Your children’s ministry is much more than programs. And that’s
a good thing because programs don’t change people; only God changes
people. Yet your children’s ministry includes programs. Lots of
programs. The question is, Are the programs meaningful to your
children and volunteers?
The Four R’s
It’s not the quantity of programs that counts in children’s
ministry — it’s how effective each program is in carrying out your
church’s mission and vision. Our goal for every program we host is
to help connect children and their families with our church. We
want to form healthy relationships with children. Those
relationships prompt kids and their families to come back.
Pause and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your existing
programs. Are they meaningful for children? How can you really
Here’s an easy way to measure whether a program will be
meaningful and life-changing: Ask if the Four R’s are present in
each program. If you see that a program is Relevant, Radical,
Reflective, and Relational, you’ve got a great one. Here’s what
those words mean…
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
• Relevant — Programming needs to be relevant
to kids in your church and kids in your community. Research kids’
interests. Identify the specific needs of your church, area
schools, and the families in your neighborhood. Every community is
different, so avoid the temptation to simply import a program
that’s been successfully done elsewhere.
Don’t rely on written surveys alone. Instead, make personal
contact and actually ask what programming would be relevant. Pay
attention to available resources. Prioritize program ideas so you
meet people’s expressed needs first.
• Radical — Churches lose their effectiveness
when they try to offer programming that meets all the needs of
children, their families, and their communities. Instead of trying
to do it all and failing, focus on creating a program that’s unique
to your children’s ministry. Intentionally select the one thing
that’ll set your children’s ministry apart from other churches in
your area; then do it very, very well. You won’t be shortchanging
your kids or their families because you can refer families to
capable, Christ-centered, community-based resources that your
church simply can’t provide.
The challenge is that to do one thing well, you may have to stop
doing several things poorly. There’s a cost when you ask your
church to stop doing programs that have outlived their
effectiveness, but it’s a cost worth paying if you can redirect
resources to support truly meaningful programs. “The way we’ve
always done it” may no longer meet the needs of your children.
• Reflective — Children love exciting and fun
things, and meaningful children’s ministries reflect excitement and
fun. Meaningful programs are active, carefree, enthusiastic, and
inspiring. They reflect what children love to do, mirroring
children’s creativity and enthusiasm for hands-on learning.
Meaningful programs also reflect real day-to-day situations that
kids encounter and help children apply what they’re learning to
those situations. Most importantly, meaningful programs reflect
God’s unconditional love and acceptance.
• Relational — Of the four R’s, relational is
the most vital. Too often we focus on giving information, not
transforming lives. Meaningful programs aren’t focused on tasks.
Rather, they cultivate an environment where relationships can be
Relationships matter! We need to help children make new friends
and help families build a network with other families and church
leaders. Jesus’ ministry is a great example of the importance of
relationships. Jesus nurtured others through compassion and
invested deeply in people who later changed the world. Our programs
need to be places where children are turned on to faith through the
power of relationships.
The Four Options
At the heart of most children’s ministries are Sunday school and
midweek programs. Many churches focus nearly all their attention
and finances solely on these two programs. But are these two
Here are four children’s ministry program options, each designed
for a different purpose. A well-rounded, meaningful children’s
ministry includes each of these program options. Why? The goal is
to engage a child at any point and move that child toward the
center of the target. A word of caution: Hosting a poorly executed
event is worse than not hosting one at all, so plan for
1. Momentum programs are designed to bring new
people into the faith community. They’re “come and see” events that
provide positive first impressions of your ministry. Think of them
as entry-level opportunities that facilitate numerical growth.
Momentum events include theme days, special events, and community
- Theme days promote excitement among children who are already
part of your ministry and encourage children to invite friends.
With a bit of creativity, you can turn nearly any day or event into
a theme day. Possible theme days are Super Bowl Sunday, Ice Cream
“Sundae,” Dinner at the Movies, and Day at the Beach.
- Special events are often seasonal. Involved families are
encouraged to invite their friends to join them for fun. Special
events offer kid-friendly activities, food, and time for families
to get to know each other better. Special events include a New
Year’s celebration, bike rally, or back-to-school event.
- Community outreach programs fill needs or interests in your
community. They provide partnerships between your community and
your church. Outreach programs offer families that aren’t drawn by
traditional Sunday school or church the chance to be exposed to
spiritual people and biblical lessons. Examples of community
outreaches are team sports and skills camps, child-care centers,
fine arts lessons, and storybook hours.
2. Support programs offer assistance to
families and children who are dealing with challenges. Support
programs provide a safe place for children to learn, talk, and
express their feelings.
