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Breaking Down the Barriers

Steve Alley

Nine practical ways to ensure that kids connect with Jesus

"Open up or I'll break the door down!"

You've seen this scene in a movie: The bad guys are holed up behind a locked door. The good guys arrive and end up busting down the locked door. They kick it, they ram it, they do everything they can to remove the barrier.

Long ago (before cops and robbers movies), Jesus encouraged his followers to break down barriers also. He said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them" (Matthew 19:14).

Jesus understood that there are things we adults do that keep little ones from getting to him. And Jesus in essence cried, "Open up or I'll break the door down!" We need to evaluate our ministries for any existing hindrances to children coming to Christ.

Every teacher you train, facility you design, curriculum you select, dollar you spend -- in short, every decision you make -- should be motivated by a philosophy that obeys Jesus' command to "not hinder the children." These nine areas will help you create a hindrance-free environment for children.

1. Children's Faith Basics -- "How to become a Christian" was one of the first pathways I laid when I was pastor of a congregation of 700 members who were all under 12 years old. We made a criterion for this decision that included age considerations, privacy, parent involvement, and follow-up studies. We wanted to pave the way for children to get to Jesus.

2. Effective Use of Facilities -- A poorly used or shabby facility hinders the children. Remember, parents bring their children, and if parents are turned off by our facility, the children won't be brought. When I realized this, I cleaned up our facility, painted, and repaired where necessary. I deodorized the nursery, dressed the workers in colorful aprons, and added music. Soon parents not only approved, but wanted to stay and help!

Evaluate your room environments, traffic patterns, furniture, toys, and storage areas. Do all of these welcome or hinder children? Do you have a supply room, an information booth with maps and program brochures for parents, or signs that identify rooms? You're having people over in Jesus' name, so get the place ready!

3. Relevant Curriculum -- Today's Millennial children need to meet Jesus with terminology and teaching strategies that reflect their world view, address their fears, and meet their needs. A poorly written or out-of-date curriculum hinders the children.

When I incorporated a new curriculum into our ministry, I had several teachers who left because they thought printed curriculum "limited the Holy Spirit." Often you must forge on as the leader despite opposition. We saw the Lord bless our curriculum change; it brought consistency and unity to our ever-increasing ministry.

4. Trained Teachers -- There are many fine, godly people who shouldn't be teaching. I stirred up some old-timer teachers when I required all existing teachers to go through our training process.

Along with improving our current teachers' abilities, we also received many new teachers who welcomed being trained and apprenticed. Team-teaching, teacher's aides, and rotation that guaranteed rest periods doubled our teaching staff in less than one year.

5. Order and Unity -- If your teachers aren't united, kids will be hindered. I did all I could to build and organize a teaching team. We had social events to build team spirit. I put up mailboxes, sent out newsletters, and made bulletin boards to be sure everyone knew everything. I developed age-divisions and assigned coordinators to shepherd smaller groups.

Despite all my efforts at order and unity, I finally had to fire a Sunday school teacher. After months of befriending him and prayerful attempts at communicating my vision, this man was still verbally challenging the changes I made. He was unwilling to become part of the team. I finally had to ask him to quit teaching and serve in another ministry.

6. Visibility of Children -- If your children's ministry is based on the "seen and not heard" philosophy, your ministry won't grow and the children won't receive the quality attention that Jesus has in mind. I changed the words "child care is provided" in the bulletin to "children's ministry classes offered." I prayerfully did all I could to include children's and teachers' stories in adult worship services.

Have your children's choir sing, show a video of VBS, have children participate in the service, and challenge adults to get involved by showing off the "wonderful world of children." The adults of Jesus' day wanted to keep the children separate and away, but Jesus made a public statement when he invited the children to him, held them in his lap, and blessed them.

7. Parent Support -- Today's parents are stressed, busy, and sometimes frightened with the responsibilities of parenthood. Most parents welcome assistance in the parenting process. I remember confronting a parent who consistently dropped off her children without going to church herself. I'll never forget her tearful response as she told me her story and why she didn't want her children growing up without God as she did. That encounter led to a series of ongoing parenting classes that she gladly attended. As the home becomes more distant from the church, the church must extend longer arms of love!

8. A Strong Budget -- Your budget is your philosophy of children's ministry expressed in numbers. A lack of vision in the budget can hinder the children. Each year you need to include detailed records of each penny spent and of requests for increased funds to support new growth. Don't be afraid to ask for money. Remember, "Ye have not because ye ask not." (James 4:2) It's your job to educate church leadership on the importance of the children. For more help with developing a budget, see "Money Matters."

9. Relevant Programs -- Programs must relate to the needs or interests of the children who attend them. One of the greatest programs our ministry team created was a program through which qualified junior and senior highers could become involved in the children's ministry as teaching assistants. We saw churched children, who had become bored with Christianity, suddenly become peer leaders.

Your children deserve variety and creativity, so design a program that offers a wide menu of choices: VBS, kids' clubs, choirs, drama groups, summer camps, retreats, and more. Today's Millennial child has unique and different interests that the world would be happy to meet and twist into ruin. The church must fight back with God's power.

Everything we do will either hinder or encourage a child's progress toward a growing relationship with Jesus. Ask God to show you areas where you can make it easier for kids to climb into Jesus' lap.


Steve Alley is professor of Church Ministry at Pacific Christian College in Fullerton, California, and the co-author of Skituations. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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