2020 is here. A new decade of ministry is opening its door for us.
In the last decade, there has been unheralded changes in our culture and the world we live in.
If we are going to reach and disciple the next generation, we can't continue with business as usual. We must make some strategic changes if we are going to make an impact in the coming decade.
I have identified five strategic shifts that need to happen in 2020 if we are going to be effective.
Shift #1 - Change our process for sharing the Gospel with children and their parents.
I'm thankful for children's ministry leaders who lead children to Christ. It is exciting to see a child come to Christ, isn't it.
But, for me, it's even more exciting when parents lead their children to Christ.
Somewhere along the way, many ministries decided to take that privilege out of the hands of parents.
It kinda' looks like this - when parents come to pick up their children at the end of a service or class, they are informed that their child invited Jesus into his or her life. I've been there and seen this happen many, many times. And to be honest, when I first started in ministry, that was my mode of operation.
But over the years, I gradually swung to the mode of operation being coming alongside parents and encouraging and equipping them to led their child to Jesus. As you think about this, it is interesting when you see these stats...
According to Barna research, among people who embraced Christ before their teen years...
50% were led to Christ by their parents
20% were led to Christ by some other friend or relative
7% were led to Christ by a minster's personal prompting
1 in 8 cite a special event as the time they accepted Jesus (50% of the 1 in 8 said the "special event" was a church service)
1% were led to Christ through media evangelism or other special situations
Notice that half of the children who have accepted Christ were lead to Him by their parents. In a local church setting, this tells me that we need to turn our focus to equipping parents to lead their children to Jesus.
Here's what that can look like inside a local church. Instead of trying to lead children to Christ in a Bible study or kids' worship service, share the Gospel with kids and then give parents the responsibility of leading their children to Christ.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to share the Gospel and have kids who want to accept Jesus to let you know. Next, invite those children and their parents to a class where you have time to clearly explain to both what it means to become a follower of Jesus. At the end of the class, give parents the opportunity to pray a prayer of salvation with their children. Or if the child is not ready at that moment, then give parents the tools they need to continue the conversation at home.
Do this and you will see God move in an incredible way in the hearts of children and their parents. Because here is what happens, when parents hear the clear Gospel presentation, many of them will come to Christ as well.
I created a class for this ministry approach. It is called Starting Point and I have personally seen hundreds of children and their parents come to Christ through this. In fact, in one year, I saw over 460 children come to Christ and dozens of their parents as well. Every one of them went through this class together. Every one of them took the next step after salvation and were baptized.
It is a powerful class that can change the entire direction of kids and their parents. Why is it powerful? Because it is centered on the Gospel.
Paul said this in Romans 1:16...
"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes - the Jew first and also the Gentile."
If you want to have a powerful children's ministry, then share the Gospel on a regular basis. If you want to have families where parents are the spiritual leader of the home, then share the Gospel with kids and their parents together on a regular basis. If you want to have a powerful impact on children, then equip parents to lead their children to Jesus.
As much as it is possible, we need to place the responsibility of leading children to Christ, back in the hands of their parents. And this can happen, when you have a strategic plan in place to share the Gospel with kids and their parents together.
Shift #2 - Aggressively go after feedback. If we want to see our ministries improve and grow, then we must tap into the ideas and changes that can come from feedback.
But for many ministries, the only feedback they get is when someone is complaining about something. And even then, many ministries don't take the time to analyze and use the feedback to make their ministry better.
When it comes to feedback, a strategic move is to not wait for feedback to come to you, but rather to go after and gather the feedback yourself.
This can be done through online surveys, email, phone calls, etc. But I believe the most strategic way you can get feedback is through focus groups. Here's what I mean.
Invite 10 parents whose children are in your ministry to come and give you feedback. Make sure the group is diverse...parents who have been in your church for a long time...parents who are brand new to your church...single parents, etc.
Below are examples of the questions you can ask them. Then take their answers and dialogue and work through it with your team. Parent Focus groups are a strategic way to help take your ministry to a new level.
What expectations do you have for the children's ministry?
What areas of spiritual growth do you desire to see in your children?
What do you feel your child needs the most spiritually?
What are some positive things children's ministry is doing to help your child grow spiritually?
What truths and topics from the Bible do you want to see instilled in your children?
