An Introduction to Children's Ministry
Children are a blessing from the Lord. With these blessings also come responsibilities. As stewards of God's children, parents are responsible for helping children grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Churches have a responsibility toward children, too. We want to provide an environment in which children are safe, are taught at an age-appropriate level, and are encouraged to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We minister to the spiritual needs of our children through a children's ministry program. The need for this program is evident in that many young people reach adulthood and decide not to follow Christ. They had not been prepared to accept him as their Savior. One reason for this is that some churches do not have an effective ministry to children -- do not have a program to help them receive Jesus into their lives.
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If we are to have a healthy future, it is essential that we have a viable children's ministry. The purpose of this paper is to help churches develop an effective children's ministry. This paper will not only give a general introduction, it will also address some specific needs. The bibliography lists a variety of good resources for additional information on children's ministries.
We will begin by discussing the purpose and goals of children's ministry. These give an overview of what we are doing. They also give us a standard for evaluating the effectiveness of the programs we have and whether or not to add other activities.
Chapter 1: Why a Children's Ministry?
The church preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. We strive to deliver the message and to provide an environment in which it can be favorably received. Christians rejoice when people believe the gospel, accept Jesus Christ into their lives, and become part of his body, the church. We rejoice when new converts are added to the church, and we rejoice when potential converts begin to attend.
Donald McGavran, in Understanding Church Growth, comments on three types of church growth: biological, transfer and conversion. "Biological growth derives from those born into Christian families. The world is littered with tiny static denominations that obtain chiefly or solely this kind of growth." Biological growth is good, but it is slow.
McGavran defines transfer growth as one congregation's growth happening at the expense of another's. This may occur if Christians search for a new fellowship in their community; it may also occur if they move from one city to another. This type of growth is not negative, but it does not add anyone to the body of Christ. The "growth" may be temporary, too, because members may move again.
The third source of growth is conversion, which allows Jesus to be spread further into the community. Conversion occurs when those who do not know Jesus come to know him.
In previous decades, most of our growth was biological and transfer. Many of our members came from other churches. Our young people were exhorted to continue to support the church when they became adults. "Staying in the church" was often given more emphasis than having a relationship with our Savior. We did not always see that children must be nourished spiritually if we expect them to stay with us. We wanted children to stay with the church, but we did not do much to achieve that goal other than to lay the burden on the parents.
An effective children's ministry will facilitate church growth through biological growth, transfer growth and conversion.
Role of a strong children's ministry in church growth
Externally: A children's ministry that is active and planning ahead has a great opportunity for activities that assist the church in spreading the gospel. Children of non-Christians can be invited to activities without feeling threatened. If the activity is offered without charge or with minimal charge, parents will be more willing to take their children. This is a nonthreatening introduction to the church. Children can make friends, parents can make friends, and the non-Christian friends can be invited to additional church activities, such as small group meetings and worship services.
Children's ministry also helps church growth by making it easier for new people to attend services. Parents will be able to listen to sermons without distractions. They will be confident that their children are loved, and that they enjoy spending time at church with their new friends. In this way, children's ministry helps evangelize parents.
Even if no children are in the congregation, it is good to be prepared for children. A church that wants to grow should pray for new people and be prepared for them. If members know that someone is prepared to serve visiting children, members can feel free to invite friends to church services. We want visitors, both parents and children, to enjoy the visit. We want parents to be able to participate in the worship and to listen to the sermon, and we want the children to learn something in a positive environment. This will not happen unless we prepare for the possibility.
Internally: Children's ministry helps the church's biological growth because it teaches children about their Savior. It gives them both facts and experiences that help them decide to let Jesus live in them. The existence of a children's ministry helps validate the importance of children within the church. As a result, children feel welcomed and loved at church.
Christians need other Christians to help them grow. This is one reason Christ founded the church. Only in a community are humans led to and nurtured in the love of Christ. The same is true for children. Children's ministry brings adults and children together who might not otherwise get to know each other. This contributes to the building of bonds within the body of Christ. It also brings children together with others their own age, encouraging long-term friendships.
Transfer growth: Americans move on average every two to five years. For this reason alone, Christians are often looking for new fellowships. A vibrant children's ministry will be attractive to most parents. It may also be attractive to senior citizens, singles and others who want an active role in their church. Many people enjoy working with children.
Children's actions are based largely on emotion. Thomas Armstrong, in In Their Own Way, notes that a child learns only in the presence of either negative or positive emotions. Because of the connection between learning and emotion, a child's church experience needs to include opportunities for joyful expression of emotion. A child's spiritual life cannot be separated from his or her emotions.
Children who are given opportunities to be tuned in to their emotions through children's worship, associating Christianity with joy and love, will learn to be spiritually responsive. Adult worship services are usually too abstract to accomplish this. Children do not grasp abstract concepts until the beginning of puberty, and even then not at an adult level. However, a child can experience abstract concepts such as love and acceptance. Therefore, the church needs to nourish children through a "feeling" kind of ministry, in which children learn biblical concepts in an emotionally positive environment. The facts and the emotions work together to teach a consistent message.
Children need other children. They experience joy in making friends. Even infants notice the difference between adults and children. An infant will often ignore adults who come into the room, but will focus on children who enter. Toddlers are attracted to babies and other toddlers. This courtship with peers continues into adolescence and adulthood. Friendships are important.
