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5 Brutal Facts About Children’s Ministry and What You Can Do About It

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Children’s ministries are facing five harsh realities today as they seek to reach the next generation, but take hope! We can respond with Jesus’ help to turn these brutal facts around!

Brutal Fact #1: Sunday school programs in churches are vanishing.

In our exclusive research, we’ve discovered that in the past 10 years, the number of churches doing Sunday school has declined 18 percent. That means 1 out of 5 churches is no longer intentionally reaching out to children and families through any Sunday morning Christian education program.

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Our team here at Group has been monitoring this trend for some time. And we thought, like you, maybe churches are just not calling it “Sunday school” anymore. So we started asking Does your church currently provide a weekend children’s program (i.e., Sunday school or Christian education)?

The answer stayed the same. Sunday school programs are still vanishing.

Why It Matters

This brutal fact has a connection to Brutal Fact #5: Churches are disappearing and shrinking at an alarming rate. And research has proven that children’s ministries are one of the greatest growth engines for a church.

If outreach to children and families is stagnating, plateauing, and declining then it is no wonder that churches are also facing stagnation, plateau, and decline. This is what happens when a church stops investing in the next generation.

Three Things You Can Do About It

  1. Get Your Church’s Support. Unless your church supports your program enthusiastically, how will you support the spiritual lives of children? Check out these practical ideas to coax your pastor, parents, and church members to be your children’s ministry’s biggest fan.
  2. Build Your Children’s Ministry. Read this article to see how a children’s ministry leader just like you went from 6 kids to 100 in one year! Then start building—either from the ground up or right where you are!
  3. Jump-Start Your TeamOne of the most powerful things you can do for your team is take them to a momentum-building event like Children’s Ministry Local Training. Your team will see how others in your area are passionate about reaching the next generation and be inspired to do the same. We’re coming to a city near you this fall 2016.

Our Prevailing Hope

Even in the face of brutal realities, God calls us to move forward with prevailing hope in him. Let these words from the book of Psalms encourage you as you serve exactly where God wants you—impacting the next generation.

“We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.”

Psalm 78:4-7

Brutal Fact #2: Fewer kids are attending Sunday school.

In Group’s exclusive research, we’ve discovered that one in four churches report their Sunday school attendance is more sporadic than five years ago. Why aren’t kids and families attending Sunday school regularly?

Why It Matters

We only get 1 hour of the week. That’s 52 hours per year. With the average attendance currently (twice a month), that’s 26 hours per year. If families aren’t attending regularly, that leaves a giant gap in their faith. Continuity is important in building connections for a strong relational ministry to children and families. What families value, they make a priority. How can you help families value weekly attendance?

Six Things You Can Do About It

  1. Learn what kids love in Sunday school. Read this article to discover the seven things you can do to make your ministry irresistible to kids.
  2. Learn what brings kids and families back to church. Becoming the place where families want to be is easier than you think. Read this to see that it all starts with a smile.
  3. For churched families, you may be offering too much. You have a problem if there isn’t a day of the week that someone in the family isn’t at church.
  4. Children of divorce may attend your church every other week because of shared custody. You can meet the needs of these families regardless of their attendance.
  5. Unchurched children need a sense of family in your church – and don’t always find it. You can create Families of Faith to give these children a sense of belonging—and the motivation to return.
  6. Train your team to welcome children and families. One of the most powerful things you can do for your team is take them to a momentum-building event like Children’s Ministry Local Training. Your team will see how others in your area are passionate about reaching the next generation and be inspired to do the same. We’re coming to a city near you this fall 2016.

 

Brutal Fact #3: Fewer churches do VBS every year.

In Group’s exclusive research, we’ve discovered that one in five churches (21%) report they’re no longer doing summer vacation Bible school. Why is this longtime successful outreach disappearing from churches?

“As we talk with our friends in ministry across the country, the main challenges of VBS really haven’t changed,” says Jody Brolsma, Group’s VBS executive editor. “Finding an adequate number of volunteers is still a primary challenge, as is budget. So we haven’t really heard about a new ‘issue’ that would cause churches to simply stop offering VBS.”

Brolsma guesses that it’s something of a numbers game. “As more churches close their doors, fewer VBS programs happen,” she says. “However, we also hear of many new churches starting…which is encouraging! Those new churches simply may not yet have the facilities or budget in place yet to host a VBS program.”

Why It Matters

VBS is still a prime opportunity for the church. That hasn’t changed at all! In fact, it’s more of an opportunity than ever, according to Brolsma.

“Many parents who are ‘done’ with weekly church, aren’t necessarily ‘done’ with their faith. They’re looking for safe, inexpensive, fun things for their kids to do during the summer; and these parents are open to faith-based experiences that their children aren’t getting year-round. In addition, young millennial parents today are more likely to be home with their kids. So the church has an entire week to build relationships with parents and kids who might never walk through the doors of their church on a Sunday morning. That’s exciting! If fewer churches are doing VBS, then fewer families will have this unique chance to connect. It’s a huge missed opportunity for relationships to develop.”

