In a former life, I was a Children’s Pastor. It wasn’t by choice – I was press-ganged by God during a church prayer meeting. The previous leader of the children’s ministry had stepped down due to burnout, and as a church, we were praying for a solution. There, in the middle of the meeting, came that unavoidable sense of God saying to me “you’re the solution!”
At the time, I didn’t have children. I wasn’t even married. I was in my twenties, and I had no real idea about children. But I knew I would be inheriting an existing multi-generational and multi-talented team. I didn’t need to do everything, and could focus on my strengths – teaching, organising, and envisioning.
Fortunately, the children loved it, the team enjoyed it, parents didn’t complain to or about me, and we didn’t suffer any injuries during our surreal yet somehow biblical pantomime-esque skits. Here are some thoughts from my time in children’s ministry, which I hope help you in your work, no matter the scale or size of it:
Developmentally, a couple of years difference is significant for children. If you have too wide a spread of ages in your children’ ministry, some children could get bored, and others might not be ready for what you are doing. I understand available space and volunteers are factors here, but where possible, try to organise children by age and not have too wide a range.
Create Clear Policies
Policies – ugh! As much as many of us don’t enjoy writing large documents we feel like no-one will ever read, they are essential. Especially during leadership transitions and handovers, they ensure institutional knowledge isn’t lost, and good practices continue. Policies can actually help create culture, too, by protecting some things or facilitating and ensuring others. Have a standardised set of guidelines for checking children in; signing children out; recruiting team members; handling pastoral or challenging issues; recording accidents and incidents; dealing with parents; adult/children ratios; informing church leaders; as well as any others as necessary. Write policies, test them, amend them, and then implement them with the team buying in. Enforce them as necessary, or they really will be documents that no-one ever reads. Your children’s ministry will be stronger for it.
Choose The Children’s Ministry Leader Wisely
You need someone who knows how to lead, is committed to the ministry and has a passion for children. They will be the point person for your children’s ministry, meaning all traffic will flow to them – from children, from parents, from team members, and from church leaders! Make sure they are genuinely empowered; they’ll need to be to shape things how they need to be shaped.
Get Your Best People On The Team
I know children’s ministry isn’t sexy, but children are the today and tomorrow of the church so deserve our best. Recruit highly! On my team, I brought in a number of young people with leadership potential or ability with the promise of giving them opportunities to use their gifts. I asked parents to sign up to a serving rota, to see what we were doing and to be part of it. Parents have experience with children, insights and wisdom, and gifts that can be untapped! I explained to them that if they all signed up, they wouldn’t have to be in regularly – every few months, not every few weeks. Funnily enough, after coming in and visiting, some of them signed up! I talk more about recruiting well here.
Poor organisation is a growth cap to a ministry and a church. Organise your rotas, your volunteers, your resources, and your activities. You can lose volunteers through poor organisation. If you aren’t gifted that way, don’t fret – find someone on your children’s ministry team who loves to do that. They do exist! Maybe they don’t even have to be on a children-facing role to do those tasks.
Train The Team Well
Train your team with what they do, and help them adjust to the new context. Give them opportunities as well. Some of my then musicians are now worship pastors. Some of my bible story teachers are preaching and teaching. Training looks like letting people have a go. Developing leaders is an art and a skill, but your team – and the children – will thank you for it. Have the right people in the right roles; friendly people to do sign-in, teachers teaching, confident people ‘upfront’, pastoral people checking in with the children. Training people to do things they love doing is a lot easier than trying to get people upskilled in areas outside their gifting. Part of training will involve familiarisation around policies and procedures. Make this a non-negotiable. Any ministry – children’s or otherwise – that doesn’t value training won’t see much fruit in the long-term.
Protect Your Children
Parents demand it, society demands it, and I’m sure Jesus demands it. Protestant churches aren’t immune from scandals of child sex abuse. Background checks for anyone working with your children are an absolute non-negotiable. Think about your facility – who could access any areas where children could be? Rooms? Toilets? Corridors? Journeys to and from buildings? Whatever is necessary, do it. There can be no shortcuts or blind spots here. Your children’s ministry should be one of the most protected, secure, and ring-fenced areas in the church.
