Components of an Effective Children's Ministry

Ministry to kids has been my passion for over two decades, and I still love those wiggly, giggly, wide-eyed, and full-of-potential little creatures! They are our future.

In my 25 years as a full-time children's pastor, I've seen some amazing things and many positive changes. I've seen children grow in God and become young men and women who now mentor other kids. I've walked alongside adults who were fearful to get involved that are now teaching others how to effectively minister to kids. I've seen incredible advances in technology and our understanding of the way kids process information. I've observed the shift from "baby-sitting" kids, to ministering and leading them toward spiritual growth. I've seen the emergence of children's facilities that excites kids and gives parents confidence that their children are cared for in the best way. We've come a long way, but there's more territory to cover. That's why I'm excited that Dan Reiland has asked me to guest write these two editions of "The Pastor's Coach."

For many churches, the way they strategize a master design for their children's programs will determine their effectiveness in their community. Families often choose a church based on their opinion of the children's ministry. Are the components of your children's program world-class? Is your children's ministry appealing to families that are church shopping? I'm going to identify components that make a difference. In some settings these elements may be more muted, but each part has its place in effective programs. I recommend that you and a few key leaders use these seven components as an evaluation tool for your ministry.

1) Visionary Leadership

Twenty-five years ago, many children's ministry leaders were the "Sunday School Superintendent" type. They managed classrooms and recruited "workers." Today's leaders are required to inspire the masses to participate, train a top notch team, set the pace for future ministry growth, and be aware of contemporary approaches to children's ministry. When a person leads a ministry with vision, it serves as a magnet to those who are considering involvement.

Funding for programs is often easier to procure when a visionary-type person leads the ministry. Visionary leadership is not always limited to the children's ministry staff. I have seen great value in programs where the executive pastor or associate pastor shares big dreams concerning the children's program.

Visionary leadership is crucial to children's programs for moving from a status quo level to the level of excellence that has future growth as its catalyst. Visionary leadership is knowing the primary purpose of your children's ministry, the overall direction, and how you will get there.

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Your "Visionary Leadership" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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2) Team-Based Models

Another component of an effective children's program is the commitment to work together as a team. I've seen this as a proficient ministry approach in churches of all sizes. It is important to emphasize that the concept of teamwork not only be task-related, but also reflect a true commitment on the part of team members to work together and grow together. Unfortunately, in the early days of children's ministry development (late 70's), the leader did everything. Today, team managing skills have to be learned and implemented to make ministry more effective.

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Your "Team-Based Models" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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3) Partnering with Parents

As I have talked to parents around the country, they often report that the children's ministry only contacts them when help is needed. This perception can lead to a major disconnect with the parents we serve. Well-designed programs encourage parents to provide input in the ministry and seek creative ways to provide support to these parents. Building relationships with parents needs to be a primary initiative of today's children's ministry leaders.

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Your "Partnering with Parents" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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4) Managing Change

Change and flexibility are elements of today's children's ministry landscape. The best programs diagnose problems, initiate changes and strategize ways to do their best to cope with this new dynamic environment. By their nature, children's leaders are usually change agents. But as we have "coached" leaders through this process we have found for some, change is not easy. But if you and your church are willing to change, the reward will be great.

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Your "Managing Change" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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5) Intentional Relationship Building Strategies

Most kids today are relationally starved. The "bustle" of family life has left our kids with a strong desire to connect with someone. Effective children's ministries we've observed have a strategy to "connect" with kids. For example, small groups within the regular schedule of activities provide kids with an opportunity to share what is going on in their world. Planned activities for kids to "hang-out" with other kids and adults to build positive relationships are important.

Relationship building strategies sometimes conflict with traditional educational methodologies, but they are vital to the continual growth of the children's ministry. Once again, change is important.

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Your "Intentional Relationship Building Strategies" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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6) Good Facilities

A common thread of successful programs we have observed is a commitment to quality learning environments. I believe that the facility where children are ministered to is second in priority only to the teaching team.

Well-marked, clean, colorful, contemporary facilities speak of a church's commitment to its kids. When families are church shopping, facilities are high on the menu. It doesn't take thousands of dollars to update the look of some facilities; it is mainly a choice to evaluate and update the space to be current with the needs of today's child. In conversations we have had with children in church audits, they often describe their "dream facility" with brightly colored walls. This, as one example, is an easy facility upgrade, but it's often overlooked.

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Your "Good Facilities" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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7) Evaluation Systems and Leadership Training

As I mentioned earlier, children's ministry is constantly changing. Many churches are not keeping pace because they do not take time to evaluate their programs in light of change. Our company conducts weekend evaluations to assess the church's effectiveness in relation to present culture and changing leadership models. We provide a fresh perspective evaluating programs, staffing, and facilities and help the local church to set future goals for growth. We are encouraged with the response of churches to assess their programs because our involvement often raises the perception of the children's ministry to the entire church body.

Churches must continue to use some evaluative device to insure their children's ministry is positioned to respond not only to present problems, but also to be prepared for future ministry changes.

Another component of successful children's ministry programs is a commitment to leadership training. I have seen this accomplished in a variety of ways. One is to take the team away for private training and team building, usually in a retreat or resort setting. These times are a great investment in the future "health" of the ministry team. Another approach is to take the team to a national convention. This approach also enhances the vitality of the leadership team.

A strong commitment to localized training is invaluable. Training lay leadership insures the highest quality of week-to-week ministry.

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Your "Evaluation Systems and Leadership Training" score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1=Weak in this area -- 7=Strong in this area

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Final Thought

There has never been a more important time in history to reach kids for Christ. Take time to ask God to help you strategize and dream big to assist your children's ministry leaders in order to make a difference in the lives of the kids they serve.

 

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.