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Inside Today’s Children’s Ministry—Exclusive Research

Take a look at this exclusive research to learn what’s happening in today’s children’s ministry and how you can be more effective in your ministry!


Children’s ministers face a new world of ministry today—one that is shifting, expanding and shrinking all at once. What does that mean for you? Find out in the exclusive results of the 2016 State of Children’s Ministry Survey conducted by Aspen GroveOneHope, CMConnect, and a host of bloggers and children’s ministry leaders.

Nearly 300 children’s ministry leaders from across the country answered questions on important aspects of ministry to elementary children. Throughout the survey, a needed shift in how people minister to children, families, and communities around them became apparent. Take a look at what’s going on in children’s ministry today.

Children’s ministers are designing unique and engaging programming.

Just under 40 percent of people—the largest in the category—say that, while using another curriculum, they also write their own in-house curriculum. And they believe children like the results of their efforts; nine out of 10 participants (93.3 percent) believe the children in their ministry enjoy the programming. This means a large portion of these ministry leaders’ time is going to the writing and executing of a curriculum.

Half of all children’s ministers are working without a plan.

As much time as participants say they spent planning weekend programming, many often did so without a strategic plan guiding their outcomes. Only half (54.1 percent) of leaders report they had a plan outlining theological concepts they want children to know before beginning junior high school. The other half (45.9 percent) report that they don’t use such a plan.

Churches without written plans for spiritual growth can’t institute change. They can’t invite anyone to participate in the spiritual development of the next generation without a vision for where they’re headed. We don’t know how lacking a focused strategy plays into the trend of children leaving the church later in life. It’s clear, however, that there’s a significant impact in the short term.

The majority of churches who report they’re growing (57.5 percent) said they have a spiritual development plan. The opposite was true for churches that report they’re declining: 58.8 percent reveal they don’t have a plan for the spiritual development of children.

Interestingly, 100 percent of those surveyed agree on some level that the children who go through their ministry leave with a strong theological and biblical foundation. But without a plan and method of measurement, it’s hard to determine if this assertion is true.

Working without a plan may be a significant, missed opportunity to curb the broad decline in church attendance. Ensuring a strong biblical foundation solidifies an understanding of the role of the church in the life of a Christian. And with nearly half (49.5 percent) of churches considering a curriculum change in the next 12 months, it might be better to choose the theological and biblical tenets the church wants to teach before choosing the next teaching product.

Volunteers are stable, but not passionate.

Volunteers remain an overwhelmingly essential element of children’s ministry, with 95.5 percent of children’s ministry leaders agreeing that volunteers are critical to running the ministry. However, participants admit they aren’t developing leaders, as 63.1 percent have 13 to 25 volunteers who report directly to them. This could be due to lack of time and opportunity, or it could be a reluctance to hand leadership over to volunteers.

Surprisingly, only a little more than half (58.3 percent) have a formal training process for volunteers. But almost all (94.7 percent) run background checks on volunteers serving in the ministry. This bodes well for parents, as it shows that people take children’s safety seriously.

Most people (68.8 percent) report volunteer team morale as moderate. This feeling doesn’t vary significantly when accounting for growth, training, numbers, or how many volunteers report directly to the leader. This is a red flag for any church relying on volunteers. “Moderate” morale on a team can be the first warning that team members are as likely to leave as stay.

Training volunteers well and taking ongoing steps to ensure that people understands their value ensures volunteer appreciation. If leaders spend some time investing in developing volunteer morale, they can look forward to seeing their volunteer numbers grow.

Attendance is inconsistent. 

The majority of churches surveyed (57.9 percent) report that families attend services twice per month. This finding confirms what many children’s ministry leaders—despite size, style, and denomination—have felt and reported for quite some time: The majority of families no longer attend church services weekly.

Declining attendance is a growing trend. A 2014 Pew study found that Americans, in general, are becoming less religious and attending services less frequently than previous generations. A Barna study echoes this trend, showing younger generations believe attending a church is “not very important.” It’s of great concern that the largest generation in history values church attendance less and less. Current attendance patterns of twice per month make it difficult, if not impossible, to establish a solid foundation by which children can grow in their faith. So how are leaders responding to this trend?

