A bus ministry can be a great outreach tool — but only
if it’s run well. Here are the secrets to making it
Imagine a church bus pulling into a neighborhood where children
jump up and down and run to the door even before the vehicle stops.
These kids want to come to church! But what’ll greet them when they
get to the church building — kids who eagerly embrace them? a
congregation that welcomes them? or people who groan when “these”
kids don’t seem to follow all the churchy rules? If your bus
ministry is run right, these kids will encounter the love and grace
of Jesus Christ.
Rod Baker, a former bus supervisor and outreach pastor at the
Church on the Move in Tulsa, Oklahoma, weekly stood before
thousands of inner city boys and girls transported on 48 buses from
Tulsa and the surrounding metro area. Baker had served 12 years in
bus ministry — an area of outreach that he wholeheartedly
advocates — mainly because it allowed children a refuge and a
chance to escape to a new environment where their minds and hearts
open up and “the walls come down.”
Three elements made Church on the Move’s bus ministry
successful: organization, structure, and vision. Not everyone in
the church had the vision, but leadership from the head pastor
fueled the ministry. The head pastor at Church on the Move once
served as a bus minister himself.
The largest Sunday school in the nation, run by Metro Ministries
in Brooklyn, New York, started as a bus ministry, but now primarily
runs sidewalk Sunday schools. Each week the church teaches up to
17,000 kids. Around 11,000 of these kids come to sidewalk Sunday
school in their own neighborhoods. The rest are bused in on
Saturdays for three separate services.
According to children’s pastor Chris Blake, the core concept of
the 15-year-old ministry is that “it’s better to build boys and
girls than repair men and women.”
On a smaller but just as meaningful scale, Dave Diehl, a
children’s pastor at Central Assembly of God, in Cumberland,
Maryland, runs a bus ministry that gathers children on Sunday
mornings for Sunday school, the beginning of a worship service, and
children’s church. The program includes prayer and encourages
children to pray for each other.
Beatin’ The Bushes
The Saturday program at Church on the Move reached over 2,000
boys and girls, but the work of volunteers and drivers extended
into the week. Every Thursday and Friday, drivers visited kids’
families and sought out new families. On Sundays, the buses picked
up kids who wanted to be part of the church. And the staff sent out
350 to 400 birthday cards per month.
A typical Saturday started with a half hour of praise and
prayer. The program was high-impact and fast-action. Planned from
beginning to end, all the pieces fit like a puzzle — even down to
the chant “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” Each month centered
around a theme such as obedience.
It was important that there was no “dead time”; the kids heard
preaching right on the bus. Theme prizes such as whistles and candy
donated by organizations served as motivators. Volunteers fed the
kids, taught an object lesson, played a game, and taught a Bible
lesson. The goal of Saturdays was clearly sharing God’s love with
unchurched kids. According to Baker, the reason for tightly packed
activity and teaching is that “you may see some kids for 16 hours
all together and never see them again. You have to teach it in a
way they can take and run with.”
Saturdays always ended with an opportunity for kids to respond
to God’s love.
Like Oil And Vinegar
What’s the best way to integrate bused kids into church life?
Blake believes in setting up a separate program for bused kids.
He’s seen the frustration of teachers who don’t know how to deal
with behavior problems; kids’ confusion from mixing bused kids and
churched kids; and, too many times, a final decision to shut down
the program because of the trouble it causes. To avoid “mixing
apples and oranges,” Blake advocates busing children in at a
different time from Sunday morning or running a sidewalk Sunday
school and visiting homes the day before. The kids don’t have
different spiritual needs; they have different behavioral needs.
Eventually, the kids grow into the church setting.
Baker agrees with Blake. Church on the Move ran its bus ministry
separately from its weekly Sunday school because mixing the two
programs is akin to mixing two different cultures. There are too
many barriers to overcome for effective ministry to occur to the
churched kids and the bused kids at the same time. One culture has
learned structure; one has little structure. A separate program for
the bus-ministry children also creates a comfortable environment.
Baker doesn’t believe it’s kind to “mix Sally in a beautiful Easter
bonnet with Johnny who hasn’t bathed.”
Diehl sees outreach differently. He says that bus ministry is a
means to tear down barriers between different cultures. He uses
object lessons such as X-rays to demonstrate that God looks not on
the outside, but into the heart. The key, Diehl says, is to treat
all children the same, to model love and acceptance, and to react
immediately to any negative comments or treatment with loving yet
At Metro Ministries, a crowd of 1,000 children sits in two
groups — boys on one side, girls on the other. Most intently watch
the front, where a lively speaker stands between two sets of four
There’s a definite plan behind the structure for discipline with
Metro Ministries. Blake says that “if you don’t put on a program
for kids, they’ll do it for you.” So the program is high-energy and
first-class. The children continually receive the message that it’s
a privilege to be involved. A typical Saturday or weekday afternoon
begins with games, songs, and teaching.
Periodically, someone blows a whistle. That means, “Sit up
straight, eyes up front, silence.” The process teaches kids to
behave. Metro’s bus-ministry volunteers weekly face the frustration
of “taking a tiger out of the jungle for an hour to train it, and
then throwing it right back into the jungle.” But as Blake asserts,
“Only God’s Word can change lives.” To create structure, Baker
advocates clear boundaries for kids: “Whatever standard you hold
for the children, they’ll rise to it.” The most basic and important
standard tells the children, “We love you. We’re here to protect
you, and that means we won’t allow you to hurt anyone else.”
Blake says the key to successful outreach to children is
visiting families each week. It’s easier to discipline kids if they
know that Mom knows these people and these people know Mom.
Getting to know families helps Metro Ministries achieve their
ultimate goal: to change New York City — starting with the
children, reaching to the families, spreading to the neighborhoods,
and finally transforming the entire city. In fact, publicity in the
last few years has revealed Metro Ministry’s success in reaching
their goal. The New York City police department has indicated a
significant crime decrease in the geographical areas where Metro
Ministries runs their bus ministry routes.
To help increase church support for outreach, children at
Diehl’s church attend Sunday-morning services. The bused kids sit
with volunteers and Diehl’s wife and daughter. During an open
welcome time, kids run through the church shaking hands and
building relationships with adults. When adults stand to receive
prayer, many times all the children surround them and pray.
The precious cargo on each bus that rolls into churches weekly
is the eternal souls of children whom God loves. Diehl says it
poetically: “Every week God allows you to hold his kingdom in your
hand. The way you hold them will make a difference in the way these
diamonds and rubies shine.”
Allison Bull is a children’s minister in Murrysville,
Pennsylvania. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses,
and prices are subject to change.