What You Can Do About It

  1. Executive editor Jody Brolsma leads a dynamic team that creates three different VBSes each year. Learn more about Group’s unique approach to VBS that makes it easier to find committed volunteers year after year.
  2. Train your team to make children and families a priority year-round. One of the most powerful things you can do for your team is take them to a momentum-building event like Children’s Ministry Local Training. Your team will see how others in your area are passionate about reaching the next generation and be inspired to do the same. We’re coming to a city near you this fall 2016.

 

Brutal Fact #4: VBS attendance has dropped from five years ago.

In Group’s exclusive research, we’ve discovered that VBS attendance has dropped from 88 children to 73 children. If 10,000 churches hold VBS this summer, that’s 50,000 kids who won’t be there to hear the gospel.

Why It Matters

“For kids who don’t attend church except for the week of VBS—missing out on this week is huge,” says Jody Brolsma, Group’s VBS executive editor. “VBS is a time to connect—connecting kids to Christ, to each other, to Christian adults, and connecting families.”

 

What You Can Do About It

  1. Choose a dynamic VBS program. Every year, Group leads the way in VBS program use. Why? Part of it is because of catchy themes.
  2. Get the word out—early and often. Brolsma says that “parents are always looking for things to keep their kids busy in the summer. Some parents map out an entire summer of camps, programs, and sports even before school is out, in an effort to keep their kids busy and engaged.”
  3. Charge a small fee. When other camps and programs charge a fee, parents often attach more value to them. Brolsma says that plenty of these programs that charge a fee even have waiting lists. And a “drop-in” VBS program may not have the same value to parents. So Brolsma advises: “We hear consistently from churches who charge a small fee for VBS and watch their attendance climb. They find that, when parents pay for something, they’re more committed and perceive it as more of a value. Of course, every church has to determine how they feel about attaching a cost to ministry, but it’s working in many churches and communities.”
  4. Train your team of volunteers immediately after VBS.  At Children’s Ministry Local Training, your team will explore the brutal realities facing churches and VBS programs today. And, you’ll discover powerful ways to make Jesus the center of your ministry and life! Your team will understand more clearly why their service matters all year long.

 

Brutal Fact #5: 80% of churches say they’re stuck or in decline.

Many churches are struggling, according to Thom Rainer, a church researcher who describes the state of the American Church based on his years of consulting with many different churches and denominations.

Why It Matters

This brutal fact has a connection to Brutal Fact #1: Sunday school programs in churches are vanishing. And research has proven that children’s ministries are one of the greatest growth engines for a church.

If outreach to children and families is stagnating, plateauing, and declining then it is no wonder that churches are also facing stagnation, plateau, and decline. This is what happens when a church stops investing in the next generation.

 What You Can Do About It

  1. Get Your Church’s Support. Unless your church supports your program enthusiastically, how will you support the spiritual lives of children? And how will your Sunday school program—and church—thrive and grow? Check out the practical ideas in this article to coax your pastor, parents, and church members to be your children’s ministry’s biggest fan.
  2. Build Your Children’s Ministry. Read this article to see how a children’s ministry leader just like you went from 6 kids to 100 in one year! Then start building—either from the ground up or right where you are! Your children’s ministry can be a growth engine for your church!
  3. Jump-Start Your Team. One of the most powerful things you can do for your team is take them to a momentum-building event like Children’s Ministry Local Training. Your team will see how others in your area are passionate about reaching the next generation and be inspired to do the same.

 

5 Brutal Facts About Children’s Ministry and What You Can Do About It
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About Author

Christine Yount Jones

Christine has more than 28 years of children’s ministry experience. She is the Executive Editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine, has authored many books and articles on children’s ministry, and serves as co-director of the KidMin Conference. She’s led teams in the development of leading innovative resources, including Buzz Instant Sunday School curriculum, Grapple Preteen Curriculum, and the new Dig-In Sunday School curriculum. Follow Christine on Twitter @ChristineYJones

3 Comments

  1. Barbara Manspeaker on

    Thank you so much for your article. I have believed in ‘year round Children’s Ministries all of my life and have practiced it for many years. Your statistics are right on. I am retired in a small, rural community and see the same pattern in many of the churches here that is also happening in the bigger cities. Our church is very supportive of our children’s ministries program but we compete with year ’round sports–soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring a football throw in somewhere. We try to build our programs around them as much as possible. What becomes discouraging sometimes is when they become young teens and nothing we do interests them. However, we know we have well planted seeds and now the Lord will use others to reap the harvest. And that’s just fine with us. He is the Master Gardener and He knows who will plat, who will water and who will reap!

    • Christine Yount Jones
      Christine Yount Jones on

      Barbara,
      Thank you for your comment! I totally agree that the results are up to God. We’re called to be faithful! Thanks for being faithful where God has called you!

  2. Concerning VBS: I think part of the problem with VBS is that nowadays they are expected to be “over the top” and have become so complicated and expensive that it is too draining on the budget and the energy of the workers. It doesn’t have to be so difficult…Also, the material I see is so glitzy with weird stuff, often based on current cartoon characters, that a lot of the Biblical meaning is confused with fantasy. If someone came up with a “meat and potatoes” kind of program, Biblical teaching with the elements that speak to kids, I would buy it in a minute and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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