"Take aim so your programs hit the bull's-eye to meet kids' needs every time"
by RaNae Street
Your children's ministry is much more than programs. And that's a good thing because programs don't change people; only God changes people.
Yet your children's ministry includes programs. Lots of programs. The question is, are the programs meaningful to your children and volunteers?
The Four R's
It's not the quantity of programs that counts in children's ministry - it's how effective each program is in carrying out your church's mission and vision. Our goal for every program we host is to help connect children and their families with our church. We want to form healthy relationships with children. Those relationships prompt kids and their families to come back.
Pause and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your existing programs. Are they meaningful for children? How can you really know?
Here's an easy way to measure whether a program will be meaningful and life changing: Ask if the Four R's are present in each program. If you see that a program is Relevant, Radical, Reflective, and Relational, you've got a great one. Here's what those words mean…
* Relevant - Programming needs to be relevant to kids in your church and kids in your community. Research kids' interests. Identify the specific needs of your church, area schools, and the families in your neighborhood. Every community is different, so avoid the temptation to simply import a program that's been successfully done elsewhere.
Don't rely on written surveys alone. Instead, make personal contact and actually ask what programming would be relevant. Pay attention to available resources. Prioritize program ideas so you meet people's expressed needs first.
* Radical - Churches lose their effectiveness when they try to offer programming that meets all the needs of children, their families, and their communities. Instead of trying to do it all and failing, focus on creating a program that's unique to your children's ministry. Intentionally select the one thing that'll set your children's ministry apart from other churches in your area; then do it very, very well. You won't be shortchanging your kids or their families because you can refer families to capable, Christ-centered, community-based resources that your church simply can't provide.
The challenge is that to do one thing well, you may have to stop doing several things poorly. There's a cost when you ask your church to stop doing programs that have outlived their effectiveness, but it's a cost worth paying if you can redirect resources to support truly meaningful programs. "The way we've always done it" may no longer meet the needs of your children.
* Reflective - Children love exciting and fun things, and meaningful children's ministries reflect excitement and fun. Meaningful programs are active, carefree, enthusiastic, and inspiring. They reflect what children love to do, mirroring children's creativity and enthusiasm for hands-on learning. Meaningful programs also reflect real day-to-day situations that kids encounter and help children apply what they're learning to those situations. Most importantly, meaningful programs reflect God's unconditional love and acceptance.
* Relational - Of the four R's, relational is the most vital. Too often we focus on giving information, not transforming lives. Meaningful programs aren't focused on tasks. Rather, they cultivate an environment where relationships can be built.
Relationships matter! We need to help children make new friends and help families build a network with other families and church leaders. Jesus' ministry is a great example of the importance of relationships. Jesus nurtured others through compassion and invested deeply in people who later changed the world. Our programs need to be places where children are turned on to faith through the power of relationships.
The Four Options
At the heart of most children's ministries are Sunday school and midweek programs. Many churches focus nearly all their attention and finances solely on these two programs. But are these two programs enough?
Here are four children's ministry program options, each designed for a different purpose. A well-rounded, meaningful children's ministry includes each of these program options. Why? The goal is to engage a child at any point and move that child toward the center of the target. A word of caution: Hosting a poorly executed event is worse than not hosting one at all, so plan for excellence.
1. Momentum programs are designed to bring new people into the faith community. They're "come and see" events that provide positive first impressions of your ministry. Think of them as entry-level opportunities that facilitate numerical growth. Momentum events include theme days, special events, and community outreach events.
* Theme days promote excitement among children who are already part of your ministry and encourage children to invite friends. With a bit of creativity, you can turn nearly any day or event into a theme day. Possible theme days are Super Bowl Sunday, Ice Cream "Sundae," Dinner at the Movies, and Day at the Beach.
* Special events are often seasonal. Involved families are encouraged to invite their friends to join them for fun. Special events offer kid-friendly activities, food, and time for families to get to know each other better Special events include a New Year's celebration, bike rally, or back-to-school event.
* Community outreach programs fill needs or interests in your community. They provide partnerships between your community and your church. Outreach programs offer families that aren't drawn by traditional Sunday school or church the chance to be exposed to spiritual people and biblical lessons. Examples of community outreaches are team sports and skills camps, child-care centers, fine arts lessons, and storybook hours.
2. Support programs offer assistance to families and children who are dealing with challenges. Support programs provide a safe place for children to learn, talk, and express their feelings.