Children's ministry can help children learn to establish and nourish friendships. It can accomplish this through the following ways: 1) Direct encouragement, such as saying, Be friendly to these children, and they will be good friends. 2) Personal examples of the volunteers as they relate to each other. 3) Grouping children of similar ages so they have the opportunity to interact. 4) Sponsoring children's activities that are open to community children.
Church-sponsored children's ministry events
Families in the community are often willing to attend a church that will serve their children's needs. A children's ministry can sponsor events that are open to the community. These might be the community members' first contact with Christianity. A welcoming environment for their children will make them more likely to want to find out more about the church. The church will be seen as relevant and helpful. Adult volunteers and children will be helping to bring people into contact with the gospel.
Help bring children to acceptance of Jesus
A well-planned children's ministry places its greatest emphasis on leading children to consider giving their lives to Christ. This can be accomplished in every activity through direct and indirect methods, through instruction and example.
Summary of why the church needs a strong children's ministry
Jesus commissioned his church to preach the gospel. Children's ministry supports this mission in several ways. The church grows through conversions of children and of parents. Many families who have children are searching for a church home. If children feel comfortable and welcome at church, the parents are more likely to come back. Herb Miller says that if a family's desire for a strong youth program is not met, regardless of other programs in the church, the family will not come back.
The church also has a responsibility to spiritually nourish all children who attend, to disciple them and help them build bonds of friendship. All the efforts have the ultimate goal of preparing children to accept Jesus into their lives.
Mission statement of children's ministry
The goal of children's ministry is to lead children toward knowing and accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. To achieve this goal, we emphasize the following five areas:
- Formal instruction, such as occurs in children's church classes.
- Informal instruction, in activities such as summer sports programs, and in the emotional atmosphere involved in all activities.
- Service opportunities, in which children and volunteers become involved in serving the community and church members.
- Adult Christian examples, in which children learn by seeing. Children see how adults interact with children, how they interact with other adults, and how they relate to God.
- Service and support for the parents. By offering children weekly religious instruction, we also free parents to participate fully in the adult worship service.
Chapter 2: Director's Responsibilities
Regardless of the size of a congregation, it is helpful to assign someone to supervise children's ministry. The major tasks of the director include the following:
- Choosing and coordinating a variety of activities.
- Recruiting volunteers.
- Training volunteers.
- Planning and implementing children's worship services.
- Encouraging spiritual growth of children and volunteers.
- Seeking creative methods to keep children motivated.
- Beginning programs that include community children and parents.
- Keeping the pastor informed of the ministry's plans and needs.
1) Choosing and coordinating a variety of activities
A successful children's ministry should be active. A director should have activities in progress and/or be planning new ones. The activities must be coordinated in an organized and professional manner.
Choosing activities: Directors will often be given activity suggestions by others. It is the director's responsibility to evaluate the suggested activity within the framework of the overall mission. The decision-making process works only if it includes consideration of the value of the activity as it relates to the major areas of emphasis in the mission statement.
For example, if a summer sports program were suggested as an activity for children's ministry, its role toward filling the goals should be evaluated. The activity could help the church preach the gospel by inviting community children. This activity would then contribute toward two of the areas in the mission statement. It would be a service opportunity for the adult volunteers to the community, and it would be an opportunity for the children to experience the good sportsmanship of adult Christian volunteers.
Borderline value: If an activity contributes toward the mission in a minimal way, its value should be weighed against 1) volunteer staffing and 2) whether another activity might accomplish the same goals with less effort. Sometimes an activity would be "fun," but other activities may better fulfill the goals and purposes of the children's ministry, as well as be enjoyable. A trip to a local amusement park would be fun, but other activities might be just as much fun, less expensive, and more in line with your goals.
Coordinating activities: Once a plan is set in motion, much of the legwork can be delegated. The director should not be so tied down with details in every activity that he or she is drained of energy that could be used for creating future ministry plans. Although a director must be involved in coordinating some details, this is not the main job of a director.
2) Recruiting volunteers
Recruiting volunteers is an ongoing project. No matter how many volunteers are found at the beginning of a program, there is usually a need for more. This need stems from several causes: 1) Some volunteers are not committed to the ministry. 2) Some burn out. 3) Some move, become sick or become otherwise unable to help. 4) Some are asked to serve in other ministries instead. 5) New volunteers are necessary because of new projects.
Screening process: The director must carefully screen volunteers. This screening process needs to include the following:
- Having the volunteer fill out an application with references. All references should be checked.
- Fingerprinting. This can be done at the local police department. A fee is usually charged for the fingerprinting, plus a larger fee for the FBI check. The fees may be paid by the church or the volunteers. The purpose is to see if the volunteer has any history of criminal activity with children.
- Designating someone (in most cases the children's ministry director) to maintain a file for each volunteer, with the application, worker's contract, and fingerprinting results (in some cases laws do not allow the detailed results to be kept on file; only an "OK" or "not OK" may be noted). This designated person must fill out a form to apply to receive fingerprinting results.
- Keeping all files confidential. The director and supervisors should have access to the files. Otherwise, anyone desiring to obtain file information about a particular volunteer must obtain a signed release of information form from the volunteer.
The screening process and fingerprinting serves several purposes:
- It helps protect the church and the volunteers from allegations of child abuse.
