Take a look at this EXCLUSIVE RESEARCH to learn what’s happening in children’s ministry today and how you can be more effective in your ministry!
Children’s ministers face a new world of ministry today—one that is shifting, expanding, and shrinking all at once. What does that mean for you? Find out in the exclusive results of the 2016 State of Children’s Ministry Survey conducted by Aspen Grove, OneHope, CMConnect, and a host of bloggers and children’s ministry leaders.
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Nearly 300 children’s ministry leaders from across the United States answered a number of questions on important aspects of ministry to elementary children. Through the course of the survey, a needed shift in how people minister to the children, their families, and the communities around them became apparent. Take a look at what’s going on in children’s ministry today.
Children’s ministers are designing unique and engaging programming. Just under 40 percent of people—the largest in the category—say that, while using another curriculum, they also write their own in-house curriculum. And they believe children like the results of their efforts; nine out of 10 participants (93.3 percent) believe the children in their ministry enjoy the programming. This means a large portion of these ministry leaders’ time is going to the writing and executing of curriculum.
Half of children’s ministers are working without a plan. As much time as participants say they spent planning weekend programming, many often did so without a strategic plan guiding their outcomes. Only half (54.1 percent) of children’s ministry leaders report they had a plan outlining theological concepts they want children to know before beginning junior high school. The other half (45.9 percent) report that they don’t use such a plan.
Churches without written plans for spiritual growth can’t institute change—they can’t invite volunteers, staff members, and other departments to intentionally participate in the spiritual development of the next generation without having a plan or vision for where they’re headed. We don’t know how much a lack of focused strategy for spiritual development plays into the long-term trend of children leaving the church later in life, but it’s clear there’s a significant impact in the short term.
The majority of churches who report they’re growing (57.5 percent) said they have a spiritual development plan. Nearly the exact opposite was true for churches that report they’re declining: 58.8 percent reveal they don’t have a plan for the spiritual development of children.
Interestingly, 100 percent of those surveyed agree on some level that the children who go through their ministry leave with a strong theological and biblical foundation. But without a plan and some method of measurement, it’s hard to determine if this assertion is in fact true.
Working without a plan may be a significant, missed opportunity to curb the broad decline in church attendance. Ensuring a strong theological and biblical foundation solidifies an understanding of the role of the church in the life of a Christian. And with nearly half (49.5 percent) of churches considering a curriculum change in the next 12 months, it might be better to choose the theological and biblical tenets the church wants to teach before choosing the next teaching product.
Volunteers are stable, but not passionate. Volunteers remain an overwhelmingly essential element of children’s ministry, with 95.5 percent of children’s ministry leaders agreeing that volunteers are critical to running the ministry. However, participants admit they aren’t developing leaders, as 63.1 percent have 13 to 25 volunteers who report directly to them. This could be due to lack of time and opportunity, or it could be a reluctance to hand leadership over to volunteers.
Surprisingly, only a little more than half (58.3 percent) have a formal training process for volunteers. But almost all (94.7 percent) run background checks on volunteers serving in the ministry. This bodes well for parents, as it shows that people take children’s safety seriously.
Most people (68.8 percent) report volunteer team morale as moderate. This feeling doesn’t vary significantly when accounting for growth, training, total numbers, or how many volunteers report directly to the children’s ministry leader. This is a red flag for any church relying on volunteers. “Moderate” morale on a volunteer team can be among the first warning signs that team members are just as likely to leave as they are to stay.
Training a volunteer well for a role and then taking regular, ongoing steps to ensure that personunderstands his or her value ensures the volunteer feels love and appreciation. If children’s ministry leaders spend a portion of their time investing in developing high volunteer morale, they can look forward to seeing their volunteer ranks multiply rather than shrink.
Attendance is inconsistent. The majority of churches surveyed (57.9 percent) report that families attend services twice per month. This finding confirms what many children’s ministry leaders—despite size, style, and denomination—have felt and reported for quite some time: The majority of families no longer attend church services weekly.
