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
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
Strategy: Recruit and Develop Quality
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.
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
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.