Worth the Risk


For more than 20 years, former children’s ministry leader Patty
Smith’s church had offered a traditional classroom-based Sunday
school program. Her church and staff members were familiar with
this format and felt comfortable using this approach to teach and
interact with children.

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“They were comfortable, but the kids were bored,” recalls Patty
who now serves as the Director of Children and Family Ministries
for the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The decision to transform their children’s ministry to a large
group/small group model wasn’t easy-and it brought with it a huge
risk. Would they have enough volunteers to succeed with this new
approach? Would the children’s needs be met?

“Looking back, it was hard at first, but God sent us many new
volunteers…and tons of new kids,” she said. “We risked changing a
church culture.”

Whether faced with unreasonable time-constraints or skeptical
congregations, every risk, and church, presents a unique set of
hurdles that must be addressed before change will succeed.

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We asked: What hurdles to change have you

  • Many times it’s fear of change. Other
    times it’s the time it takes.
  • Concern over using the budget.
  • The ones who feel we need to “do it the
    way we’ve always done it.”
  • Probably myself-not dreaming bigger or
    going for it.
  • Pastor’s ideal of perfection.
  • Lack of support from
  • Fear that others won’t help or that once
    things start, others back out from their commitments.
  • Nothing. I have a wonderful church that
    encourages it!
  • Risks take time and planning, and I’ve
    been so busy doing busy stuff that I haven’t had time to take
  • Tradition…we’ve always done it this way
    and change will upset some of the more influential

While change is rarely easy and may involve hurdles and barriers,
those taking our survey found that the benefits to their ministry
far outweigh the risk when they follow God’s lead.

When Anne Clay, director of children’s ministries at Central
Church in Collierville, Tennessee, decided to drop its traditional
VBS program and replace it with a family-focused event, the
decision brought with it many serious risks.

“It was a challenge to convince parents that participating with
their children was far better than dropping them off,” Anne
recalls. Not only did this new direction eliminate an existing
program, but it also replaced it with one that would require
additional volunteers.

“We believed in it and stood firm,” Anne says. While initially the
idea was met with strong resistance, through open communication,
including staff talking points and a clearly communicated vision,
the results were worth the risk. “It…led to even more and better
opportunities to minister to kids and their parents

As ministry leaders, those involved in our survey realized that
the future of their children’s ministry relies not only on their
ability to recognize the need for change, but also on the
leadership skills to make it happen. And now these leaders are
looking forward to more innovation and risk.

We asked: If all obstacles were removed, what one risk
would you take for your ministry?

  • I’d love to implement some type of program
    for children for afterschool hours-whether they need a place to
    stay until parents get off work, tutoring, food, fellowship, or
    more. All this would be provided free or at very little cost. I
    want to provide a safe, loving, God-filled environment every day,
    not just Sunday.
  • I’d like to see children and family
    ministry become a part of the core DNA of our church. I’d like to
    see our parents and adults seeing the value and necessity of
    passing their faith to the next generation. I’d also like to see us
    become a bit more bold on our stance on certain issues that have
    been points of contention so our young people are hearing
    legitimate answers and alternatives to what they’re learning in the
  • I’d bring the children into the sanctuary
    to pray over the adults every Sunday. To start a prayer group for
    children that would meet with the adults. The young learn from the
  • I’d like to make the children’s department
    into a multimedia experience for the kids with state of the art
    equipment and mounted speakers and a flatscreen TV. I’d like for
    them to walk in and go “WOW” and walk out saying “Mom and Dad, you
    won’t believe what we learned today!”
  • Change the way preschool and nursery rooms
    are set up. Add teacher training and church attendance as a
    requirement for our Mother’s Day Out teachers and reformat it into
    a more educationally focused ministry to prepare children for
    school instead of just babysitting/playtime for four hours. I would
    add a circle time, music/movement time, and a Bible story
  • Start a separate family worship service or
    a family worship Sunday once a month.
  • Conduct major publicity and outreach for
    our church to draw in unchurched kids.
  • Begin a fatherhood initiative within my
    community.Clearly God’s grace and a church’s ability to have a
    positive impact on children can’t be accurately measured or
    restrained. As children’s ministry continues to evolve and churches
    discover what works best in their unique settings, ministry leaders
    will continue to seek out new and innovative methods for spreading
    God’s love.

For this to happen, leaders must continue
to seek out God’s will and have the strength, courage, and
leadership skills that it takes to lead their churches in


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