10ST is an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
Chapter 4 of 10 Stupid Things handles the topic of children’s ministry. I think that a church who is willing to settle for a mediocre children’s ministry is wasting one of the best opportunities it will ever have to shape lives. If the children’s ministry is essentially babysitting church kids so the adults can have ‘big church’ without all the fuss and noise – then ‘big church’ has largely missed the point. I know that there are very few who would actually SAY they want their children’s ministry to just keep the kids out of what’s left of the adults’ hair (though I have met several) but there are many more who functionally treat their children’s ministries this way.
From a youth ministry perspective, we need to be invested in our children’s ministry as well. In many churches, one person oversees both sets of ages, so this may seems automatic – but it’s not. This was the case for me early in my ministry. I’m way more comfortable with a group of teens than with a class of 7 year olds, and I often found myself so focused on the older kids that I had little left to offer the children’s ministry. Thankfully, there was a great team of dedicated children’s workers who could help lead the lollipop guild much more skillfully than I.
I don’t want to imply that the children’s ministry is some kind of farm team or feeder system for the youth ministry, but it is a great place to build a platform from which you’ll later be launching young disciples into their own life-ministries. If you lead a student ministry, many of your students will be ‘graduates’ of the children’s ministry, where they’ve been trained up and have come to a certain set of expectations of what church is like and should be. What if you’re not on the same page?
A couple years ago, we noticed that our 7th Graders were having a tough time transitioning from our children’s ministry to our youth ministry. There was too big of a difference in what was expected and what was happening, so we shifted our practice with the 5th & 6th Graders to be something of an intermediate shift. We’ve even allowed the 6th Graders to move between the two groups as they wish. This has really seemed to ease the transition and make the most of the challenge we want to bring to our kids.
Surratt leaned on his wife’s extensive experience with children for this chapter to arrive at 4 lessons to which we in youth ministry really need to pay attention:
- Build a strong team. Don’t hog all the great volunteers for the youth ministry and treat the children’s ministry team as a lower tier. Find people who genuinely care about kids and give them whatever tools they need to help communicate God’s love to those kids. If you’re the youth minister in a church that also has a children’s minister, work together to maximize each other’s ministries.
- Work purposefully, creatively, and with excellence. Don’t cut corners and be cheap because they’re “just kids”.
- Find out what parents think. They ask their kids every week, “Did you have fun?” and “What did you do?” when they pick them up. Make sure the kids have a great way to answer those questions.
- Listen to the expectations of local families. If they’re dropping kids off at high quality day cares and well funded schools, then they show up to a nursery full of half broken toys from 1984, that’s not going to make the impression that should be made.
How do you see your youth ministries and children’s ministries being integrated and capitalizing on each other’s work?