Many support programs are offered as classes or small groups
that last between six and eight weeks. The goal is to help kids
explore issues in the context of God’s Word. Support programs offer
more than just coping skills; they also provide hope. These support
programs exist to help children with issues such as school, grief,
character development, homework, or divorce recovery.
3. Service programs involve children in
opportunities that help them develop a heart for serving others.
Service programs help children cultivate a servant attitude and the
desire to make a positive difference in the world. They’re great
opportunities for children to develop friendships.
Service opportunities can be inside your children’s ministry,
such as puppets, drama, clown ministry, multimedia ministry, or
hospitality. Or service projects can benefit the larger community.
You’ll have to decide if you want one-shot, short-term, or
long-term projects. Either way, keep service programs open to
newcomers at all times.
4. Discipleship programs build a community of
kids who want to grow deeper in their Christian faith. Discipleship
programs aren’t for first-time visitors or sporadic attendees.
They’re designed to help children dive deeper into spiritual
development as they study the Word of God, pray, develop
friendships with other believers, and share their lives. Children
experience a personal relationship with Jesus and also disciple
others as they build up each other’s faith.
Discipleship classes can be long- or short-term, but they’re
intentionally more intimate so children can connect with each
other. Experiences where children encounter God and make
life-changing decisions are the bull’s-eye of the target. It’s
where you want every child to ultimately end up.
The Six Questions
Answer the following questions before you begin any new program
to determine whether a program will be meaningful to your children
1. Who will lead? In his book Doing Church
as a Team, Wayne Cordeiro suggests that before launching a new
program, the first step needs to be building a team of four other
leaders to serve with the program leader. This team becomes a
support system that shares responsibilities of the program and
provides accountablility for each other. A strong leadership team
also helps prevent frustration and burnout.
Accurately predict the number of servants needed to support a
program. Do you have enough leaders? the right leaders? Are they
equipped? Are they all on the same page regarding the vision?
2. What will you do? To be meaningful, any
program you develop must connect people with an experience they’ll
value. Meaningful programs also bridge people to your church and
toward relationship with your church family.
Have you considered the culture and daily life of kids you want
to reach? Have you found a name for the program that’s interesting
and inviting? Have you decided precisely what need you’ll meet?
3. When will you meet? Timing is important.
Schedule a day of the week and a time in the day that’s convenient
for families. Be considerate of young children and their
Consider God’s timing for the program. Great program ideas move
forward and become reality only with God’s blessing. You may be
able to recognize God’s timing for your program as you evaluate how
easily the components of your action plan come together. What would
happen if you chose not to launch a program until you had all the
volunteers you need in place?
4. Where will you meet? Whether you have a huge
facility or a tiny one, space is always an issue. Be creative as
you search for the ideal location. Some events and classes need to
be held at your church building, but others may be appropriate for
a neighborhood park, community building, or back yard. Growing a
children’s ministry may require you to go where the kids are. Take
into consideration what supplies you’ll need and what setup is
required when thinking about where you should meet.
5. Why are you considering this new program? Is
the program aligned with your church’s vision and children’s
ministry philosophy? What’s your desired outcome? Will you seek to
expand your current children’s ministry, offer support to children
and their families, provide service to your community, or develop
disciples? How will this program engage kids and move them toward
the center of the target?
6. How will you move ahead? This question may
be the most important because your answer becomes your action plan
for making the proposed program a reality. You’ll sort out the
program’s goals and determine publicity, budget, and team
communication. Decide up front how you’ll evaluate your
effectiveness — so you can make midcourse corrections.
But it isn’t just a matter of logistics. A detailed plan also
ensures your program will be meaningful for children and
volunteers. Remember that what counts most isn’t pulling off a
spectacular event. What counts most is what kids learn and how
relationships develop during the course of the event — from the
initial brainstorming meeting to sweeping up after the event
The One Target
Anyone can pull together a slapdash program to entertain kids.
But creating a meaningful program requires something more. It
requires that you’re intentional about building a program that’s
relevant to your kids, that meets the needs of your church and
community, and that’s radical in its creativity and uniqueness.
Meaningful programs also reflect God’s love and mirror how kids
learn and what kids already love to do. Meaningful programs
encourage transforming relationships. Creating excellent children’s
programming is hard work, but it’s rewarding, too. You’ll touch
kids’ lives in ways that have lifelong impact and draw children
closer to God. It’s worth the effort!
RaNae Street is a children’s ministry director in Tipp City,
Ohio. This article is excerpted from the new Children’s Ministry
That Works! (Group Publishing, Inc.). Please keep in mind that
phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to