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Kids Rule!

Children's pastor Julia A'Bell from Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, gives strategies to elevate your church's view of children's ministry.


Six years ago my senior pastor asked me to oversee the children's ministry of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. At the time my husband and I were pastors of youth and young adults at a sister campus in the suburbs. And though I'd taught at primary schools before becoming a youth pastor, I never saw myself moving from pastoring youth to pastoring children.

I'll be honest. The thought of leaving the "cool" youth ministry to take on a ministry that needed a lot of work to claim that same reputation was overwhelming. It would take a visionary leader. I knew I had to readjust my thinking to see the limitless opportunities that children's ministry holds.

My children, the kids already in our ministry, and the thousands yet to come were the deciding factor. I agreed to embark on the journey of recreating our children's ministry into something kids loved and adults supported.

We've made radical changes over the past six years, and our church's view of children's ministry has been transformed. Thanks to an amazing team of committed and sometimes loony staff and leaders, I can say that children's ministry at Hillsong Church is a greatly valued ministry -- a ministry that's changing kids' lives in our local area and beyond.

You, too, can elevate your children's ministry profile in your church by following some of the simple strategies we've used.

Leaders, Not "Workers"

In the beginning we found we had many disgruntled parents turning up on a rotating roster to "look after the children" on Sundays. Most of them didn't want to be involved and dreaded when it was their turn to miss church. So we changed the entire philosophy of how we recruited volunteers.

We stopped the rosters and I began teaching the handful of faithful "workers" about effective team-building. We wanted people who loved children and would delight in serving them in volunteer ministry. Another change was to quit calling volunteers workers. Now we call them leaders -- they're leaders in God's house serving our children.

Building passionate teams of leaders doesn't happen overnight, and it requires constant attention from every leader on every team in every age group.

The larger our church grows, the more quality people we train, empower, and release into all the areas of ministry within the children's department. The journey of building teams of passionate people is a never-ending task, but it's vital to creating competent ministries.

Strategy: Recruit and Develop Quality Volunteers

What It Looks Like: Happy, committed volunteer "leaders" who love what they do and share their joy with parents and adults are some of your ministry's biggest fans.

How It Helps: When volunteers are content and motivated, their enthusiasm projects the message that the priority in your ministry is kids' connection to Jesus -- not personnel issues or bickering.

High Standards, Impeccable Image

How we present ourselves as children's leaders and pastors matters. We realized that our appearance needed to honor the children and families we minister to. It isn't only about how we dress, though that does matter. It's also about keeping a permanent, genuine smile on our faces as we love and care for our kids -- even the toughest of them.

Our entire team wears clothing that identifies everyone as a part of the team. Currently it's a hip t-shirt and cap that works for males and females. We also wear a Hillsong Kids badge that identifies us as approved leaders.

We've set a standard that prayer is essential. We start each service with a volunteer prayer meeting, where we encourage volunteers, inspire them with a short word from leadership, and equip them with information and prayer. This gets all of us on the same page and ready to serve.

Strategy: Expect Excellence

What It Looks Like: Kids and parents trust that volunteers know what they're doing. Everyone's committed to the same goal, and communication at all levels is healthy.

How It Helps: Your ministry becomes a model for others.

Fun-Big Fun!

Earlier this year my 6-year-old daughter, Harmony, had an operation to remove her tonsils and adenoids. Before her pre-op, the nurses encouraged us to take Harmony into the playroom. There I noticed an interesting statement on the wall about kids' play: "If children are experiencing any form of fear, this can be released through play."

To me, this statement confirms how important fun is. Fun and play are elemental to helping children grow closer to Jesus. That doesn't mean volunteers need to be comedians to provide an atmosphere of fun and joy. Yet we do need to understand that children learn about God and have positive experiences at church through play -- and fun.

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