- Child molesters are usually likeable people who get along well with children. They gravitate to jobs in which they can work with children in a place where people tend to trust other people. The application process and fingerprinting discourages would-be child molesters from volunteering.
- It provides parents with a sense of security. New members and visitors don't know the volunteers, so it helps them to know that volunteers are screened.
In California, churches can apply for a license to maintain fingerprint records. Each state is somewhat different in how it deals with fingerprint records. The National Child Protection Act was passed in 1993. As this law's ramifications within a church setting become clearer, the process of screening will be more widely accepted and easier to implement.
What should be done if a volunteer has a record of, or admits to, criminal activity? If the problem was child abuse or a sexual offense, no matter how long ago, then under no circumstances should the person be allowed to participate in the children's program in any way. Not as a bus driver, not as a janitor, not as a onetime helper, not anything else. Most other criminal activities, unless they are recent, are not a reason to disqualify a volunteer.
Lack of volunteer commitment: A director must face reality when dealing with volunteers. Many are eager at the onset, but their enthusiasm decreases as the full impact of the responsibility becomes apparent. Here are some suggestions on how to facilitate volunteer commitment:
- Provide a contract that the director
and the volunteer sign. Keep one copy of the contract in the ministry files;
give the other copy to the worker. A sample contract is attached at the end of
this paper. A contract should include:
- The length of service: This should not be more than one year. Six months is a good choice for some areas. This allows a graceful way for volunteers to quit, thus encouraging them to serve until the contract expires. It also enables the supervisor to ask volunteers who are not working out to use their talents in another more suitable ministry.
- Responsibilities: For example, one responsibility of a Bible teacher might be to arrive at a set time on teaching days. Praying for the students might be another. There should be no more than four general responsibilities on the contract. A short summary is easier to remember and helps the volunteer focus on the important aspects.
- Equipping for service: This section of the contract delineates the supporting services that volunteers can expect from children's ministries, such as supplies, training and encouragement.
- Always personally thank volunteers when opportunities arise. Other helpful gestures of appreciation include thank-you notes and dinners for the volunteers. A ministry that remembers its volunteers will be rewarded with more service hours.
3) Training volunteers
At the start of a new church year or whenever there is a large influx of new volunteers, the director needs to conduct a series of training meetings. These orientation meetings should include the basic philosophy and vision of the ministry and the details of what is expected of the volunteers. A portion of the time is used in covering the basics of child development and how this knowledge can be used to better minister to the children.
If no one in the congregation is knowledgeable enough to give such a presentation, look in the community for a guest speaker. A neighboring church, the YWCA or other youth-oriented organization can sometimes give leads on where to find such a person or materials. The director may wish to read a textbook on the subject or take a class in child development.
After the initial training sessions, further sessions conducted perhaps every two months will help maintain professionalism. The training sessions are also important in providing a forum for volunteers to discuss issues relevant to them. The sessions are better accepted if they are not formal lectures. Hands-on activities and role playing are valuable learning tools. Simple refreshments say "thank you for coming" and "I'm glad you are here."
In addition to providing training, the sessions are an opportunity for the volunteers to share with their peers and build Christian relationships. Volunteer bonding helps build strong teamwork. The love coming from such bonding spills over to the children and creates a positive ministry.
4) Planning and implementing children's worship services
An effective children's weekly worship service is important. Parental support will be either gained or lost through the environment created in the weekly meetings. The director needs to be involved in three aspects of the children's worship service: A) Elements and order of worship, B) Selecting coordinators and C) Ongoing training and communication with coordinators.
A) The elements of the weekly service include the following:
- Praise and worship,
- Biblical lesson,
- Play and fellowship,
- Refreshments and
Although all the elements should be included, it is up to the director to determine the order and time allowed for each.
B) An effective children's worship service needs a separate coordinator in the nursery, preschool, elementary, music, and special services areas. Even smaller churches benefit from having individual attention given to each age group. The nursery age group, for example, has needs much different from the elementary level. Special services include facility upkeep, custodial needs, refreshment needs, and ordering and obtaining supplies and curriculums.
Qualities of a Nursery Coordinator:
- Eager to help parents of young children appreciate the children's ministry mission.
- Interested in evangelism and aware of how the nursery supports this.
- Willing to read about child development and to be sure the staff is relating to the children in an age-appropriate manner.
- Well organized.
- Aware of safety concerns.
Qualities of a Preschool Coordinator:
- All of the above.
- Understands that preschoolers need to learn about Jesus in a hands-on way.
- Able to motivate the staff members to know that they are a powerful instrument in helping to shape the preschoolers' first impressions of Jesus.
Qualities of an Elementary Coordinator:
- Able to motivate staff.
- Strong organizational skills.
- Appreciates the need children have to learn about Jesus at their own level.
- Understands the classroom situation, both its weaknesses and strengths. It is important that the coordinator have some direct experience teaching with the curriculum being used.
- Able to motivate others to capture the mission of children's ministry.
Qualities of a Music Coordinator:
- Enthusiasm for praising Jesus with music.
- Able to motivate others.
- Understands the difference between a music program and worship music. (Children's church is not the place for choir practice. It is the place for children to learn how to praise and worship our Lord through music.)
- Able to choose age-appropriate worship music for children from nursery through elementary.