Don’t Overlook Your Children’s Ministry Facilities
A temptation can be for the children to be put into the smallest, or furthest away, or oldest room. Don’t do it! You need a room that has light, nearby toilet access, locks on the window and door, is safe, is clean, is spacious, and doesn’t have clutter or other items in it that could be hazards or get damaged. Think about colours, furniture and decoration. Get ideas from the children. If you have artists or people who can draw in the church, get them to draw characters or murals on walls and change it up once in a while. If you value your children’s ministry, you value the environment you give your team to minister in.
Teach Your Children Well
By this, I mean don’t dumb down. Children’s ministry shouldn’t be an excuse for weak and bland teaching. Of course, it shouldn’t go the other way either, and be complex and boring. Ensure you are accessible and understandable. But don’t have teaching that really is just stories or platitudes. Teach children the scriptures, but in a way that teaches them more than just the characters or the events. Proverbs talks about teaching children whilst they are young because they don’t forget or leave it later in life!
During my stint, I taught through books of the Bible. But we broke them down into manageable pieces and I used a principle of ‘One Big Point’ – what was the one thing I wanted the children to get from this passage? My team and I used plays and skits, activity sheets, games, object lessons, and short mini-talks. All based around this One Big Point. Some of them were surreal and funny, but the children love it. Jesus as the bread of life, illustrated with killer doughnuts, anyone?! If you have time and space to write your own stuff, that’s great. But if you don’t, there is no shame in using other resources and curriculums. There is a lot of good stuff out there. The last thing with teaching – don’t forget making space for questions and dialogue. That’s where you’ll really find out what’s going on inside them!
This generation has grown up knowing how to use iPhones and iPads, watch Netflix and navigate the internet. There are plenty of resources out there that are appropriate, excellent, and free! We used a short clip from Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe to illustrate forgiveness, for example. Let other things do the heavy lifting for you in your children’s ministry!
It’s Ministry So Preach the Gospel, Lay On Hands, Baptise
Children can make commitments of faith to follow Christ at young ages, as well. Especially if you are teaching and speaking about it! Don’t forget to share the Gospel; don’t forget to lay hands on the children to be filled with the Holy Spirit; get children to lay hands on each other for healing and prophecy! Talk about and explain baptism. Discipleship begins when someone chooses to be a disciple!
Connect with The Children
Seems a strange one, doesn’t it? But I’ve seen people who are part of ministry teams ‘do’ ministry by doing jobs, and forget about the people they are meant to be ministering too. Same goes for children; they’ll notice if you aren’t that interested in them. Learn names, listen to jokes, share stories, play games. Affirm, encourage, validate. It makes a difference.
Talk To The Children, Not Over Them
Children are small and to them, adults are big! So when they talk to you, or you talk to them, get down to their level. Kneel or squat. Make eye contact. If they are speaking, don’t interrupt or speed them up if they are talking slowly or stuttering. Give them your full attention. They’ll notice.
Pray For The Children and Leaders
Pray for the children by name. For the leaders by name. Pray when you are with them, and pray when you are not. Let the children, particularly, see and hear you pray – not in a ‘show-off’ way, but because they might not see or hear their parents pray. If God has given you these children and leaders to shepherd, shepherd them excellently.
Connect With Parents
Some parents will be engaged with your children’s ministry, and some won’t. Many, you will know, some you won’t. Some parents will love what you do, some won’t. Irrespective, connect with parents. Communicate with them. Tell them what you are planning. Get suggestions. Send surveys to them to get feedback on what you are doing. They’ll appreciate it.
Create A Children’s Ministry That Is Fun!
This is a huge one. If you have fun, the children will. They’ll see your enthusiasm and it’ll be contagious. It was one reason why I asked a number of my friends to help me on my team, and I got some of the young people’s ministry involved. We could do silly, stupid games and shows and laugh, which made the kids laugh. We did a great job at keeping it on point and focused (mainly) but overall, we enjoyed ourselves. A fun atmosphere will eliminate many disciplinary issues (which are oftentimes, boredom issues). The team set the culture, so make it a culture of fun!
Children’s Ministry Tips: Summary
Children’s ministry shouldn’t be a forgotten, distant ministry. Relegating children to being the noisy ones that are exiled from the main Sunday meetings so the adults don’t get distracted completely goes against the New Testament ethos of the church as the family of God. Instead, build a children’s ministry that makes disciples of Christ in the here and now, sowing seeds into young hearts that will bear fruit over the years to come.
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