What are your priorities in raising your children to love God?
What areas are you struggling in as a parent that we can come alongside you and help with?
How can we better partner with you as a parent?
What resources and tools can we provide to help you disciple your children?
Does your child feel loved, accepted, and connected?
How can we improve in seeing that happen?
How does your child feel about their experience at church? Positives? Negatives?
What are some ideas that can help us be more effective? (any area or topic)
You can also have focus groups for kids. Pick a group of 8-10 kids and ask for their input, feedback, and ideas on how to improve the ministry. Take different parts of the ministry and ask them to rate it using a chart. Here's a few examples:
Lessons Keeps my attention-------------------------Don't Pay Attention
Small Group Feel loved and cared for-------------------No one notices me
Ask the kids to be brutally honest. What are some ways you can improve their experience at church? What are some things they are struggling with as a kid and need help with? What are some new things they'd like to see in the ministry? What parts of the ministry are boring? What parts of the ministry are they excited about? Do they feel loved and valued? Do they feel connected? Do they have friendships they have established at church?
You can then take their feedback and ideas back to your team. Next carefully analyze it and tweak, change, or adjust areas that need to be improved.
Did you know Blues Clues is ranked as one of the most effective children's shows of all times? A big reason is because before they aired an episode, it had been tested and reviewed by a group of kids. If the kids identified a part of the show as boring or seemed to be disengaged, they would go back and adjust that part of the episode.
When a child says something is boring, it means they are not connecting. If you can identify and adjust those areas, your ability to connect with the kids will go to a whole new level. And it all starts by simply asking kids questions and listening to them with an open mind.
Shift #3 - Get rid of your rows of chairs. What does your elementary ministry look like on Sunday mornings? Kids in rows of chairs? Kids in circles? Both? I believe circles are better than rows in children's ministry. Here are some reasons why.
Circles are more conducive to relationships. Kids want to be personally known. It's hard to be known when you're just another kid sitting in rows of chairs. But when you are part of a small circle of 6 to 8 kids, you can be known and build relationships with the other kids in your group. Kids may walk in your doors because of a cool building, fun games and high-energy music, but they will stick around because of relationships they establish. In a row, you're looking ahead at the person up front. But in a circle, you are looking into the eyes of other kids and a leader. This is where connections can be made and relationships can be formed.
Circles create more effective learning environments. Rows of chairs stem from the bygone industrial age where teachers prepared kids to work in factories. Everyone was taught the same way. Sit down and be quiet while I download information into your brain by lecturing you. Problem is...that's the least effective way to teach kids. But that's what you do when you've got kids in rows of chairs.
But when you place kids in circles, you open up an endless world of teaching possibilities. You are able to replace lecturing with collaboration, engage all learning styles, do activities and crafts and get kids involved in hands-on, active learning.
Circles compel you to keep proper ratios. For kids to be personally known you have to have the proper volunteer to child ratio. Ideally this should be 8 to 10 kids for every volunteer. When you have kids in rows of chairs you can skimp on your ratios and get by with it...but the kids are shortchanged. When you have circles of 8 of 10 kids, it forces you to make sure you have enough volunteers. Is it more work? Yes, but the return is exponential.
Circles make intercessory prayer possible. When kids are in a small circle with other kids and a leader, they can share real prayer requests and be personally prayed for. In the ministry I led, we would even take time for kids to write down their prayer requests. The leaders would then take the requests home and pray for the kids during the week.
Circles encourage conversation. When you're in a row, you are facing one person. And as stated before, the conversation is usually one-sided, a teacher up front lecturing. In fact, if kids try to have a conversation, they are told to be quiet and turn their attention back up front. Conversation is discouraged in this format.
But when kids are in a circle, they are facing each other and conversation can flow naturally. Questions can be discussed, ideas can be shared and deeper dives can happen.
Circles make guests feel welcome. When kids are in rows of chairs, a new guest can come in, sit down and never be introduced to the other kids. But in a circle, guests can get to know other kids and establish friendships.
Circles help kids attend more frequently. When a child is part of a circle, they are missed when they are absent. When a child is part of a circle, they are held accountable. When a child is part of a circle, the leader can encourage the child to be faithful. When a child is part of a circle, they develop friends who they look forward to seeing.