Qualities of a Special Services Coordinator:
- Able to work well with people.
- Strong organizational skills.
C. Ongoing training and communication with the coordinators helps determine whether a children's worship service will grow or wane. Coordinators and the director need to be in frequent communication. This is the primary way the director learns of needs such as staffing and budgetary issues.
The ongoing communication also sends the message to the coordinators that they are vital to the success of the ministry. It assures them the director is interested in what they are doing. It allows opportunities for the director to give input that steers the staff toward the mission in all the activities.
5) Encouraging spiritual growth of children and volunteers
Without spiritual leadership, a ministry becomes simply a series of church-sponsored children's activities. As the director interacts with the volunteers, it is important that the spiritual component of children's ministry is not overlooked.
A director always must be praying for the ministry, both privately and publicly. Meetings and training sessions are convenient times to pray for needs within the ministry. Prayers at the beginning and end of each training session send a powerful message about the ministry's spiritual goals. Allowing time for the volunteers to pray for needs in their particular areas is also helpful.
Encouraging prayer during children's worship service by both the children and staff is another tool for spiritual growth. It is vital that children become comfortable with prayer at an early age. Prayer during children's church is one way to accomplish this goal.
Spiritual growth can also occur when volunteers learn to cooperate and work with people with different backgrounds and temperaments. When differences are peacefully reconciled, spiritual growth is occurring. When adults of different age groups and cultural backgrounds work together in harmony, children learn by example to love their neighbors. They are also learning this spiritual lesson in their dealings with other children in the congregation.
Whenever imperfect people work with each other, conflicts may arise. For the benefit of the ministry and everyone concerned, the director sometimes must take on the role of a mediator. Mediation involves hearing both sides of an issue and being patient in making decisions. Mediation also involves encouraging both parties to communicate the specific issues in the dispute and to avoid emotional comments not related to the problem. Sometimes it is necessary for one volunteer to step away from children's ministry, and it becomes the director's job to gently let this be known to the volunteer. If conflicts are resolved wisely, everyone involved can grow spiritually.
6) Seeking creative methods to keep children motivated
Any ministry can become stale if there is never anything new. The director should ensure that mediocrity does not become characteristic of the ministry. There are many sources available for ideas to help alleviate this problem (see the resource and reference sections at the end). Some ideas that can provide variety include:
- Have special children's church activities that are not on the normal schedule. For example, on a special week, serve ice cream before beginning the class. Another idea is to have a special theme, such as creation week. Children could come dressed in an animal costume, and the curriculum could include discussions about creation. An outside walk might be included. Refreshments that week could be animal crackers. Teachers can plan lessons with the same theme.
- Once a month, have all the elementary children meet together for singing, prayer and perhaps a Bible video and popcorn.
- Offer midweek clubs that have a variety of activities appealing to many different personalities. In warmer months, outdoor activities are appreciated.
7) Beginning programs that include community children and parents
As mentioned earlier, the church needs to reach out to the community. All ministries within a church have the Christian responsibility to encourage the conversion of non-Christians. A children's ministry can be a powerful tool in bringing new people into contact with Christians who can share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only does a strong children's ministry attract children to its activities, it also attracts parents. For example, a neighborhood T-ball league attracts children, and the children's parents can be introduced to the church through attending the games.
New parents can be reached through welcome baskets offering products useful for babies. Included in the basket might be an invitation to church. Parenting classes hosted by the church is another example of a valuable service for parents. The authors of Parenting With Love and Logic (Cline and Faye, 1990) have designed a parenting course. It is an example of a course that can be used in churches. A congregation might wish to sponsor a member to become a trained facilitator (See resources below for more information).
Many nonreligious parents want their children to have religious education. Children's ministry can be involved in other activities with an evangelistic goal in mind. Imagination and planning go hand in hand in creating successful campaigns.
8) Keeping the pastor informed of the ministry's plans and needs
It is important that children's ministry work in unity with the pastor and other ministries in the congregation. In order to accomplish this, the pastor must be updated regularly. This is the director's responsibility. The pastor does not have time to regularly hear from each coordinator separately. The pastor can be updated in the following ways:
- Regular written reports.
- Written plans in which the director seeks comments and advice from the pastor.
- Personal meetings with the pastor on a regular basis. Children's ministry should not be put on a back burner. It is as important as any other ministry or program in the congregation. The director should not feel that he or she is wasting the pastor's time by asking for a meeting.
Chapter 3: Children's Church
A strong children's worship service serves the needs of parents and children. Parents benefit from having an uninterrupted period of worship. Children are able to have a time to worship with peers and be taught with a curriculum at their level of understanding.
There are two general models for how to serve children during weekly worship services. In one model, children stay with adults through the entire worship period. In these churches, the sermons are usually shorter and the worship service is more child-friendly. This model for children's worship has not produced as much positive fruit in the lives of our youth as we would have hoped. We have tended to have our young children sleep or play quietly during worship services. An unfortunate result for some young people was that they learned to tune the sermons out.
