I’ve built a children’s ministry from the bottom up. Six years ago, our church had two children in preschool and four in the combined elementary Sunday school class, no midweek program, and only two or three kids in children’s church. Today 100 children fill our children’s program.
How could we have had so few children six years ago and over 100 today? There were several key steps we took. Here are the steps you can also take to build your children’s ministry:
- Pray. Seek God’s will in prayer and share your prayerful concern and vision with others. Pray weekly with interested people about your children’s ministry.
- Count the cost. Luke 14:28 says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (NIV)” Building a children’s ministry will cost you and your congregation time, money, and emotions. Don’t start without considering whether you’re willing to pay the price.
- Develop your goals and philosophy. Any basic philosophy of children’s ministry should address the needs of children and their relationship to Christ. As you develop your philosophy, consider children’s four basic needs: love and acceptance, security, varied and meaningful activities with choices, and realistic, consistent behavior expectations and discipline.
- Establish goals and objectives. Brainstorm the necessary goals and objectives to fulfill your philosophy. Objectives need to be unique to fit your church. They also need to be reachable, measurable, understandable, specific, and realistic. Prioritize each objective.
- Dream big but live in reality. Look with growth eyes. Dream and catch a vision. One important lesson to learn is that the success or failure of your children’s ministry depends on your ability to refashion your dreams to fit reality! Some dreams may be accomplished right away. Some may take a year or two. Some may never be accomplished. You’ll have to modify your dreams. It’ll take time and patience.
- Plan your program. How will each objective be accomplished? Who’ll be responsible? What facilities are necessary? What supplies are needed? Who’ll supply what? Who do you need to coordinate with? How will you publicize? What’s the time line? Establish a completion date for each detail of preparation.
One of my first programs was a midweek children’s program. There were a lot of choices and activities for the children. We then started a weekly summer event for children. From these simple programs, a variety of children’s programming grew: Sunday school, camps, vacation Bible school, day camps, after-school care, children’s choir, and outreach events.
But we didn’t start these all at once. We built one new program at a time. Follow these three guidelines as you build:
- Quality produces quantity. It’s important to run an excellent program no matter how small the program is at first.
- Quantity makes it possible for even more quality! An even higher quality ministry is possible with larger numbers if the leaders are careful to maintain quality.
- Quantity that doesn’t include the highest quality will be counterproductive! If you seek numbers only and can’t maintain the highest standard of excellence, your ministry will diminish.
- Choose your curriculum. In choosing good curriculum, ensure sound biblical teaching combined with student discovery. If the curriculum has the teacher talking the entire time, avoid it. The subject matter should be relevant to kids’ lives. And kids should be excited about the activities they’re asked to do. Explore many curriculums to discover the best one for you.
- Set up your schedule. Ask yourself: When will each event occur? Will it conflict with other programs? Where will the event happen? Is the location suited for the program? What coordination do we need? What planning and publicity are necessary? Place dates on the master church calendar to guard against overscheduling and scheduling conflicts.
- Recruit staff. Simply listing personnel needs and asking for volunteers from the pulpit may produce no response or may produce volunteers who lack qualifications and fitness. It might be just as effective to run down the aisle on Sunday morning, grab “just anyone” amid protest, and hurry them off to a class.
I’ve found several simple steps helpful in the recruitment process. Develop clearly written job descriptions and prayerfully search for people to match needs. Present the challenge and give time for potential volunteers to observe the program in action. Allow people time to seek God’s leading. Finally, ask for a decision and provide pre-service and ongoing in-service training.
Take care to discover, motivate, recruit, and train workers if the important ministries of children in the church are to be Christ-honoring and life-molding.
- Arrange transportation. You can begin with parent-driven cars or simply use your own vehicle. As our group increased, we rented small vans and finally chartered buses. Don’t go anywhere without insurance and signed parental permission slips. We have a standard form printed on card stock and prepared by a law firm. We keep all forms in one notebook and take them on every trip.
- Prepare your facilities. Start with what you have, even if you have only one small room. Clean the room and make the bulletin boards look nice. Take pictures of all events and have unique pictures enlarged as posters to adorn the walls.
Your classroom can also be used as a recreation room. Add some small table games and inexpensive Foosball and air hockey games. We now have a children’s recreation room filled with games and a video room with over 100 Christian videos. A retired librarian in our church has also added a full children’s library.
- Coordinate publicity. Take pictures at all events. Send brightly colored fliers and, of course, encourage word of mouth. Take advantage of every opportunity to publicize. I visited the local school district office and obtained a free distribution-of-materials permit. Then I printed 5,000 fliers to give to students in every elementary school in our city!
- Establish a budget. What supplies and materials do you need, and where will they come from? Where will the money come from? If you have a church board or laity trapped by a fear of change, be patient. Change takes time. Remember that today’s traditions were once someone’s dreams. Today’s dreams may become tomorrow’s traditions.
Begin with simple everyday items for your supplies to keep costs down. Paper plates, bags, string, and empty cans and jars are easy ways to make projects that cost very little. Be creative. Let your imagination run. Excellence and money aren’t necessarily the same thing. Many times the best learning activities cost nothing!
- Evaluate. Continuously evaluate every program. Have regular staff evaluations. Give parents a simple one-page sheet to anonymously give input. And get input from your children, too. They give input in two ways: First, they give feedback simply by their presence! Happy children will be there and will bring friends. Second, ask kids what they like and don’t like. Find out what they enjoy and eliminate the things they don’t. Groups change from year to year. So keep asking questions. Listen to your children, get to know them, and find out what activities they’d like to see added. Constantly look for ways to improve.
David Gallagher is a minister of education in California.
GETTING TURNED AROUND
When you’ve already started, what do you do next? Ask yourself these questions. Then choose two areas to work on that need change.
- How much weekly prayer time do I spend for my children’s ministry? Is that enough? Why or why not?
- Have I shared my dreams and vision for children’s ministry with lay people in my church? — The names of people I’ve shared my vision with: — The names of my prayer support group: — Where and when we meet (or plan to meet):
- Do I have a clear statement of my children’s ministry philosophy?
- What are my objectives for the coming months? for the next five years?
- What existing program(s) do we have for children?
- Which of these programs is most effective? least effective?
- Can something be done to improve the ineffective programs, or should they be cut? Explain.
- What are some new children’s programs I’d like to see in the next year?
- How would I rate our current curriculum?
- Who are potential volunteers who could observe and be trained in our children’s ministry?
- How can I involve parents in transportation and evaluation?
- How can we expand our outreach?
- How can we improve our facility? our publicity?
- What is our current children’s ministry budget, and how can it be better used?
- Am I involving parents, children, and staff in the evaluation process? If not, how can I do this better?
Excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine. Don’t miss another issue, subscribe today!