The 4 Rs of Faith-Building Programs

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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?

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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.

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Pause and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your existing programs. Are they meaningful for children? How can you  really know?

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…

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.

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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 built.

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.

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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 programs enough?

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 excellence.

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 outreach events.

  • 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.
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