We must do more for our children so that they may be involved in worship. We therefore recommend the second model: teaching children separately either through the entire service or through a portion of the service. The following are some of the reasons for this recommendation:
- Children learn better when material is presented at their level. Although a child-friendly adult service might have aspects that are suitable for some children, it cannot reach all age groups simultaneously. If a presentation is targeted toward 10-year-olds, the 5-year-olds will probably not be able to understand. And if it is targeted toward 5-year-olds, the 10-year-olds probably won't learn as much as they could. A child-friendly service does not help adults to the same extent as a service designed primarily for a more mature audience.
- One reason for having a child-friendly service is so
children feel like they belong in the congregation. This goal can be
accomplished in other ways. Classes and worship designed for children may
help them have a greater sense of belonging. The children know they
belong because the class is designed specifically for them.
Children and adults can be integrated for some worship services, such as when children are invited to participate in portions of the worship service. For example, children may serve as greeters and ushers, help distribute material or collect offerings. The children's choir may provide worship music. Children may be part of the worship message by performing a short skit for the congregation. Children may even give a prayer or message. The adults may need to be updated about the children's ministry itself, and one of the classes may be held for the adults to see. This will also give children a sense of belonging, and it will encourage adults to pray for and support the ministry we have to our children.
- Volunteer teachers and staff are part of the congregation. As children are given the opportunity to be in closer settings with these adults, they are better able to build intergenerational friendships. These relationships go further toward feelings of belonging than merely sitting through an adult service.
- Children have more time with their peers during the children's church time. In some cases, children would not otherwise see much of their peers, especially in larger congregations. (Most children spend lots of time with peers at school, but children's church gives them an opportunity to spend time specifically with peers from Christian homes.)
- Children have more opportunity to learn to pray in classes during children's church.
- Parents need uninterrupted worship time. Even children who sit quietly for one and half hours sometimes need parental reminders, and parents have to keep one eye on their children throughout the service. Parents are not always able to give the sermon their undivided attention and cannot worship fully. The need for children's church can be even greater for single-parent families, for families with young children, and for families with many children. If most of the childcare falls on the mother, she may be unable to listen to sermons for several years in a row.
- With a children's church, the church sends a message to the children that it cares enough for them to have a separate service. Parents have mentioned how excited their children are about coming to church, now that there is something just for them! The children's feelings are important to consider. If they are happy about coming to church, they are more likely to make a commitment to Christ. What better reason do we need?
Many congregations have special circumstances regarding the facilities they use for weekly worship: they do not meet in buildings designed for church services. This can pose some challenges, but not insurmountable ones. The following information is provided for the purpose of addressing the special facility needs. We hope that we can stimulate your thinking on this issue and we encourage you to be creative and resourceful.
Most buildings do not have enough rooms to accommodate a nursery and six levels of classrooms at once. However, most congregations have at least two extra rooms in the facility that could be used by children's ministry. The smaller room could be used for babies and toddlers; the larger room could be divided with partitions to form smaller rooms. Although one class can hear what the other is doing, there will still be a degree of privacy, and this is better than not having any classes at all. Children and teachers might be bothered by the noise of other classes, but they will be able to tune some of it out.
Another option is to take the class outside if weather permits. Children enjoy being outside and can learn in that environment.
A third option is to conduct classes in homes of members who live near the church facility. Children can be dropped off as the family goes to church and picked up after church is over. Although inconvenient, it is better than not offering anything for the children. With this arrangement, the children would not attend the adult service at all. If enough seats are available in teachers' vehicles, the children could be taken from services at a set time and brought back about 15 minutes after the adult service is over. Though not an ideal arrangement, it is better than nothing. There are several considerations if this setup is used:
- Two adults should always be present with any group of children.
- The house should be large enough that only major living areas are used. Bedrooms should not be used (so there is no suspicion of child abuse).
- For preschoolers, a portable toilet should be used in the classroom area (this can be made somewhat private by a partition). Under no circumstances should one caregiver go alone with a child to the bathroom. This means that at least four adults have to be in the house — at least two to stay with the other children in case two are needed to assist a child in the bathroom.
- First-time visitors to church should be given a flier stating the location and time of children's church. They should also be welcome to visit and stay at children's church through the entire service whenever they desire. Because the location is separate from the church, more care needs to be given to helping the parents feel secure.
- The house should be clean and tidy, inside and out.
A fourth option is to acquire the use of another facility close to the church. In some cases, free space might be available at another church or a public park. This might require some diligent searching.
A fifth option is to stagger the classes. For example, the third, fourth and fifth grades could meet the first 45 minutes, and kindergarten through second grade the last 45 minutes. In this way, the same rooms could be used for different age groups.
Another point to consider in a small facility is that the teen ministry may also need space to meet.
It would be wise for a congregation and pastor to pray that God would lead them to find a facility that serves the needs of all age groups. Children and teen ministries should be considered top priorities when searching for a facility. Even if the current facility is adequate for other purposes, if it does not serve the needs of children and teen ministries, it should be considered temporary while the search for another facility continues. When considering a new facility, a nursery and preschool area should always be part of the considerations. You will find that when new, young families begin to seek a church home, the availability of a nursery and pre-school area will be a major consideration in their decision.
Many good curricula are available for children's worship and classes. When considering a curriculum, it is helpful to keep the following criteria in mind.
- Cost: An expensive curriculum does not necessarily mean it is better or worse than a less-expensive one. A more-expensive curriculum may simply provide more of the lesson supplies. For example, Group's Hands-On Curriculum has many gadgets that help make the lessons more exciting. However, the supplies can often be saved and reused, so this curriculum might be more economical in the long run than materials that cannot be reused. If a curriculum costs more than the local church activity fund can spare, the congregation could have a fund-raiser specifically for curriculum supplies.
