When you think of children’s ministry, do the following thoughts ever run through your head?
- We have so few children at church – what should we do?
- Even if we had children in our church, we are not sure what we would do with them.
- We have lots of kids but our programs are boring – they don’t seem to capture the kid’s imaginations.
- People get so worn out running children’s ministries – how can we recruit good, vibrant leaders to help kids grow up in the Christian faith?
Leaders often work hard to find a captivating curriculum, create programs to attract families, or even hire a new Children’s Minister, hoping this will ‘close the gap’ on our questions about children in the church. None of those actions are in themselves wrong – and many communities will rightly do those very things, however I want to challenge you with one Good Idea to try first before you do those.
Gather 6-8 people who love kids and discuss the following questions together prayerfully.
Why do we want children in the church?
Flesh out your motivation: we often say we want kids at church because they are “the future of the church”. While technically this is true, it is a poor motivator. We should want kids in the church because the church is God’s home for all people in any given generation – young, old, middle aged, disabled, healthy, etc. All people at any given time are to find a home in the church, children included. Check your motivation: is your mission to generously love all people, including children? If so it will be incredibly attractive to families and kids and it will inform any programs or things you do to create space for kids at church.
The most fundamental first step to having children and youth at church is loving them and delighting in them for who they are at any stage of their life.
How do we welcome families and children?
Church can be an intimidating and scary thing for newcomers. Think through your programs (Sunday morning; mid-week; Friday nights; summer daycamp, special events) and outline who is responsible for welcoming parents and children and how they do it. Are there people who have time to have a conversation with a visiting family and just chat and make sure they know what is available for their kids? Does the leadership in your community model a flexibility with the noise and chaos children sometimes bring to worship events? Does your welcome strategy adequately and visibly communicate to caregivers the safety protocols you have in place when caring for their children? Where would such information be highlighted on your website or in your printed materials for newcomers?
All of these will help you discern whether or not you are communicating that your church is a safe and welcoming space for children.
What is our goal for the children in our midst?
Each community will have its own approach to teaching the Christian faith but the goal of that teaching often goes unarticulated. Take some time to nail down 3 core goals for children in your community. For example, one community hashed it out and came up with three goals for children at church. They decided that over time they wanted children to become: communally-connected, Biblically-literate and excited for a life-long journey with God. These goals enabled them to think through possible curricula to buy, how much the children were integrated with the larger community (whether on Sundays or other days) and whether their teaching methods kept kids’ engaged and interested. Every suggestion and idea that came up got run through these ‘core goals’ and helped them shape a program for their setting. It also gave them the freedom to try things and then decide whether it helped towards the goals.
Clear goals give us the freedom to try things (and sometimes fail) in service of discovering and creating the best possible space for kids in our church.
Is the whole community on board with nurturing children in the faith?
If we are honest, most communities will have a ‘yes and no’ answer to this. That is OK – but only for the time being! Part of creating a vibrant, growing space for children in the church is helping and supporting people in seeing that all of us have a role in nurturing the children in our midst. One community did this by working to broaden the number of ways that people could support ministry to children without being a front-line caregiver (prayer cards to take home, snack prep before Sunday mornings, cleanup after Sunday mornings, craft prep at home). One community recognized some tensions that were surfacing between very active (and running!) children and frail elderly members. They worked hard to listen to both parties and tried to craft a solution that kept the overarching goal (we are one community, not lots of mini-communities) in sight. The result was a fellowship time in one space but with different zones (a quiet, sit down ‘café’ space for the elderly and a ‘permission to run’ space for kids). One community worked hard to visibly thank and celebrate any and all people who contributed to work with children.
Creating a culture of broad-based awareness of and practical ways to support and interact with children will open up new avenues for ministering to children as people discover that they, too, can have a meaningful and non-overwhelming role in children growing up in the faith.
If you work through these 4 questions, you should have a solid base for ‘first steps’ in discerning how your church can best share and cultivate faith among the next generation.
- You will have a sense for the culture around children in your church.
- You will have a sense for the skill sets in your community related to working with children.
- You will have potentially discerned leaders in your midst who love kids (which at the end of the day is more important that having a great skill set for ministering to kids).
- You will have a sense for whether you are indeed welcoming in a gracious and transparent way to new families and children.
- You will have clear guidelines (in your goals) for starting to incrementally build a ministry to children.