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Trends in Children’s Ministry

The Church / Trends //

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Children’s Ministry has changed over the years. We all know that. But sometimes we can’t put those changes into words or translate them to help us in our own programs.

I asked Cheryl Guth, an Adjunct Professor of Christian Ministries at Trinity International University to articulate some of those changes. Cheryl told me she’s discussed this very subject in class to get the input of her students.

 Cheryl has always had a passion for Christian Education. She’s served as the Director of Children’s Ministries in a church of 3,000, been a curriculum writer, a lay volunteer in a variety of church ministries, and a church consultant for a major curriculum publisher.  She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Christian Ministries at Trinity International University.

Cheryl received her undergraduate education at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, has an M.A. in New Testament Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is presently completing a PhD in Educational Studies.  She is married to Chuck, who is a minister, and they have two adult children, Hilary and C.J.

Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing with us.

During the late 1970s to early 1980s, evangelical Christians began reevaluating the way they were doing church.  The result was the contemporary church movement which emphasized contemporary worship, relational small groups, and experiential knowledge of the Lord. I was in college as a Christian Education major during that time, and since then I’ve watched with great interest as these changes have affected Children’s Ministry.  Below is a chart of the major changes I’ve observed.  They represent generalizations of trends in Children’s Ministry. (Remember these are trends. They are not necessarily recommendations.)

Traditional Children’s Ministry

Contemporary Children’s Ministry

There was one accepted model for Children’s Ministry dominated by Sunday School and sometimes with the addition of Vacation Bible School and a midweek club ministry. There are many models for Children’s Ministry (for example big group/small group, family-based, media-driven, rotational, and children’s worship service). The ministry names are creative and trendy. There are also various styles for additional mid-week and summer programs (for example: day camp, sports ministries, and service projects).
Children’s programs were dominated by schooling methods that emphasized “knowing” about God and the Bible. Children’s programs moved toward more active-learning methods, emphasizing “doing.”  More recently the emphasis has been on “feeling” and building a relationship with Jesus.
Programs were planned and staffed by volunteers, usually a Sunday School superintendent and teachers. Programs are planned and led by paid professionals (such as a Children’s Ministries Director or Pastor) and volunteer helpers.
Programs were organized by age-grouped classes, with a relatively high teacher-student ratio. Programs are often organized by a large group that breaks up into small groups, with a low adult-child ratio.  Sometimes the small groups have mixed ages.
Curriculum materials were purchased from a publisher. Curriculum is custom-written or adapted by the church to meet its unique needs.
Little volunteer screening was necessary because “everyone knew everybody.” Safety is an important issue and significant volunteer screening is the norm.
Local Sunday School conferences provided training and encouragement for Sunday School teachers. National Children’s Ministry conventions or publisher-sponsored conferences provide training and networking opportunities for professionals and highly motivated volunteers.

Can you think of any other trends, that aren’t on the list?  Again, remember a trend is just that – a trend. It is not a recommendation. Some of these trends might work well – but others might not be so good.  What do you think?

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About the Author

Life is about my love for the Lord and teaching kids about His Word; about serving at Awana (20 years); about collecting counties (every county we visit is marked on a giant map) and grandkids (6) --- and writing about it all. My latest book is How to Raise a Modern-Day Joseph (David C. Cook).