Breaking Down the Barriers

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Nine practical ways to ensure that kids connect with
Jesus

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“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.

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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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