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A preteen girl sits in her children's ministry large group session with a look of wonder on her face.
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6 Strategies to Elevate Your Church’s View of Children’s Ministry

Children’s pastor Julia A’Bell from Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, gives strategies to elevate your church’s view of children’s ministry.

Six years ago my senior pastor asked me to oversee the children’s ministry of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. At the time my husband and I were pastors of youth and young adults at a sister campus in the suburbs. And though I’d taught at primary schools before becoming a youth pastor, I never saw myself moving from pastoring youth to pastoring children.

I’ll be honest. The thought of leaving the “cool” youth ministry to take on a ministry that needed a lot of work to claim that same reputation was overwhelming. It would take a visionary leader. I knew I had to readjust my thinking to see the limitless opportunities that children’s ministry holds.

My children, the kids already in our ministry, and the thousands yet to come were the deciding factor. I agreed to embark on the journey of recreating our children’s ministry into something kids loved and adults supported.

We’ve made radical changes over the past six years, and our church’s view of children’s ministry has been transformed. Thanks to an amazing team of committed and sometimes loony staff and leaders, I can say that children’s ministry at Hillsong Church is a greatly valued ministry — a ministry that’s changing kids’ lives in our local area and beyond.

You, too, can elevate your children’s ministry profile in your church by following some of the simple strategies we’ve used.

Leaders, Not “Workers”

In the beginning, we found we had many disgruntled parents turning up on a rotating roster to “look after the children” on Sundays. Most of them didn’t want to be involved and dreaded when it was their turn to miss church. So we changed the entire philosophy of how we recruited volunteers.

We stopped the rosters and I began teaching the handful of faithful “workers” about effective team-building. We wanted people who loved children and would delight in serving them in volunteer ministry. Another change was to quit calling volunteers workers. Now we call them leaders — they’re leaders in God’s house serving our children.

Building passionate teams of leaders doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires constant attention from every leader on every team in every age group.

The larger our church grows, the more quality people we train, empower and release into all the areas of ministry within the children’s department. The journey of building teams of passionate people is a never-ending task, but it’s vital to creating competent ministries.

Children’s Ministry Strategy: Recruit and Develop Quality Volunteers

What It Looks Like

Happy, committed volunteer “leaders” who love what they do and share their joy with parents and adults are some of your ministry’s biggest fans.

How It Helps

When volunteers are content and motivated, their enthusiasm projects the message that the priority in your ministry is kids’ connection to Jesus — not personnel issues or bickering.

High Standards, Impeccable Image

How we present ourselves as children’s leaders and pastors matters. We realized that our appearance needed to honor the children and families we minister to. It isn’t only about how we dress, though that does matter. It’s also about keeping a permanent, genuine smile on our faces as we love and care for our kids — even the toughest of them.

Our entire team wears clothing that identifies everyone as a part of the team. Currently, it’s a hip t-shirt and cap that works for males and females. We also wear a Hillsong Kids badge that identifies us as approved leaders.

We’ve set a standard that prayer is essential. We start each service with a volunteer prayer meeting, where we encourage volunteers, inspire them with a short word from leadership, and equip them with information and prayer. This gets all of us on the same page and ready to serve.

Children’s Ministry Strategy: Expect Excellence

What It Looks Like

Kids and parents trust that volunteers know what they’re doing. Everyone’s committed to the same goal, and communication at all levels is healthy.

How It Helps

Your ministry becomes a model for others.

Fun-Big Fun!

Earlier this year my 6-year-old daughter, Harmony, had an operation to remove her tonsils and adenoids. Before her pre-op, the nurses encouraged us to take Harmony into the playroom. There I noticed an interesting statement on the wall about kids’ play: “If children are experiencing any form of fear, this can be released through play.”

To me, this statement confirms how important fun is. Fun and play are elemental to helping children grow closer to Jesus. That doesn’t mean volunteers need to be comedians to provide an atmosphere of fun and joy. Yet we do need to understand that children learn about God and have positive experiences at church through play — and fun.

Children’s Ministry Strategy: Make Joy Fundamental

What It Looks Like

Your children’s ministry is characterized by joy. Children are involved inactivity; laughter and smiles fill rooms.