Circles give volunteers an opportunity to make a significant impact. Long-term impact happens when leaders have the ability to invest in children individually. This can't happen in rows, but it can happen in circles. Volunteers want to know they are making a difference. If they find themselves standing behind a row of chairs just helping with crowd-control, they will grow discouraged and not feel needed. But place them in a circle, face-to-face with a small group of kids and they will embrace the challenge. Kids will begin to call their name in the hallway and parents will know them on a first-name basis. They can truly become a champion in the life of a child.
Several years ago, our ministry had the typical large group/small group format. For 30-40 minutes the kids sat in rows of chairs and then moved into circles of small groups for the remaining time. This was good, but we found we wasted precious time transitioning the kids from large group to small group. So we decided to remove the rows completely and we brought round tables (circles) in. When kids come in they are immediately connected to their circle at a table and remain there the entire service. The results have been outstanding as kids are connecting, engaging and learning together.
Shift #4 - Focus on engagement over attendance. I believe one big reason why families are attending church less frequently is because we are not effectively engaging them in serving others.
Think about it - which families attend your services the most frequently? It's those who are serving.
We desperately need this to happen. We are seeing families attend church less and less frequently. Families who used to attend every week now attend twice a month. Families that used to attend 3 times a month are now attending once a month.
As we make the strategic step of engaging more kids and parents in serving, we will see the frequency of their attendance become more often.
Here's an example of this - one weekend we decided to set up canopies outside the sanctuary. Under the canopies were tables that had supplies that needed to be put into a care package for families in Haiti.
We made announcement about this for a couple of weeks. We would be cutting the service by 30 minutes and spending that time outside working together to put the care packages together. We wondered what would happen. Would families show up knowing they would spend 30 minutes serving others?
Sunday rolled around and our attendance shot up on that day. Thousands of families showed up to serve with their children.
Churches that grow and thrive in 2020 and beyond will be churches that engage families in serving.
Shift #5 - Teach apologetics. One result that is coming out of families attending church less frequently is a shallow faith. Kids and families are missing 25 to 75% of the lessons. And in most cases, parental spiritual engagement at home would run parallel with this.
Kids are leaving our ministries unprepared to defend their faith. We are not equipping them to know why they believe what they believe.
A survey was done with adults who grew up in church and have walked away. The number one reason they walked away?
The simply didn't believe any more. When they got to places where their faith was challenged, they simply didn't have any answers to defend their faith.
I'm afraid in many cases, churches are spending their time teaching kids "values" to the expense of kids not knowing core Biblical truths. We must make a strategic shift from teaching kids how to be "good" to being passionate, grounded and knowledgeable followers of Jesus.
"What" we teach children and families has never been more important.
This doesn't mean our lessons should be boring. Doctrine and truth can (and must be) taught using fun, engaging and interactive methods.
Now is the time we must make this strategic shift or we risk losing an entire generation because we didn't thoroughly equip them.
The finger is pointing directly at parents and church leaders. We have skimmed the surface with doctrinal fluff and left them with no deep roots to survive the faith storms they face in a increasingly humanistic society.
Like never before, it's critical that we teach kids apologetics. We must help them see why we believe what we believe. We must ask the hard questions now and let them grapple with it. It will be too late if they're left to fend for themselves in high school or college with no deep Biblical foundation to stand on.
We're equipping kids to be able to answer the "pranksters" they will face who tell them the Bible is not God's Word. We're taking a deep dive on...
Why we believe the Bible is God's Word and not just written by men.
Why we believe the Bible contains no errors.
Why we believe the Bible is different than other religious books.
Why we believe the Bible is for today.
We're looking at the hard questions...even to the point of having the kids work through verses that skeptics say contradict each other. We want the kids looking at those verses now, when they can discover the right answers, versus looking at them for the first time in a college classroom where their faith can be shattered if they're not prepared. I urge you to write apologetics into your curriculum. If we don't, we risk losing the next generation.
5 Strategic Changes as we head into 2020.
Shift #1 - Change our process for sharing the Gospel with children and their parents. Shift #2 - Aggressively go after feedback. Shift #3 - Get rid of your rows of chairs. Shift #4 - Focus on engagement over attendance. Shift #5 - Teach apologetics.
Love to hear from you in the comment section below.