- Focus: Does the curriculum focus on the grace of God, or on behavior rules? Does it concentrate on scripture memory? Scripture memory should be a minor aspect of a curriculum. The emphasis should be on how to apply scriptures to life.
- Practicality: Is the curriculum easy to use? Are the directions for the teachers clear? This is important. If teachers have to spend a lot of time on preparation, they will become discouraged, less effective in teaching and more apt to quit.
- Presentation: Are the lessons interesting and attention getting? If the lessons are boring, the children will not respond positively.
- Interdenominational: Is the material presented in a nondenominational format? Could any Christian benefit from the material, or does it push the doctrines of a specific denomination? The material needs to be nonsectarian, so the emphasis is on learning to be a Christian rather than learning to be a Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, etc.
- Flexibility: Does the curriculum allow for different sizes of classes? Does it allow for combining grade levels when needed? Are there alternatives if a teacher is uncomfortable with part of the lesson? Flexibility that is built into the curriculum allows more teaching freedom.
- Are many hands-on activities built into the lessons? Children learn best by doing, by participating. They learn least by listening to lectures.
Worship should involve our whole being, including our emotions. Music is an element of worship that can effectively involve our emotions. Adults need music in their worship services; music is a necessary ingredient in children's worship services, too. There are a variety of ways to include music.
Worship music: A music coordinator can select volunteers to work with the children during the children's worship time. One format involves the volunteers moving from one classroom to another, giving each class a 10- to 15-minute singing time. Another format is to bring the children from several classes into one area for a music session. This requires fewer volunteers and works well in smaller congregations.
The two formats can also be combined: the first can be used during most weeks, and the second format once a month. Once a month, all the children can meet together for singing and praying. After about 15 minutes, they can watch a Bible video and make a craft instead of going to the regular classes. This will give variety to the children and to the teachers.
Regardless of the format chosen, here are some guidelines for children's worship music:
- Easy to sing
- Has an uplifting positive beat
- Has opportunities for movement
A wide variety of children's music and recordings is available in Christian bookstores. Even if a congregation does not have a musical volunteer, children can be led to sing along with recordings.
A nursery is an important part of children's ministry. When parents of babies are looking for a church fellowship, a nursery is an influential factor in their choice. A nursery is a ministry to parents, because it enables parents to participate in church services, but it is also helpful to the babies. It gives them some social interaction, some positive exposure to Christian concepts and words, and acclimates them to the children's church environment for later benefit. It makes church more enjoyable for both parents and infants. By serving practical needs in a nursery, the church shows love toward babies in the only language they understand. Here are some points to consider when planning and hosting a church nursery:
- The following ratio of adults to children
- Infants: two children for every worker
- Crawlers: three children for every worker
- Toddlers: four children for every worker
- 2-year-olds: five children for every worker
- The room should be thoroughly checked for dirt and safety hazards. A good safety checklist is on page 119 of Children's Ministry That Works, a book that every children's ministry coordinator should have (Roehlkepartain, 1991).
- The staff should be carefully trained.
- There should be a check-in and check-out system.
- Have a method for easily reaching parents.
- Babies should not be kept in the nursery for more than 10 or 15 minutes if the caregivers cannot get them to stop crying. Parents should be told that they will be notified if their baby can't be comforted. This helps alleviate the nervousness some parents feel when leaving a baby. Sometimes a baby isn't ready to be left. Parents should not be made to feel guilty about this. Nursery is a service, not a requirement.
- Nursery service should be offered beginning 15 minutes before services and extending until 15 minutes after. This allows adequate time for parents to check their children in and out.
- The nursery should be cleaned every time it is used.
A church nursery is for ages 0 to 2 years. Two-year-olds can have a short biblically based lesson while they are in the nursery. (Some Christian bookstores sell lessons designed for this age group.) One-year-olds can feel the love of Jesus at church through the gentleness and kindness shown to them by their caregivers. This helps the child feel that church has some nice adults besides Mom and Dad that they can trust.
If space and congregation size are adequate, it is helpful to have three nursery rooms: one for infants and crawlers, another for walkers and a third for 2-year-olds.
Physical layout of the room: The basic areas of a nursery room are the sleeping area, the play area and the diaper-changing area. As much as possible, these areas function better if they are separate from one another. For example, a small partition can be placed between the cribs and play area. Also, the changing area supplies should be kept out of toddlers' reach.
The preschool needs to run as long as the adult worship service does. A short biblical lesson with a hands-on experience, plenty of play time and refreshments create enough variety to maintain a preschooler's interest.
As with nursery-age children, movement is vital to a preschooler's learning. The environment should provide adequate space for movement. Each preschool room should have at least one play item that incorporates large movements. Indoor slides and climb-on items are examples. Little Tykes and PlaySkool both sell this type of equipment. (You may be able to buy them at a yard sale. However, any items bought secondhand should be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant.)
The following guidelines can help the preschool run more smoothly.
- The area should be childproofed. Although preschoolers are not as prone as younger children to put objects in their mouths, they sometimes do. Therefore, play items such as marbles are not recommended. All cleaning supplies should be locked up or out of reach. Further information on safety can be obtained free from public agencies.
