By: Stanley Cosner
Identifying the three keys to a successful children’s ministry.
Welcome to the exciting world of Children’s Ministry: where no day is like the next! Some days you feel like the ring leader of your own personal circus, and other days you feel more like a referee in a boxing ring or a judge in the most unusual of cases. However, there are those glorious days when the stars align, God’s favor shines, and you can sense the kids leaning into the lesson that is being taught. Those moments are why we do what we do!
Wouldn’t you like those moments to happen a little more often in your ministry? I know I would. Below are three practical keys that have the power to unlock excitement in your kids to learn about God’s Word. Some principles, however, are better shown than told. So this month I would like to share a story with you, and I pray that its lessons would remain with you throughout your journey in children’s ministry.
Meet the Earnest Family:
They were new to town and new to church, or at least they wanted to be. You see, they hadn’t really been involved in any church for many years, but now that their children were getting older they really wanted to make sure to find a church to attend. A new town was the perfect opportunity for a new family journey…to church. At least that’s what Mommy Earnest kept saying. Daddy Earnest said he would go to any church that Momma wanted to, and Mommy Earnest wanted to attend one that was good for her kids. So the decision on what church to attend, as it usually is in most households, was up to the three Earnest children.
The oldest, Hardly Earnest, was 12 years old. As you may guess, he really didn’t care much about anything that wasn’t inside his phone, tablet, or video game; and he was pretty sure those things weren’t allowed in a church. Truly Earnest was their darling girl. She was 9 years old and had a genuine interest to learn all about the world, even the Bible, though she wasn’t sure if she had ever read it before. Then came their baby boy, Lil’ Bobby. He was 5, and no, “He was not a surprise. We just ran out of names that end in ‘ly’.” is what his parents often had to explain. Anyway, Lil’ Bobby was in his usual spot right behind his older siblings Hardly and Truly, and they were on their way to visit the first church.
Church number one was a fairly easy first choice. It was right on Main Street, and most people around town used it as a landmark to tell people when to turn or if they’d driven too far. “Wow”, said all three Earnest children as they walked into the main lobby. There was no guessing where the children’s area was. It looked like Disney was spilling out of the hallway at the top of the stairs, and there was even a slide that dropped right down to a children’s pickup area. Hardly and Truly’s heads were literally spinning as they ran up the stairs to see the rest of the children’s area, and Lil’ Bobby was right in tow.
After service, the three Earnest children came rushing down the slide with huge smiles and arms full of prizes. Like most kids, they were met by their parents with a simple question, “How was kids church?” “Awesome,” shouted Hardly, “The pastor could ride a unicycle and do amazing tricks!” “We played such fun games,” giggled Truly. “Look at my prizes,” shouted Lil’ Bobby as he jumped with excitement and dropped half of them on the ground. Daddy Earnest gave a nod of approval as he thought that they had quite easily found a church to attend. “This is great,” said Mommy Earnest, “But I have just one more question.” “What did you guys learn about today?” Hardly just shrugged as Truly dropped her head. “I.. I was having so much fun..” she said softly, “That I forgot that we came here to learn about the Bible too.” On the drive home Mommy Earnest shared her thoughts with her three kids. “I’m so glad that you had fun today at church,” she said. “Church should be fun I think, but we came here because I know that we need to learn more about what the Bible says. That’s really important to me. I think that we should try another church next week too.
As the following Sunday approached, Earnest’s neighbors stopped by to welcome them to the neighborhood and gave then a plate of cookies. They quickly began talking about their church with ringing endorsements such as, “Our family has been going here for three, no, four generations.” “The pastor brings a strong word.” And, “You won’t even know your kids are here as quiet as Sister Susan keeps them.” They soon left with a smile and a wave, and the next morning all five of the Earnests were loaded up and headed to church number two.
The second church was a little outside of town, but still close to their house. As they arrived they were greeted by an elderly gentleman who seemed pleased, and a little surprised to see them. “Three kids,” he exclaimed, “Let me introduce them to Sister Susan.” Before Truly could even ask who’s sister she was, it was time for the church to start.