How It Helps

A joyful environment is magnetic. Kids bring friends; your programs grow. Your ministry grows — visibly!

You Are What You Think

If children’s ministers view what they do as significant and vitally important to the church’s health and growth, then the rest of the church will too.

The success and health of your ministry will be positively reported to leadership. If a ministry sees itself as integral and important and sets about building the church with good fruit for its labor, the results speak for themselves. Our children’s ministry intentionally set about loving, teaching, and connecting with kids. God’s blessed us, and the fruit speaks for itself.

Our volunteers will tell you they’re “called.” They each believe they’ve been blessed with certain gifts and talents that enable them to serve alongside the children of our church and community. They believe in themselves because God believes in them. For every one of us, it’s an honor and privilege to be involved in this integral ministry.

Children’s Ministry Strategy: Grow a Positive Ministry Image

What It Looks Like

Every person in your ministry feels called to be there. Volunteers’ positions are well-matched to their interests and gifts. Your children’s ministry team collectively feels they’re in the happening place in your church. Kids know your ministry’s mission. Kids invite their friends.

How It Helps

You can help assess the value of your ministry by treating it as though it’s priceless. Volunteers’ words and actions — and kids’ responses to your programs and events — determine how seriously your ministry force will be taken. Don’t sell your ministry short by playing down its importance.

Empower and Release

Our senior pastors, Brian and Bobbie Houston, believe in empowerment. From the kids to the elderly, our church’s vision includes “empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life.” It’s my job to empower and release our kids and volunteers to be everything God called them to be.

We train our children to become leaders in our children’s programs — a win for the kids and for our junior high program. We train, equip, and release adults who love kids and long to be involved in our church and community programs. Anyone with a heart for children who complies with our safety guidelines and passes a background check can become an instrumental part of changing a generation of children for the glory of Jesus.

Children’s Ministry Strategy: Trust and Equip Kids and Adults

What It Looks Like

Kids learn to lead and to ask questions. Volunteers are confident and independent. Adults and kids feel valued and affirmed.

How It Helps

An empowered ministry is typically organized, upbeat, and well-oiled. People who feel capable of solving their own problems usually do —which means fewer trivial issues become bones of contention with church members and leadership.

Be One With the Vision

Our children’s ministry exists to build our local church and community. We accomplish this through the programs and events we offer for children and their families. But ultimately we build our church by embracing and spreading the vision of our senior pastors and leadership. Our church vision is “To reach and influence the world by building a large Bible-based church, changing mind-sets, and empowering people to lead and impact every sphere of life.”

Our children’s ministry can’t have a separate, contradictory vision. Every department in the church functions with the same vision or the big picture breaks down. As children’s ministers, our job is to apply our church’s vision to our focus area — children and those who serve them.

Psalm 133:1-3 says, “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!…And the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Children’s Ministry Strategy: Embrace Your Church’s Vision

What It Looks Like

All aspects of ministry share a common goal. Volunteers can say what the ministry mission is. Programs and events are evaluated on how they fit with the vision before implementation.

How It Helps

When your ministry buys into the vision and consciously works to achieve it, everyone wins. Rather than a constant tugging in different directions to achieve different purposes, ministry departments are cohesive in their effort to support the vision. That’s evident at all levels.

Why Fun Rules

Fun and faith go hand in hand. Here’s why fun is key to a children’s ministry that rules.

  • We want kids to enjoy, not endure, their childhood church experience.
  • Kids are more likely to retain biblical truths when they learn them through discovery and fun.
  • Fun is how God wired children.
  • Fun keeps life simple, exciting, and uncompli­cated. Life brings complications soon enough.
  • We serve a creative, fun God.
  • Fun puts smiles on the faces of children and adults.
  • Fun is good for your soul. The Bible says laughter is like medicine to the soul.
  • Without fun, life can get too serious.
  • Fun fosters spontaneity and the unexpected, making for a life full of variety.
  • Without fun, life gets boring and predictable.

I believe with all my heart that God is growing children ministers, pastors, and leaders across the planet who understand the power of the local church and its instrumental role in helping kids know Jesus.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). That was his position on children’s ministry. What more encouragement do we need as children’s ministers?

Julia A’Bell is the children’s pastor for Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia.

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.

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