- Friendly, pleasant teachers help parents and children feel more secure.
- A check-in and check-out system is important. Even in smaller churches, such a system provides a safety net. For example, an estranged husband or wife who does not have custody of a child might attempt to take the child out without the knowledge of the other parent.
- The rooms should be cleaned every time they are used.
- The recommended ratio is five or six children per adult. If the group is larger than 20 children, it should be divided. There should never be less than two caregivers with any size group of preschoolers.
Kindergarten through Grade 5
Two formats can be used to schedule the elementary children's worship service. One format is to have children in class through the entire service. This allows more time to complete lessons and gives children the opportunity for more fellowship time. Critics of this format say that children need to be in at least part of the adult service so they have an idea of what happens. In answer to this criticism, however, several times a year adults can have special services that include the children.
Some parents feel it is important for the family to worship together every week for at least a portion of the service. There are several possible formats that can allow for this. The most common is to have children leave during services, at a prearranged time or when announced, usually before the main message. This format works well, but children's church concludes 15 minutes after the adult service does. Included in the schedule is a biblically based lesson, prayer, music, refreshments and sharing.
Some guidelines for elementary children's church:
- It is extremely important to have friendly teachers who relate well to children.
- Although a good curriculum is necessary, occasional diversions are beneficial. Sometimes group discussions not on the topic at hand lead to more important learning than the curriculum would. For example, a fifth-grade class might begin talking about bullies at school. The teacher could use this as an opportunity to get the children to discuss how Jesus would handle such people. The key here is flexibility!
- Lecture is the least effective form of teaching. A skilled teacher will lead children to find the answers themselves rather than force-feed them. Although this requires practice for most people, some do it naturally. Good teaching does not necessarily come from someone who has a teaching credential. Some professional teachers are not effective!
- Keep the class flowing. Downtime, when children wait for the next part of the lesson, can be kept to a minimum through proper planning. Supplies should be prepared ahead of time. Anything that can be done before class time should be!
Summary of children's church
A separate children's worship service is beneficial in the following aspects:
- It allows children to learn in an age-appropriate setting with curriculum designed to serve them.
- Children become accustomed to praying in front of others.
- Adults have uninterrupted worship time.
- Children learn that church has some exceptionally kind adults who are eager to serve the youths.
Other points to remember:
- Even with limited space, a children's worship service can be instituted.
- A curriculum that includes hands-on biblically based activities helps create a fertile learning environment.
- Music is a necessary aspect of meaningful children's worship.
- A nursery and preschool accommodate both the children's and parents' worship needs.
Chapter 4: Child Care for Classes and Other Church Programs
Apart from weekly worship services, churches have other adult-oriented activities. The success of such activities is affected by whether or not parents have a place for their children while attending the adult functions. It is recommended that, if possible, there be separate volunteers for this aspect of children's ministry. This is not only to avoid overworking the volunteers, it is also to let the children have contact with more adults.
The child-care coordinator plans children's activities and arranges staff for discipleship classes, Bible studies, prayer meetings, leadership meetings, etc. If not enough people volunteer to offer child care at every event, the pastor may give some guidance as to which activities are most important.
A discipleship coordinator who has the following qualities will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the child care:
- Strong organizational skills.
- A clear focus of the vision of children's ministry.
- Strong desire for visitors to be able to hear the gospel.
- Motivated to help children enjoy their time in child care.
Chapter 5: Service Projects
As children grow spiritually, they need opportunities to serve others. The church can provide such opportunities. Two projects a year is a reasonable goal. One event might be a service for someone within the congregation. For example, a fund-raiser might earn money to buy paint for someone's house. A second project could donate time or money to a cause in the community. The following points might be considered when planning service projects:
- The project should be publicly recognized at church when the children are present. This helps the children understand they are contributing to the church.
- The project should be planned so the children are directly involved.
Chapter 6: Clubs
Midweek clubs can be a great learning opportunity for children. Some congregations have begun clubs such as Boy Scouts or 4-H. These are beneficial, but a more Christian-oriented club may be more effective in bring biblical concepts to the children of non-Christians. One such club is Awana; another is Pioneer Club, mentioned below.
Children 3 years up through fifth grade can experience within a club a less formal environment than worship service. Before beginning a club, consider the following:
- Will there be enough participation? In some cases, children and families are already committed to other clubs and activities, and do not need a church-sponsored club.
- Do families live close enough to come to a regular midweek activity?
- Will there be enough volunteers to keep it going?
If the answer to these questions is yes, the time might be right to begin clubs in the children's ministry. One ready-made program is Pioneer Club, a Christian-oriented club with much of the materials included. To reduce expenses, you may wish to join with another local church that already sponsors a club. By working together, the cost and staff can be shared. This can also build bridges between churches and lead to other opportunities for cooperation.
If a ready-made program is not feasible, another alternative is to plan a program locally. Here are some ideas for a format:
- Divide into three age groups — ages 3 and 4, ages 5-7, and ages 8-11.
- Recruit a coordinator and some helpers for each level.
- Give each group a fun name, such as lambs, kangaroos or fliers.
- Meet two hours each week.
- Encourage children to invite neighbor children to join the club.
- Open and close with prayer.
- Have refreshments at every meeting.
