What to do with the Children?
by Kel Willis
Interact Magazine 1998
Volume 9 Number 3
Children’s ministry today is undergoing significant change as God’s people seek to come to grips with the decline of the church’s impact upon children.
Without the support of the leadership few ministries in a church flourish, so every church leadership team needs to spend some time specifically thinking through their ministry to children. They should ask the hard questions about their existing children’s work, evaluate its potential, and decide what can continue to be fruitful and what should be discontinued in order to make room for new programs. This should be done in co-operation with the key people involved in children’s ministry.
The Billy Graham Crusade organisation released some statistics about five years ago which showed that 80% of Christians made their decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour by the age of fifteen. In the USA the Southern Baptists surveyed missionaries working both at home and abroad and found that 90% had made decisions by the age of eleven years, and the average age was eight. This should give us added impetus to ensure that our children’s ministry is vital and relevant.
The potential of such a ministry can be realised if those involved are competent and committed leaders. Competence in this sense means that they are able to make Bible truths relevant to the lives of children, presenting them in such a way that they can be clearly understood and responded to. There are numerous courses available and it would be very beneficial if the church leadership encouraged and even paid for their teachers to attend them.
Competence also means knowing where to find the best age-appropriate resources. This is not always an easy task but has been made a little easier with the advent of the Australian Children’s Ministry Expo, an annual event held each October, at which you can visit over thirty suppliers of children’s resources.
Committed leaders pray for the children with whom they have contact but also have members of the congregation support them by praying for individual children. Children’s work demands that we rethink our strategies and show initiative in our planning.
Church A had the problem of being in an older, well-established area with about twenty-five regulars in the Sunday School, most of whose parents belonged to the church. Many initiatives were tried but without any real success. A new strategy was needed. It was decided to use some well-trained young people under the guidance of a few older, mature Christians to start a Friday evening Junior Club—basically a Sunday School with a few modifications held on a Friday evening. Within a few months sixty to seventy children regularly attended with about ninety on the roll. A charge of $2 was made to cover the cost of the sausage sandwich that was provided and soon non-church mothers became only too willing to help out on a roster basis to serve the food. Over ninety percent of those children came from homes that had previously had no link with the church.
A couple of young men from Church B came seeking advice on how to set up an after-school Kids Club. They were keen and passionate about this endeavour. When asked how many were going to be involved in running this club, they answered just the two of them. My next question was how many children they expected to come and they thought about thirty to forty.
This was a recipe for burn-out and overload, so I suggested they have an afternoon tea for anyone that could be even remotely interested in this endeavour and share their burden and vision with them. The result: ten others joined the team! After I spent some time training them there was a real spirit of God’s people working together in this outreach. There were also two happy and, I dare to say, relieved young men!
Church C is in a growth area with children everywhere. Membership is about thirty-five and some twenty-five or so are involved in the children’s ministry. This is headed up by a competent and committed couple who work very hard at equipping and encouraging their team. Not only is there team spirit but there is also an understanding of the needs of both the children and their parents and a willingness to try something different.
Parents are kept informed about what is going on in the church and are always invited, either verbally or through a note being sent home. Special days such as Mothers Day and Fathers Day do not go by without a special morning tea for the mums and dads and an invitation to the grandparents. Such days have become almost legendary. The children serve their parents and they love it.
Children’s ministry is being examined carefully by many churches to see how they can better integrate the parents of the children with whom they come in contact. Another area that needs further examination is how to integrate the parents of the children ministered to week after week in Religious Education classes. My conviction is that if churches brought in speakers and hosted seminars on topics like ‘Effective Parenting in the Nineties’ this would be a way of building bridges. Another way of utilising your school contacts is to send through your RE teacher (with the Principal’s permission) invitations to special events at your church.
Graham McDonald is from Children of the World, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, Australia. Its aim is to challenge and equip people in the local church to reach and disciple children within their community, including schools.
© Graham McDonald (1 November 1998)