Who should you spend all your time, money, programs, and
effort on — kids or parents? Find out from one of the most
innovative children’s ministries in America.
Here’s a sobering question: If you had to choose between
spending your time reaching the children in your church or spending
your time reaching their parents, which would you choose?
It’s an extremely difficult question. In fact, it’s a question
most churches have never really asked out loud.
I’m sure the overwhelming initial response to the question is,
“Well, of course, any church should do both!” And, yes, it’s
important to reach children and to reach their parents.
But if you really examine your children’s ministry strategy, how
much of your budget, time, and effort is directed toward
specifically impacting parents’ hearts? An honest evaluation of
most ministries suggests that they invest the large majority of
their efforts in creating environments targeting the child — and
grossly ignore those children’s parents.
Back to the Question
Don’t confuse the question; I’m not asking, “Do you think it’s more
important to reach adults?” Every church spends enormous dollars
and hours reaching adults as adults. That’s a different
Think about it carefully.
What I’m asking is a question of values: Do you think it’s more
important to reach children or to reach their parents?
And it’s a question of priorities: How much of your programming is
designed to specifically help parents be better parents?
Asked and Answered
You can say it’s important to reach kids and parents, but that’s
only a theory unless you’re actually doing both in practice. And if
you spend the majority of your time targeting programming for
children only, that suggests you’ve decided it’s more important to
The evidence indicates that the average children’s ministry spends
90 to 100 percent of the time creating programs designed for kids.
In the average church, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, summer
camps, children’s church, and more all add up to make a powerful
statement. So it seems as though our original question has really
been asked and answered by most churches.
An Alternative Question
Think about this: What would happen if you decided to spend less
time trying to reach kids and more time trying to reach their
parents? What if you really started acting like it was important to
reach kids and their parents? And what if you reallocated some of
your time, budget, and calendar to help parents be better
Let’s do the math to see why that would be a good investment of
your time. I keep a jar of 40 marbles on a table in my office. Why
40? It’s a reminder to those on our staff about the number of hours
we have in a given year to teach children. After subtracting sick
days, vacations, holidays, and other family activities, 40 hours is
about the best estimate of how many hours kids will attend our
programs. When all of us understand how limited our time is, it
certainly raises the standard for what we do. Let that sink in for
just a second.
• You only have 40 opportunities this year to impact a child with
the critical truths about life, God, and eternity.
• You only have 40 hours this year to teach a child everything he
needs to know about salvation, God’s love, and Scriptural
• You only have 40 hours this year to make a connection with a
child that’ll help her build the right kind of relationships with
her parents and friends.
To make a comparison, the average fourth-grade boy you’re trying to
reach this year will spend 400 hours studying math and over 500
hours playing video games. That’s why what you do every week is so
crucial, and that’s why you have to play your best game every
A Different Answer
But consider this. The parent who drops off a son or daughter to
participate in your 40 hours of programming this year has
approximately 3,000 hours of unplanned time at home with the same
child. Don’t miss the potential of this fact.
The average church has 40 hours a year to spend with a child, and
the average parent has 3,000 hours a year with that same child. So
it really doesn’t seem logical for any ministry to spend the
majority of its time and energy only working on the 40 hours
that’ll happen at its church while completely ignoring the
potential of the 3,000 hours that are happening in the home.
I’m sure as a leader you spend time every week asking this
question: “What can we do to make our 40 hours more effective for
reaching children?” But what would happen if you started asking
this question: “What can we do to tap into the 3,000 hours parents
have with their children in the home?” Finding the answer to that
question has the potential to transform your ministry from a
children’s ministry mind-set to a family ministry mind-set.
A Different Response
Every children’s ministry leader knows intuitively that a parent
will have more influence on a child than the church. A parent will
have more interaction with a child in one week than the average
church leader will have in several months. It would take the
average children’s ministry over a month of Sundays to spend the
amount of time a parent will spend with a child in one week just
riding in the car.
And the impact of the family will follow a child through every
defining moment of life. Parents will affect how children see God,
how they practice their faith, how they relate to others, where
they go to school, what they choose as a career, who they marry,
and on and on. The influence of any specific church is usually
temporary, but the influence of parents is always lifelong. No one
would argue the fact that parents have greater influence.
The problem is that even though we believe it’s true, we just don’t
act like it’s true. Children’s ministries continue to focus on
programs that are designed to reach children, and they continue to
target most of their budget to improve the 40 hours. And every
year, 3,000 potential hours are left untapped. If marketing experts
or business strategists were to take an honest look at the typical
church, they’d say it’s time to rethink the model.
Churches invest thousands of dollars to reach kids, but every
statistic suggests that 70 to 80 percent of those kids walk away
from church when they go to college. The church tries desperately
to shape a child’s worldview, but surveys indicate teenagers and
young adults are more confused than ever about who God is and what
he’s really like. The church claims to be pro-family, but an
evaluation of their programs reveals they segregate the family and
spend very little time actually creating environments where kids
and parents can participate together.
It’s not hard to make the case that the church actually discourages
parents from assuming the role of spiritual influence in the lives
of their children. It’s easy for church leaders to assume that
parents won’t take on this responsibility, so church leaders try to
become some type of substitute for the parents. At the same time,
parents begin to assume that the church is the place where they
should drop off their kids so they can be fixed spiritually. Again,
the issue is the church will never be able to do in 40 hours what
the parent has an option to do in 3,000 hours.