- Have at least one physical activity at each meeting.
- During summer months, the club meetings may be team sports. This can attract new members who might not otherwise be interested. By fall they may enjoy their new friends so much that they will want to continue in the club.
- Have a biblically based project at each meeting except during the summer sports program.
- Provide a craft project at every meeting. There are many craft ideas in books in Christian bookstores.
- Provide incentives, such as badges earned for each completed project and for attendance.
- Teach new games and play old favorites.
The above is merely a starting point. With a little creativity, many more activities could be planned. When planning club activities, it might be helpful to remember the following:
- Children do not want club to be a formal activity.
- Children need to have physical activity.
- Club should be designed to attract nonmembers' and members' children.
- Club should be fun for all, so a variety of activities is essential.
- Coordinators and helpers need to set a strong Christian example for the children.
- All children should be made to feel successful at every meeting.
Chapter 7: Budget
When considering the budget for a children's ministry, many factors come into play. To convince a congregation that funds are needed, education must be given — in some cases to the pastor and in almost all cases to the members before they will support the monetary costs.
A good rule of thumb is to budget about $75 a year per child for operating expenses (Chromey, 1995; add a little for inflation). Start-up costs are substantial, especially for setting up a nursery and preschool.
Some congregations may want to conduct fund-raisers just for children's ministry. It may be helpful to have another volunteer to coordinate the budgeting and fund-raising. Under no circumstances should children's ministry be given low priority in a church budget. Children are the future of the church. Leading them to Christ is top priority!
Chapter 8: Reaching Our Children
How can we reach children on an emotional and spiritual level? Here are a few keys:
- Use eye contact.
- Try to learn names quickly, and be sure to greet each child by name.
- Smile and say hello even before names are memorized.
- Recognize and make a special effort to acknowledge children from your class when you see them elsewhere.
- Allow a few minutes of every session for children to share how the previous week went or other thoughts they might have.
- Be enthusiastic about what you are teaching. Children are responsive to enthusiasm.
- Let the children know that you are turned on about Jesus. Let them know both directly (by saying it) and indirectly (by a positive attitude).
- A pat on a child's back can send a powerful message that you care. A sideways hug is also effective. We cannot recommend frontal hugging or kissing, because some people associate these with child molesting. We want to alleviate fears and reduce the risk of lawsuits.
- Give positive comments concerning each child's efforts — the more specific the better. For example, "I like that picture you drew of Joseph" is good, but it would be even more effective to say, "I like the colors you chose for Joseph's coat." Children know when praise is superficial.
- Telephone children who have been absent. Let them know you missed them.
We want the church to minister in a more powerful way to its children. This guide is not intended to be a complete resource, but rather a starting point for organizing a children's ministry. May our Lord guide your heart with the Holy Spirit as you seek to serve his children!
(These were available in 1996; some are now out of print and new books are available -- check with a Christian bookstore.)
Armstrong, T. In their own way. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987.
Chromey, R. Children's ministry guide for smaller churches. Loveland, Colo.: Group Books, 1995.
Cline, F & Fay J. Parenting with love and logic. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Pinon Press, 1990.
Hammar, R. (ed) (1996) Church Law and Tax Report 10 (4) 1-15.
McGavran, D. & Wagner, C. (editors) Understanding church growth. (3rd ed.) Grand Rapids Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990.
Miller, H. How to build a magnetic church. Creative leadership series. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1987.
Roehlkepartain, J. (ed.) Children's ministry that works. Loveland, Colo.: Group Books., 1991.
Anderson, P. Teaching preschoolers in the Christian community. Cleveland, Ohio: United Church Press, 1994.
Berryman, J.W. Godly play. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 1991.
Capehart, J. Becoming a treasured teacher. Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1992.
Chromey, R. Children's ministry guide for smaller churches. Loveland, CO. Group Books, 1995.
Clouse, B. Teaching for moral growth. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books/SP Publications, Inc, 1993.
Cline-Fay's Institute Inc. 2207 Jackson St. Golden, CO 80401-2317. Call toll-free: (800) 338-4065.
Da Harb, P. (Comp.) Early childhood tips for teachers. Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1995.
Golata, D., & Karpenske, N. (Comp.) Elementary tips for teachers. Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1995.
Keffer, L. Sunday school specials. Loveland, CO: Group Books, 1992.
Pioneer Clubs, Box 788 Wheaton, IL 60189 or call (708) 293-1600
Roehlkepartain, J.L. Wiggle tamers. Loveland, CO: Group Books, 1995.
Schultz, T., & Schultz, J. Why nobody learns much of anything at church and how to fix it. Loveland, CO: Group Books, 1993.
Stinson, B. Early childhood trends in movement development. Pages 222-236 in C. Seefeldt (Ed.). The early childhood curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press, 1992.
Towns, E. Town's Sunday school encyclopedia. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993.
Towns, E.L. 10 Sunday schools that dared to change. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993.
Wilkinson, B.H. The seven laws of the learner. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1992.
Yount, C. (Ed.) Helping children know God. Loveland, CO: Group Books, 1995.
Written by Victoria Feazell, 1996
About the author
Victoria Feazell served as children's ministry director for a church in Pasadena, California. She holds a master's degree in child development, has teaching experience in public and private schools, and has been an adoption social worker. She is the mother of three children.