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 107.
  4. Robbie Castleman, Parenting in the Pew (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 38.
  5. George Barna, The Future of the American Family (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 188.
  6. Ibid., 199.

Darren J. Daugherty is pastor of children and family ministries at Summit Avenue Assembly of God, St. Paul, Minnesota.

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