Leaders want to connect with parents more.

Children’s ministers overwhelmingly report a desire to connect with the parents of children in their ministry. A large percentage (75.2 percent) of people say if they had more time, they’d equip families to disciple their children. This is an important strategy since parents have more time and influence with children than anyone else. The state of minister-parent relations, however, presents challenges and opportunities in connecting with families.

Communication

The first challenge is parents and ministry leaders don’t communicate well with each other, according to the survey. Most participants report feeling only “somewhat connected” to the parents in their ministry (71.4 percent). As a result, only 4.1 percent of participants could say for sure whether the parents in their ministry are intentional in the discipleship of their children. Still, parents remain at the forefront of the children’s ministry leader’s thoughts.

Managing the Workload

Another challenge for parent connections involves workload. Though just over half (54.5 percent) of children’s ministry leaders who responded to the survey feel their workload is manageable, the next largest category of participants (45.5 percent) report their workload as overwhelming.

The Fix

For leaders to better connect with families, they must shift some time away from weekend programming and toward parents. This is a great opportunity because most participants feel support from their senior leadership (60.9 percent). They also feel support from parents (58.3 percent) and children (74.4 percent). So a shift, though not easy, would have the support to begin redesigning the ways ministries connect with families.

However, in attempting a shift of this nature, children’s ministry leaders say they would feel overwhelmed to do it alone. This is where a second key opportunity awaits. While connecting and pouring into parents is a daunting task, it can be done on multiple levels—by more than one children’s ministry leader, volunteer, or even ministry team. The reality is, volunteers do the bulk of the face-to-face ministry; this reiterates why ministry leaders need passionate and driven volunteer teams.

According to participants, now is a great time to focus more energy on forming deeper connections with parents. Most participants report feeling valued by leadership (91.3 percent), parents (97 percent), children (99.2 percent), and their congregation (77.8 percent). This doesn’t mean focusing more on families and volunteers will be easy. Luckily, children’s ministers seem to have the support in place to launch a new season in their ministry.

Conclusion: It all points to families.

The biggest takeaway from the 2016 survey results is that children’s ministers would do well to spend less time on in-house programming. This way, they could spend more time on their relationship with parents. They can also explore taking their programming outside the walls of their building and the typical hours of services. This may sound like a daunting task at the outset. However, the energetic and educated women and men who lead these ministries—with the overwhelming support of their pastors and church members—are more than up to it.

Churches don’t need to abandon their programming. But they are well advised to refocus talent and effort toward defined spiritual development outcomes that engage the entire family. Children’s ministers today have the opportunity to include parents to reach children, extend their ministry through a team of volunteer champions, and redefine the role of the church in the next generation.

Methodology

ParticipantsGraphic

A total of 279 surveys were collected utilizing an online survey tool after the survey was created and validated by a jury of trained researchers at Aspen Grove, OneHope, and CMConnect. A link was disseminated to current children’s and youth ministry leaders in the United States via social media, blogs, and email between April 25, 2016, and May 11, 2016. Participants were asked to share the survey link within their network of ministry leaders. A natural limitation of a snowball study is that it won’t be representative of a random sample of people, but rather those people within social media and blog networks surveyed. Aspen Grove, CMConnect, and OneHope International conducted this survey in partnership with Jonathan Cliff, Kenny ConleyJenny Funderburke, Dale Hudson, Mike Johnson, Sam Luce, and Matt McKee. For further information, contact hello@aspengrove.is.

Steven Dilla is the Managing Director at Aspen Grove and author at The Park Forum; previously he was a church planter in lower Michigan.

Jason Tilley is the Creative Director at Aspen Grove. He has served in children’s ministry for over 20 years in church, parachurch, and international ministries.

Get Your Copy

If you’d like a copy of the survey results, email hello@aspengrove.is with “SURVEY RESULTS” as your subject line.

For more great ideas like this in every issue, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!


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