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Today's Child, Tomorrow's Ministry

As we march into a new millennium, it's only natural to look back and take stock of where we've been and to gaze ahead and anticipate the future.

So what's happened in children's lives in the last decade and where do we go from here? To answer these questions, we asked our reader experts how kids have changed in the last 10 years, how children will change over the next 10 years, and what an effective children's ministry will look like in the next decade. Here's what eight children's ministers -- just like you -- said about the changing world of children today, and the need for a modern, effective children's ministry in the coming years.

MIKE SCIARRA, pastor of family ministries at Voyagers Bible Church in Irvine, California

Children are now more affluent in their desires and expectations regardless of their social level. They're much more knowledgeable of cultural norms and various lifestyle choices, but they're still hungry for the Word of God and open to the gospel. They thrive on personal relationships and attention.

In the next decade, children will become more technically and electronically isolated and will need lots of personal contact. There will be a move away from all the techno gadgets and hype.

Effective children's ministry will be completely integrated into the fabric of family life. There will be plenty of opportunities for outreach where children can learn that they're a viable part of the body of Christ. Ministry in the local church will need to be less segmented, more multigenerational, more home-based, and less activity-driven. Church leaders will need to minister to whole families.

TED BENNETT, children's pastor at Northport Baptist Church in Northport, Alabama

We're raising our children to be children instead of being responsible adults. Children have little responsibility and aren't prepared for the real world. Family time is at an all-time low. It has been substituted with sports and hobbies. Our children are raised in day-care centers. We make more money to give our children better things, while what they need is parenting.

In the next decade, children will be children; they'll always want to play and laugh and sing. The difference will come when they grow up and realize they don't remember ever playing with their parents; learning some of the basics of life from them; or understanding the historical significance of our faith, our tradition, and family. This is what'll change the course of the next generation.

The future of children's ministry isn't to see a 7-year-old life changed, but to teach a 7-year-old how to make decisions that'll change his life. We need to teach basic biblical concepts to children and teach them how they should be applied; it's the only way to keep them "alive" as Christians. There will be a much greater importance on discipling children, rather than simply seeing them trust Jesus for their eternal life. The effective ministry will focus not on getting a young child to convert, but on laying a foundation for eternity on which spiritual decisions can be made.

ANGELA LASLEY, children's pastor at Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Today's kids learn in fundamentally different ways than those in previous generations. They can participate in multiple activities at once. Their learning needs are highly experiential. Knowledge alone isn't enough for these children; what they learn must have life-application. They're high tech and high touch. They need challenging learning environments and close relationships with others.

In the next decade, children will increase their use of technology and have higher needs for community relationships. Parents are becoming more committed to creating a different life for their children than they had, and children will experience more stability and parental involvement in their lives.

The effective children's ministry will need to be a living organism reaching out to embrace the culture. It'll be dedicated to empowering parents in their role as their children's primary religious instructors. Children's ministry will seize the opportunity to become the extended family for a culture that lacks extended family. It'll recognize that our churches and community are filled with at-risk children, and it'll become intentional about becoming a healing community. It'll point children and families to Christ by the power of the gospel seen in the lives of the church community.

GORDON AND BECKI WEST, authors of Dynamic Preteen Ministry in Mesa, Arizona

Kids haven't changed nearly as much as today's society and families have. Society is exposing our kids to much more serious themes far earlier in life. It's a misunderstanding to think kids are more mature than they were 10 years ago; they really aren't. In reality they have a sort of pseudo-sophistication forced upon them because of exposure to sex and violence in a world devoid of values and guidance. Parents have tried to become "friends" to their kids instead of the wise, mature adults for whom kids long. Too many kids have been brought up with families who are afraid to disappoint or upset them due to their own upbringing or divorce and custody battles. Children are, therefore, living in a world of uncertainty without the safety and comfort of parents who love enough to discipline and direct them.

Children may experience a melt down if parents don't see that kids need to be kids. We need to help children relearn how to play, to imagine, to dream, to laugh. Kids don't need to know how to handle sex safely; they need to know how to ride a bike safely. They don't need to be on three teams and take four different musical lessons. They need to know how to use a stick and a ball to make up a game with the kids next door.

In an effective children's ministry, leadership will require more education, more training, and more professional expertise. Ministries will need to work with the other departments of the church and with outside social agencies and schools as an absolute necessity. Parenting education and family ministry will continue to increase in importance as having lifelong effects among children.

LISA J. WARREN, children's ministry volunteer at New Life Center in Everett, Washington

The children we're ministering to have been subjected to more violence, foul language, diseases, sex information, and often come from divorced or dysfunctional families. Children of this decade also have higher expectations of the ministry they attend, and many have higher analytical thought processes.

In the next 10 years, children will become more evaluative of the ministry they attend. Their questions will become more profound, and the amount of knowledge they possess will be amazing. The need for mutual respect between child and teacher will increase.

Effective children's ministries will offer hands-on instruction, mutual respect between teacher and child, factual evidence of biblical truths, greater use of technological and sensory learning, and an abundance of basic life-application. Class time will have to involve the five senses. Kids church and corporate kid worship will continue to gain popularity.

TERRY PLATT, resources manager for Gospel Light Publications in Oak Park, Illinois

Kids are more streetwise. They're demanding answers to questions and aren't happy with just the hour of Sunday school. They want to be involved in the learning process and find answers in a guided way for themselves. Kids don't have a sense of absolutes in these days. We must strive to show those absolutes from the Bible and create in each child an understanding of the absolutes of God and his never-changing rules.

Kids will want to have principles explained and modeled by their leaders. They'll want to experience excellence and quality and to understand the purpose in their activities. They'll want to be involved, as children, in ministry-productive activities. "Sit and soak" won't be a viable option.

In the next decade, the quality of programs and materials will increase. Technology will be more important and more integrated in learning and teaching techniques. Above all, relationships and modeling will be a key. Kids must see husbands and wives loving and working together. Kids will be more involved in actual ministry with an understanding of their gifts as children and of their place of service as children.

DAWN BUDD, preschool teacher at Bethany Community Church in Laurel, Maryland

Each year seems to cause children (in general) to lose some of their childlikeness. The push to become smarter, better, and more prosperous seems to rob children of the time of innocence. The world is getting smaller and intruding upon the daily lives of children in devastating ways. Children are being labeled very quickly at a younger age by counselors, teachers, and others. A child who is more childish and therefore less attentive is labeled as a behavior problem. We're asking children to act grown-up, not asking them to behave according to their age.

Without a huge reformation of adults in the next decade, children will become harder and more cynical. There will be less respect for authority, more self-destructive behavior, and more heartbreak.

An effective children's ministry will be involved in teaching the whole family. There will be less formal teaching and more discipling and interaction of the teacher in the child's life. It'll go beyond the one-hour-on-Sunday ministry in which teachers follow a preset curriculum guide. For it to be effective, the children's ministry will need to reach into the children's homes and schools on a continual basis.

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