Thursday, February 23, 2012

Children's Ministry Essentials

It doesn't matter what your church looks like. The common denominators of quality children's ministry are the same wherever you go.  No matter what the shape or size of your church there are a core of children's ministry essentials that translate into most any context.

Trust me.  I've seen it all. 

I've served in a small rural church, a multi-site mega-church and everything in between.  I've done traditional Sunday School and cutting edge family productions.  I've led Nickelodeon style large group programs and large group/small group combos that work together hand-in-glove.  I've done inner city arts camps and old-fashioned country church camps.  I've led VBS in the suburbs and on the dusty back alleys of Mexico. 

I don't say any of this with pride or arrogance.  It's just that I've been blessed to serve in a wide variety of children's ministries, and at the end of the day, wherever I go, there are a handful of essentials that I think need to be present in ANY effective children's ministry.

Here they are:

First, every children's ministry should be both kid-geared and God-focused.  This simply means that we are missionaries to kid culture and we have to translate the life-changing message of the gospel into a context that kids can relate to and makes sense in their lives.  For more on this, check out this previous post..

Second, while being kid-geared and God-focused every children's ministry should work to create environments where kids are covered, connected and captivated. 

If you'r reading closely, you'll notice that all three of these start with the same letter which means they are definitely straight from the Holy Spirit, right?  Let's talk a little more about each.  "

This means children in our care must be kept safe at all costs.  The key ingredients here are doing background checks and interviews with all potential volunteers who wish to serve with kids.  This also means setting up your ministry so that no adult is EVER alone with a child.  Finally, it means having some kind of matching tag system for kids and parents to ensure that you never release a child to the wrong person.  

This may seem silly in a small church setting, but you have to structure for growth and prepare for the worst case scenario.  Believe me, the second you send a child out the door with the wrong adult, it won't seem silly at all.  

Ministry is about relationship.  Whether you're doing traditional Sunday School, large group/small group or some other model, you have to have a relational component.  You have to break kids down into small enough groups where they can find connection and belonging and have the chance to talk about how today's teaching specifically applies to their lives.  

In my current ministry we have a small group time where kids are broken down into groups with a consistent leader who leads a group activity, which is basically a fun excuse to talk about the lesson and their lives.  In a Sunday School setting this could be done by breaking the class into two or three groups with assistant teachers to talk more personally about the content.

The key ingredients are having small group activities that are kid-geared and God-focused and leaders who really want to do life with their kids. 

At some point, whatever your context may be, you have to communicate the Bible story, and it should be done in a way that captures kids' imaginations with the wonder of God and His Word.  The Bible is living and active.  Unleash it by using every creative means possible.  

The key ingredients to this essential are a kid-geared, God-focused Bible lesson and a storyteller who is fully prepared to deliver it in a way that does it justice.  That means they are memorized, rehearsed and ready to go all out to bring the Bible to life and move the truth into kids' hearts.

These essentials will look different depending on the church, but the principles behind them can work in any setting.  The more your ministry grows, the more it will tend to drift into complexity.  Fight it all the way.  Keep it simple.  Hone in on creating kid-geared, God-focused ministries.  Develop environments that cover, connect and captivate kids.  Work on the key ingredients I outlined above for six months and see if it doesn't make a tremendous difference in you're reaching and connect with kids.  

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