Many support programs are offered as classes or small groups that last between six and eight weeks. The goal is to help kids explore issues in the context of God's Word. Support programs offer more than just coping skills; they also provide hope. These support programs exist to help children with issues such as school, grief, character development, homework, or divorce recovery.
3. Service programs involve children in opportunities that help them develop a heart for serving others. Service programs help children cultivate a servant attitude and the desire to make a positive difference in the world. They're great opportunities for children to develop friendships.
Service opportunities can be inside your children's ministry, such as puppets, drama, clown ministry, multimedia ministry, or hospitality. Or service projects can benefit the larger community. You'll have to decide if you want one-shot, short-term, or long-term projects. Either way, keep service programs open to newcomers at all times.
4. Discipleship programs build a community of kids who want to grow deeper in their Christian faith. Discipleship programs aren't for first-time visitors or sporadic attendees. They're designed to help children dive deeper into spiritual development as they study the Word of God, pray, develop friendships with other believers, and share their lives. Children experience a personal relationship with Jesus and also disciple others as they build up each other's faith.
Discipleship classes can be long- or short-term, but they're intentionally more intimate so children can connect with each other. Experiences where children encounter God and make life-changing decisions are the bull's-eye of the target. It's where you want every child to ultimately end up.
The Six Questions
Answer the following questions before you begin any new program to determine whether a program will be meaningful to your children and church.
* Who will lead? In his book Doing Church as a Team, Wayne Cordeiro suggests that before launching a new program, the first step needs to be building a team of four other leaders to serve with the program leader. This team becomes a support system that shares responsibilities of the program and provides accountability for each other. A strong leadership team also helps prevent frustration and burnout.
Accurately predict the number of servants needed to support a program. Do you have enough leaders? The right leaders? Are they equipped? Are they all on the same page regarding the vision?
* What will you do? To be meaningful, any program you develop must connect people with an experience they'll value. Meaningful programs also bridge people to your church and toward relationship with your church family.
Have you considered the culture and daily life of kids you want to reach? Have you found a name for the program that's interesting and inviting? Have you decided precisely what need you'll meet?
* When will you meet? Timing is important. Schedule a day of the week and a time in the day that's convenient for families. Be considerate of young children and their routines.
Consider God's timing for the program. Great program ideas move forward and become reality only with God's blessing. You may be able to recognize God's timing for your program as you evaluate how easily the components of your action plan come together. What would happen if you chose not to launch a program until you had all the volunteers you need in place?
* Where will you meet? Whether you have a huge facility or a tiny one, space is always an issue. Be creative as you search for the ideal location.
Some events and classes need to be held at your church building, but others may be appropriate for a neighborhood park, community building, or back yard. Growing a children's ministry may require you to go where the kids are. Take into consideration what supplies you'll need and what setup is required when thinking about where you should meet.
* Why are you considering this new program? Is the program aligned with your church's vision and children's ministry philosophy? What's your desired outcome? Will you seek to expand your current children's ministry, offer support to children and their families, provide service to your community, or develop disciples? How will this program engage kids and move them toward the center of the target?
* How will you move ahead? This question may be the most important because your answer becomes your action plan for making the proposed program a reality. You'll sort out the program's goals and determine publicity, budget, and team communication. Decide up front how you'll evaluate your effectiveness — so you can make midcourse corrections.
But it isn't just a matter of logistics. A detailed plan also ensures your program will be meaningful for children and volunteers. Remember that what counts most isn't pulling off a spectacular event. What counts most is what kids learn and how relationships develop during the course of the event — from the initial brainstorming meeting to sweeping up after the event ends.
The One Target
Anyone can pull together a slapdash program to entertain kids. But creating a meaningful program requires something more.
It requires that you're intentional about building a program that's relevant to your kids, that meets the needs of your church and community, and that's radical in its creativity and uniqueness.
Meaningful programs also reflect God's love and mirror how kids learn and what kids already love to do. Meaningful programs encourage transforming relationships.
Creating excellent children's programming is hard work, but it's rewarding, too. You'll touch kids' lives in ways that have lifelong impact and draw children closer to God. It's worth the effort!
RaNae Street is a children's ministry director in Tipp City, Ohio. This article is excerpted from the new Children's Ministry That Works! (Group Publishing, Inc.).
© 2002 Children's Ministry Magazine. Used by permission.