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Should Your Ministry 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 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 critical truths about life, God, and eternity.
  • There are only 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 mindset to a family ministry mindset.

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.

Act Like 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.

Problem Solved

So the solution is simple. The church needs to redirect more of its resources, time, and money to engage parents in becoming spiritual caregivers for their kids. For example, if 100 percent of your resources are targeting children, what would happen if you reallocated 20 percent of your resources toward creating programs directed toward the family? Of course, it would initially mean rethinking everything you do, but that’s okay. Maybe instead of upgrading your ministry and making it more contemporary, you could make a greater impact if you just installed a new mindset altogether.

When we initially installed a “family ministry” mindset at Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, it changed the look and feel of everything we do. Here are the elements of our KidStuf family ministry.

Unified Content

We reprioritized and synchronized the content of our curriculum so parents and leaders were teaching the same thing. We crafted our weekly focus in such a way that it could easily be taught in the home during the same week. FaithWeaver curriculum from Group Publishing does the same thing.

Targeted Music

We arranged and produced songs so parents and kids would enjoy them. We refused to produce music tailored to the tastes of younger kids, so we enlisted writers and musicians who targeted styles aimed at older children. Our goal was to create CDs that the entire family would listen to.

Parent Resources

We developed strategic resources to help parents reinforce our weekly principles during their family time. We designed materials to make it easy for parents to discuss weekly principles during drive time, mealtime, morning time, and bedtime.

Parent/Child Meetings

We designed a bi-monthly presentation to explain to parents and kids together how to have a relationship with Christ. This enables parents to lead their children to trust Christ. This approach has given Christian parents a significant role in their kids’ spiritual journeys, and it has also resulted in a number of non-Christian parents making decisions to trust Christ as well.

Family Events

We evaluated our special events on the basis of how well they connect parents to kids. For instance, we added a unique “birthday celebration” to give families a chance to celebrate their children’s baptisms. We packed the celebration with worship and videos featuring each child’s faith story.

There’s a subtle but critical difference between simply doing children’s ministry and developing a family ministry approach. If your church is going to reach the next generation by capitalizing time outside of church, consider making the transition.

As a children’s leader, be sure you recognize and model the difference:

If you have a children’s ministry mindset, you invest most of your time and resources creating programs for kids. When you develop a family ministry mindset, you invest quality time and resources creating programs for parents and kids.

If you have a children’s ministry mindset, you’re consumed with answering the question, “What are we going to teach kids?” When you develop a family ministry mindset, you’re consumed with answering the question, “How can we get parents to teach what we’re teaching their kids?”

If you have a children’s ministry mindset, you tend to promote what you want parents to know about your programs. When you develop a family ministry mindset, you tend to focus on what you want parents to do at home.

If you have a children’s ministry mindset, you value what happens at church more than what happens at home. When you develop a family ministry mindset, you value what happens at home more than what happens at church.

Create a Shared Experience for Families

KidStuf has become the central program we use to inspire parents to take responsibility for their children’s spiritual growth. After children and parents attend separate programs, they meet in a theater designed for the family. Children sit on the floor and parents take seats behind them. During the 45-minute production, actors and musicians challenge the entire family to apply a specific virtue in their home. Here are the elements of our weekly environment.

Consistent Platform to Equip Parents

As leaders, we say whatever we need to say to our parents on a regular basis.

Stimulating Spiritual Discussion

Parents engage in what we teach kids, so they have a basis for dialogue with their children about the experience.

Easy Entry Point for Non-Christian Parents

We’ve created a fun environment for families to bring friends. It isn’t unusual on an average Sunday for nearly 50 families to visit for the first time.

Challenge to Parents to Assume Spiritual Responsibility

We remind parents consistently that what happens in their home is significant, and that the church is their partner.

Increased Parents’ Potential to Impact Children

Principles taught on Sunday are reinforced through resources throughout the week by parents who can actually monitor children’s progress.

Regardless of the size of your church, if you’re creating a shared experience for the family it needs to be…

1. Kid-Focused

Your target group should be fourth- and fifth-graders. If your style of music and creative components are too young, you’ll lose the older kids. Our philosophy is, if you shoot at the older kids, you’ll reach the younger ones; if you shoot younger, you’ll lose the older kids. Another hint is to simply ask the question, “What would a fourth-grade boy think about this?”

2. Parent-Centered

Remember that your parents are in the audience. The goal is to mobilize them to go home and do something. About 20 percent of what we script is humor and information directed to the parents to keep them engaged. It’s important to create an environment where parents can understand and participate in what we’re teaching their kids.

3. User-Friendly

An environment created for the parents and kids is a great entry point for unchurched families. Keep that in mind as you create and promote your programs. If you design an environment that’s nonthreatening, you’ll be surprised at how easy it’ll be for families to bring friends. So avoid terms and styles that would make it seem too much like church.

4. Creatively Wired

Technology is important, but only important in that it amplifies what you’re trying to communicate. Creativity is critical if you want to keep your programming relevant and current. Use every tool you can to engage children; just make sure they don’t get distracted by the tools. An effective family production requires a lot of fine-tuning and usually a weekly creative planning meeting.

Reggie Joiner is the founder and CEO of the reThink Group, a nonprofit organization providing resources and training to help churches maximize their influence on the spiritual growth of the next generation.

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

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

  1. Avatar

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

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