Pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about how your church can have an effective ministry to children.
Or so said Jesus—at least something like that. Okay, King James has it like this, “Suffer the little children to come unto me….”
And sometimes they do suffer at church.
Here comes our admission that we must work hard and with heart for this area and not just allow it to be an afterthought, with dreams that we must reach the parents and the children and youth will trail along.
No. Not so.
Parents and guardians all know if their children and youth are benefiting from and desiring to get to their church meetings, and often the younger ones—overtly or behind the scenes—guide attendance patterns, or transfer-to-another-church issues.
And there is so much out there to help in this area. We all can improve, even if there is only one staff member at the church who is also the pastor and the chief visitor and counselor and administrator.
Please allow us to think out loud with you and suggest what is helping us.
I’m thinking children would run to sit on the lap of Jesus, and that they and their older brothers and sisters should look forward to church!
Trying to think young,
Knute, with Jeff and Jim
Watch the Video
Who says these are the most important?
- Our guests and the people in our church actually say they are the most important, and I agree with them!
- Surveys show the number one reason many people, especially parents, stay at a church, or return to church is actually their youth and children’s ministries.
- Huge “front door” ministries have very high value when it comes to effectively reaching people and growing the church.
- The vast majority of people who accept Christ, do so before they turn 13. As an evangelism ground, this is very fertile soil, and every church should be investing missionally, as heavily as they can.
- It is important to care for the kids and make church interesting and exciting for them, but it is absolutely eternally critical that kids have the unique opportunity to know and follow Jesus.
- Jesus showed us that they are important in the Bible. I love the moments where Jesus took time to acknowledge them and love them and remind us that we must become as little children to come to Him.
- It begins in your budget. Show me your budget and I will show you what is important to you.
- It begins with the value and vision the senior pastor gives, for he has the voice that can influence and lead his church to care for the children and youth.
- I also believe it is a sign of a healthy church. If there isn’t an emphasis on children and youth then you will soon die.
- Plus the same Holy Spirit lives in them that lives in saved adults, so they are able to teach us things about loving and following Jesus!
- A strong ministry to the young shows your community that you care about the family!
- As the senior pastor, make sure you support and cheer on all the volunteers.
- Your stage should reflect your mission, too. Whoever is on the platform tells everyone who you think is important. Get your kids and youth on the stage.
- Their parents do. Any of us who have children know how strongly we care about who teaches them what and how!
- God, in a way, if I may say so with reverence. There are so many commands and implications in His Word about what parents teach their children, starting with Deuteronomy 6:7 in a very obvious way, and continuing with many overt commands and other more indirect reminders, as in Proverbs. His stress on this gives high import to the church’s ministry as an extension of the parents.
- Students of and consultants for church health and growth always stress the need for strong children and youth ministries.
- The children and youth themselves emphasize their view by whether or not they want to attend and be a part of these important ministries of the church.
What organizational ideas help you with ministry to children?
- We really lean into experts and teams and organize around them.
- It might be a paid individual (director of children’s ministry and/or a youth pastor), or a team of qualified and passionate adults.
- If you’re not able to afford a children’s director and/or a youth pastor, look in your congregation for those with a unique passion for this area: parents of children and teenagers, teachers, and preschool workers.
- Equip them and send them to conferences!
- I take safety as a huge organizational issue in youth and children ministries. Make sure you have the following standard operating procedures in place and enforced!
- Child abuse policy
- Background checks (critical)—done with every adult working with a minor.
- Prioritize ministry with children organizationally. Make sure:
- They are getting the resources they need.
- They get the best, and even newest parts of the facilities.
- Give your full attention to the area of reaching and teaching children and youth!
- There are tons of resources available to help your children and youth.
- Look at model churches that are developing fully devoted followers of Jesus and learn from them.
- Sit with local children and youth leaders and share ideas about what works well.
- There are tons of books and conferences to attend. Orange is a great conference.