A short time later, the service was over and Mommy Earnest was picking her kids up from their classroom. “Are you going to ask us what we learned again today?” Asked Truly. “Yes,” replied Mommy Earnest. “Oh no!” Said Truly. “Well… I learned that there are a ton of important verses in the Bible, but I’m not sure if I remember any of them. At least they sounded important sometimes, but our teacher mumbled a lot.” “Yeah, I think her reading made her sleepy,” said Lil’ Bobby. “She put herself to sleep twice while reading some book written by her brother, Mark.” “I learned something,” declared Hardly. “I learned that there are 128 tiles on the ceiling. I counted them three times just to make sure.” “So who remembers the Bible story?” Asked their mom. Both boys threw their hands in the air while Truly made a serious face, paused, and said, “I think it was all of them!” Daddy Earnest chuckled and said, “Well, it looks like we will be heading to Church number three. If the teacher can’t stay awake during her own lessons, then I don’t blame you for not remembering what she talked about.”
Church number three had sent them a welcome to town letter in the mail. It seemed pleasant enough and mentioned their Children’s Services, so that’s where they were headed the following Sunday. As you entered the lobby of the third church, you could clearly see where the kids were meant to be. Truly pointed and said, “Look, you can see all their next Bible stories hung on the wall! It looks like a giant movie theater entrance!” “Yes!” Said Hardly. “I see arcade games too!” Truly and Hardly both ran towards the children’s area with hopeful expectations as Lil’ Bobby followed closely.
“Don’t ask, I already know.” Was the first thing out of Truly’s mouth when she saw her parents after service. “Our Bible story was about Jonah and a huge whale. Jonah didn’t want to do what God asked, so God used a huge whale to take him to where he needed to be and a lot of people got saved because of it!” “You won’t believe this!” said Hardly. They had a gigantic whale on stage that everyone got to walk inside while they told us the story! It looked like a huge bounce house kinda thing that one of the leaders made.” “Can we come back?” asked both Hardly and Truly in unison. “It sounds like it,” smiled Mommy Earnest. “What about you, Lil’ Bobby?” asked Daddy Earnest? All four Earnest heads began to swivel around as no reply was heard. “Oh no, let’s split up and find him,” said Mommy Earnest. After 30 minutes of frantic searching and little help, they heard a faint hello from the kids’ bathroom. “Bobby!” Mommy Earnest yelled as she rushed in. “I think a kid locked me in the stall somehow.” Said Lil’ Bobby. “And no one ever came to check on me.”
Mommy Earnest was getting angrier and angrier as they made it to the car to leave. “We will not be back,” she said. “I don’t care how much you learned or how creative the story was, I will not send my children anywhere that I feel is unsafe!” “But Mom!” Said the two oldest Earnest Children. “I don’t want to hear it!” She replied as they pulled out of the parking lot.
To be honest, I don’t know what church the Earnest family will try out next week; but I hope it is the one you are at. Well, that is if you learn from these three mistakes.
Not all parents are like the Earnest Parents, but all Children’s pastors should have the same concerns. The first church was excellent at engaging their children, but in their will to engage they glossed over any parts of the lesson that had the power to impact their audience’s lives. At the second church, Sister Susan’s message was literally full of the impactful, life-changing Word of God, but it was presented in a way that lacked all ability to engage its audience. The third church, however, was both engaging and impactful, yet lacked basic safety procedures.
The bottom line is this. You can’t practice just one or two of these principles; you have to have all three. If you lack engagement, the children will never remember what you are teaching. If you lack impactful moments, then what lasting value does your entertainment provide? However if your children’s area lacks safety, then no one will care about how engaging or impactful your lessons are. You must have all three. No matter your church’s personal vision, if you focus on having all three principles at work in every area of your ministry, then you will have the key to unlocking God’s best for your children’s ministry.
Thanks for reading. I believe the saying is true, “Leaders are readers.” So I would like to suggest a couple of books for you. These books inspired the style of this article, and use creative stories to teach you lessons on perspective and vision.
“The Noticer” by Andy Andrews
“The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews.