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Should You Try to Reach Kids—Or Their Parents?

Who should you spend all your time, money, programs, and effort on — kids or parents? Find out from one of the most innovative children’s ministries in America.


Here’s a sobering question: If you had to choose between spending your time reaching the children in your church or spending your time reaching their parents, which would you choose?

It’s an extremely difficult question. In fact, it’s a question most churches have never really asked out loud.

I’m sure the overwhelming initial response to the question is, “Well, of course, any church should do both!” And, yes, it’s important to reach children and to reach their parents.

But if you really examine your children’s ministry strategy, how much of your budget, time, and effort is directed toward specifically impacting parents’ hearts? An honest evaluation of most ministries suggests that they invest the large majority of their efforts in creating environments targeting the child — and grossly ignore those children’s parents.

Back to the Question

Don’t confuse the question; I’m not asking, “Do you think it’s more important to reach adults?” Every church spends enormous dollars and hours reaching adults as adults. That’s a different issue.

Think about it carefully.

What I’m asking is a question of values: Do you think it’s more important to reach children or to reach their parents?

And it’s a question of priorities: How much of your programming is designed to specifically help parents be better parents?

Asked and Answered

You can say it’s important to reach kids and parents, but that’s only a theory unless you’re actually doing both in practice. And if you spend the majority of your time targeting programming for children only, that suggests you’ve decided it’s more important to reach children.

The evidence indicates that the average children’s ministry spends 90 to 100 percent of the time creating programs designed for kids. In the average church, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, summer camps, children’s church, and more all add up to make a powerful statement. So it seems as though our original question has really been asked and answered by most churches.

An Alternative Question

Think about this: What would happen if you decided to spend less time trying to reach kids and more time trying to reach their parents? What if you really started acting like it was important to reach kids and their parents? And what if you re­allocated some of your time, budget, and calendar to help parents be better parents?

Let’s do the math to see why that would be a good investment of your time. I keep a jar of 40 marbles on a table in my office. Why 40? It’s a reminder to those on our staff about the number of hours we have in a given year to teach children. After subtracting sick days, vacations, holidays, and other family activities, 40 hours is about the best estimate of how many hours kids will attend our programs. When all of us understand how limited our time is, it certainly raises the standard for what we do. Let that sink in for just a second.

• You only have 40 opportunities this year to impact a child with the critical truths about life, God, and eternity.

• You only have 40 hours this year to teach a child everything he needs to know about salvation, God’s love, and Scriptural principles.

• You only have 40 hours this year to make a connection with a child that’ll help her build the right kind of relationships with her parents and friends.

To make a comparison, the average fourth-grade boy you’re trying to reach this year will spend 400 hours studying math and over 500 hours playing video games. That’s why what you do every week is so crucial, and that’s why you have to play your best game every week.

A Different Answer

But consider this. The parent who drops off a son or daughter to participate in your 40 hours of programming this year has approximately 3,000 hours of unplanned time at home with the same child. Don’t miss the potential of this fact.

The average church has 40 hours a year to spend with a child, and the average parent has 3,000 hours a year with that same child. So it really doesn’t seem logical for any ministry to spend the majority of its time and energy only working on the 40 hours that’ll happen at its church while completely ignoring the potential of the 3,000 hours that are happening in the home.

I’m sure as a leader you spend time every week asking this question: “What can we do to make our 40 hours more effective for reaching children?” But what would happen if you started asking this question: “What can we do to tap into the 3,000 hours parents have with their children in the home?” Finding the answer to that question has the po­tential to transform your ministry from a children’s ministry mind-set to a family ministry mind-set.

A Different Response

Every children’s ministry leader knows intuitively that a parent will have more influence on a child than the church. A parent will have more interaction with a child in one week than the average church leader will have in several months. It would take the average children’s ministry over a month of Sundays to spend the amount of time a parent will spend with a child in one week just riding in the car.

And the impact of the family will follow a child through every defining moment of life. Parents will affect how children see God, how they practice their faith, how they relate to others, where they go to school, what they choose as a career, who they marry, and on and on. The influence of any specific church is usually temporary, but the influence of parents is always lifelong. No one would argue the fact that parents have greater influence.

The problem is that even though we believe it’s true, we just don’t act like it’s true. Children’s ministries continue to focus on programs that are designed to reach children, and they continue to target most of their budget to improve the 40 hours. And every year, 3,000 potential hours are left untapped. If marketing experts or business strategists were to take an honest look at the typical church, they’d say it’s time to rethink the model.

Churches invest thousands of dollars to reach kids, but every statistic suggests that 70 to 80 percent of those kids walk away from church when they go to college. The church tries desperately to shape a child’s worldview, but surveys indicate teenagers and young adults are more confused than ever about who God is and what he’s really like. The church claims to be pro-family, but an evaluation of their programs reveals they segregate the family and spend very little time actually creating environments where kids and parents can participate together.

It’s not hard to make the case that the church actually discourages parents from assuming the role of spiritual influence in the lives of their children. It’s easy for church leaders to assume that parents won’t take on this responsibility, so church leaders try to become some type of substitute for the parents. At the same time, parents begin to assume that the church is the place where they should drop off their kids so they can be fixed spiritually. Again, the issue is the church will never be able to do in 40 hours what the parent has an option to do in 3,000 hours.

2 thoughts on “Should You Try to Reach Kids—Or Their Parents?

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    I would love some ideas for how to go about tapping into parents.

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