Extending your ministry
Every Sunday, millions of children gather in churches to sing songs, learn Bible stories, participate in games, and complete crafts (or at least attempt to). And every Sunday, ministry leaders and volunteers meet them to lead worship, explain Bible verses, model godly relationships and, when necessary, help smaller hands operate the scissors.
While it sounds simple enough, Sunday morning is often considered “the Super Bowl” of kids’ ministry. It’s the day of the week when the most families assemble in one place for worship, so it seems to provide the greatest opportunity for influence. Sunday requires a lot of energy, time and focus—and, to an extent, it works. Barna Group found that 50 percent of individuals who frequently attended church as a child reported higher than average church attendance as adults. Other studies indicate religious activity during childhood can have long-lasting health, faith and social benefits, especially when it comes to education.
If a kids’ ministry can have this kind of impact through just one day of the week, what would it look like if we could creatively connect with young people on a daily basis? What if the lessons we teach on Sunday could be reinforced on a Tuesday evening, before school on Thursday or during a long drive on a Saturday?
The potential for lifelong learning is lost if we believe Sunday is the only day for children’s ministry. We need to be strategic in moving beyond Sunday to create true disciples. This means getting out of the mindset of traditional ministry models and reaching into homes—and kids’ lives—every day.
Here are six keys to becoming a ministry that extends into the other six days of the week.
- Realize that the medium matters.
If we want young people to think about and apply the lessons we teach on Sundays, we have to create bite-size nuggets they can chew on Monday through Saturday. In many churches, this resembles “take home pages,” which often end up on the floorboard of a car or the bottom of a backpack. Though these fliers still serve a purpose, I would argue that we should update our methods, especially when it comes to ministering to kids.
With the increased accessibility and overwhelming power of technology in today’s homes, it can feel like we are foreigners in this digital world, but our kids are native. A “Common Sense Media” report stated that even among children under age two, 38 percent had used mobile devices and tablets. We have to make sure we’re not ignoring those tools because we’re scared of them. We have to embrace technology because the next generation already has.
Talk to the kids in your ministry and find out how they are using technology. I know that my 9-year-old daughter wants to spend time on the computer whenever we will let her. Obviously, parents should be involved with their kids to encourage balance and limit access to the internet if need be, but what if ministries could positively harness this medium? Look for ways to create “soundbites,” digestible pieces of information to deliver electronically to the kids during the week, either through emails, social media, texts or apps.
- Give your students a “to-do.”
If the only thing we are trying to accomplish in our Sunday school, small group discussion or kids’ church service is the impartation of knowledge, we have missed the point. God wants us to be so much more than just hearers of the Word; He wants us to be doers, and He wants His children to start putting His Word into action at a young age (James 1:22). If you desire a seven-days-a-week ministry experience, present a way for families to practice what they are taught on Sunday.
For example, if you are teaching on compassion, give children an opportunity to show compassion to someone else that week. Around Christmas each year, our church distributes groceries to needy families in our community. Last year, I asked for permission for the kids to bag those groceries. They came in on a Wednesday night and spent an hour packing groceries and making Christmas cards. They loved it, and I was also thrilled to be able to provide a hands-on “to-do” for them to participate in.
- Connect children to one another.
Kids want to connect. Just like adults, they have a deep need for friendships that will help them grow in their faith.
However, the students at my church are probably a lot like the ones in your ministry. They come from a variety of schools and districts, and most of them don’t have any form of relationship with one another outside of church. So why are we surprised that church isn’t their first option when they become middle schoolers and can choose where they want to be on the weekend? They want to be with their friends, and if their friends are somewhere other than church, that’s where they are going to be, too.
It’s okay to have a service or event designed to allow kids to build friendships. I once did an event where I took students to a local minor league hockey game. When we arrived, all of the kids were timid and quiet. Fortunately, there are two exciting things that happen at minor league hockey games: goals and fights. Now, I’m not condoning fighting, but it was something to watch girls who had never spoken to each other before stand side by side, cheering together, sometimes even pounding on the glass. They bonded through a shared, fun experience—and we couldn’t get them to stop talking the next Sunday in church.
We have to provide opportunities for kids to get to know one another.
- Include and encourage parents.
Parents want to be involved in their family’s spiritual development, but may often feel unequipped. Sometimes they are afraid their child will ask a question they don’t know how to answer. Rather than facing that fear, they choose not to have a spiritual conversation with their child and assume it’ll be taken care of if they go to church.
How would your ministry grow if, on a weekly or a monthly basis, you emailed an update to the parents of your students? As a parent, I expect this from my daughter’s school. I can’t know how to help her if I don’t know the areas in which she is doing well or how she is struggling. In the church world, we usually don’t provide parents with this information, but if we hope to minister to kids throughout the week, we have to get families, specifically parents, on the same page.
Start sending emails to parents to discuss what their child is learning. Solicit their feedback. Ask questions like: “Have you seen any changes in your child’s behavior as a result of what they are learning on Sunday?” “Does your child spend time regularly reading their Bible and praying?” “Do you have a time each day or each week when you read the Bible together as a family?” Parents will feel more confident if they have the resources and instructions they need.
- Earn kids’ free time.
Every child has some amount of free time, whether it’s when they first get home from school or right before they go to bed. The older they are, the greater their involvement in how they use their free time. If I want to expand my ministry’s reach, I have to earn some of those extra hours. When the child is younger, I earn that time by making sure parents know the value of their child’s spiritual development. Then, as the child gets older, there has to be a transition from “Mom and Dad make me do this” to “I want to do this to further my relationship with Jesus.”
How do leaders continue to earn the free time of the young people they disciple? I learned early on as a children’s pastor that kids will not come to an event if they don’t think it’s going to be fun. The same can be true for activities we ask them to do at home. If we are going to recommend tools for kids to use in their free time, they better be fun! All kids want to achieve goals, connect with peers and make a difference, and if spiritual development can incorporate these three things, they’re more likely to spend their time on it.
- Let the lessons marinate.
Imagine if you and your preschoolers focused on the story of David and Goliath for an entire month, rather than for just one Sunday morning. Let’s be honest: most of us end up doing so already because we understand this age group’s need for repetition. Instead of viewing this as a hindrance, you could commit to examine a different point of the story each week and discuss how it could be applied.
Consider if parents could also access the lessons via mobile apps on their tablets and phones. Regardless of the age of the kids you teach, they would walk out of your classroom and continue to learn.
As Christ-followers and as ministers, our faith is not meant to be confined within the walls of a church. It needs to thrive and grow, not only in our daily lives, but also in the lives of our children—in their work and play, in their schools and homes. As we seek to be truly effective in our kids’ ministries, let’s move beyond a weekly experience to a habit-forming way of life.