Today’s Child, Tomorrow’s Ministry

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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.

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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.

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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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