- Be sure your children spaces are safe. Provide security and proper check-in software tools to keep track of them!
- Do background checks on all the workers involved in children and youth ministries. This shows the parents that you care deeply about their children, and it protects them from harm!
- The idea that as the pastor of this church I am also the pastor of the children and youth. I may delegate and help to select (I must definitely be involved) the staff people or strong volunteers to direct these ministries, but I carry the ultimate responsibility for their good health.
- No matter what the size of the church, it must be clear that one person on the staff is the “point person” for the ministry—the solo pastor if he is the only one on staff. Sometimes an associate pastor or director of the area. But either way, that person carries the responsibility to read things like this and be part of many helps for these areas (books and conferences and interviews); and for appointing the best volunteer ministry managers from the church, people who will carry out the ministries and be the best of teachers and friends and counselors to the children and teens.
- Strong ministry managers for each area of the children’s and youth areas, with titles and job descriptions and someone they report to. (Marlene Wilson says in her excellent book on volunteers that there are two main reasons good volunteers quit: they did not know what they were to do and they were not thanked.)
- Strong team huddles on a very regular basis for each team assigned to an age group, where they build teamwork, hear the motivation and information from their supervisor (the pastor when he is the only staff person), and they pray and laugh together, with the famous “cheers and tears.”
- Accountability for what they teach and plan. Some kind of lesson plan must be required.
- Policies that are clear and specific. No longer can one youth leader ever be alone in a car or a room or planet earth with one youth.
- Workable and parent-friendly security systems for meeting times.
- A quick way to reach the parents and guardians if there is a need. With texting and vibrators and number systems, there is no excuse.
- A very strong way to vet teachers and sponsors. No longer can it be an appointment of a regular attender who smiles a lot and seems to love kids. Tragedy lurks too easily.
- That fun and joy and laughter and positive thoughts should be big parts of all this. Children and youth learn so much better in joyful environments. Stodgy and narrow church members need not apply!
- Ties with and help from and participation in national and district and combination ministries built to support the local church ministries are very helpful. None of us needs to ride as lone rangers!
How separate should these ministries be?
Separate them as much as possible. Our system:
- Nursery and Walkers (infants-3 yrs.)
- Preschool (4 years-kindergarten)—able to interact a little bit, but ability is limited.
- Grade School (1st-5th grade)
- Pre-junior high (4th-5th grade). Pre-teens, mostly have lost interest in children’s ministry—important to separate them out from younger ones.
- Middle school (6th-8th grade)
- High School (9th-12th grade)
- First there must be some kind of healthy separation in age.
- You can parallel the local schools and divide up like they do. In our case we have grades 6-8 and grades 9-12 for our youth.
- We offer grades 4 and 5 as a place to gather also and divide up other grades.
- A grade 4 student is not the same as a grade 12 student.
- Use age-appropriate teaching material.
- We also make our adult services for grade 6 and above and encourage our parents to place their younger children in classes designed for them.
- Offer outreach opportunities where the whole family can serve together so that the young can learn from older adults.
- We have as many men serving as women. We place a great emphasis on men serving our children, too. Our children often come from singe parent homes where Dad is absent, so give them a chance to be led and taught by a man.
- On a personal note, I regularly am watching men for future leaders, and I will take note of a man who acknowledges a child in a room and stoops to high five that child. Children are valuable to the world and the local church!
Not very separate at all, from the pastor’s or staff offices. My listing of a lot of team meetings and the point person and ministry managers with clear job descriptions and the policies—all this is because everyone on staff or on the ministry leadership team should care very much how the ministries to children and youth are doing. Way too often—way, way too often—the pastor just kind of allows the long leash for the volunteer leaders or the staff person, without any reporting or input. Even our thoughts on the first question above—all three of us—simply that all ministry leaders should care about the philosophy and practices of all the other areas, especially children and youth. In that sense, they should not be separate at all.
Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.