Declining attendance is a growing trend. A 2014 Pew study found that Americans, in general, are becoming less religious and attending services less frequently than previous generations. A Barna study echoes this trend, showing younger generations believe attending a church is “not very important.” It’s of great concern that the largest generation in history values church attendance less and less. Current attendance patterns of twice per month make it difficult, if not impossible, to establish a solid foundation by which children can grow in their faith. So how are leaders responding to this trend?
Leaders want to connect with parents more. Children’s ministers overwhelmingly report a desire to connect with the parents of children in their ministry. A large percentage (75.2 percent) of people say if they had more time in the week, they’d use it to equip families to disciple their children. This is an important strategy since parents have more time and influence with m ore time and influence with children than anyone else. The state of minister-parent relations, however, presents challenges and opportunities in connecting with families.
The first challenge is parents and ministry leaders don’t communicate well with each other, according to the survey. Most participants report feeling only “somewhat connected” to the parents in their ministry (71.4 percent). As a result, only 4.1 percent of participants could say for sure whether the parents in their ministry are intentional in the discipleship of their children. Still, parents remain at the forefront of the children’s ministry leader’s thoughts.
Another challenge for parent connections involves workload. Though just over half (54.5 percent) of children’s ministry leaders who responded to the survey feel their workload is manageable, the next largest category of participants (45.5 percent) report their workload as overwhelming.
For ministry leaders to better connect with families, they must shift some of their time away from weekend programming and toward parents. What makes this a great opportunity is that most participants feel support from their senior leadership (60.9 percent), the parents of their ministry (58.3 percent), and the children (74.4 percent). So a shift, though not easy, would at least have the support to begin redesigning the ways ministries connect with families.
However, in attempting a shift of this nature, children’s ministry leaders say they would feel overwhelmed to do it alone. This is where a second key opportunity awaits. While connecting and pouring into parents is a daunting task, it can be done on multiple levels—by more than one children’s ministry leader, volunteer, or even ministry team. The reality is, volunteers do the bulk of the face-to-face ministry; this reiterates why ministry leaders need passionate and driven volunteer teams.
According to participants, now is a great time to focus more energy on forming deeper connections with parents. Nearly all participants report feeling valued by leadership (91.3 percent), parents (97 percent), the children (99.2 percent), and the overall congregation (77.8 percent) of their respective churches. This doesn’t mean focusing more on families and volunteers will be easy, but children’s ministers seem to have the support in place to launch a new season in their ministry.
Conclusion: It all points to families. The biggest takeaway from the 2016 survey results is that children’s ministers would do well to spend less time on their in-house programming and more time on their relationship with parents while exploring the means to take their programming outside the walls of their building and the typical hours of services. Though this may sound like a daunting task at the outset, the energetic and educated women and men who lead these ministries—with the overwhelming support of their pastors and church members—are more than up to it.
Churches don’t need to abandon their programming, but they are well advised to refocus talent and effort toward defined spiritual development outcomes that engage the entire family. Children’s ministers today have the opportunity to include parents to reach children, extend their ministry through a team of volunteer champions, and redefine the role of the church in the next generation.
A total of 279 surveys were collected utilizing an online survey tool after the survey was created and validated by a jury of trained researchers at Aspen Grove, OneHope, and CMConnect. A link was disseminated to current children’s and youth ministry leaders in the United States via social media, blogs, and email between April 25, 2016, and May 11, 2016. Participants were asked to share the survey link within their network of ministry leaders. A natural limitation of a snowball study is that it won’t be representative of a random sample of people, but rather those people within social media and blog networks surveyed. Aspen Grove, CMConnect, and OneHope International conducted this survey in partnership with Jonathan Cliff, Kenny Conley, Jenny Funderburke, Dale Hudson, Mike Johnson, Sam Luce, and Matt McKee. For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors: Steven Dilla is the Managing Director at Aspen Grove and author at The Park Forum; previously he was a church planter in lower Michigan. Jason Tilley is the Creative Director at Aspen Grove. He has served in children’s ministry for over 20 years in church, parachurch, and international ministries.
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