By Tony Kummer
Lately I’ve visited the children’s ministry in some small churches.
A common theme is clear — in all the scramble to do ministry, they often lack clear goals and vision for their programs.
My observation — we need a map to know if we’re on the right path or losing our way.
I don’t say this to be critical. The situation is 100 percent understandable, and you’ll find no judgement from me.
Many children’s church volunteers are busy parents; they jump into service only to “get stuck for life.” They are under pressure from parents, pastors, rowdy children, and their own self-expectations. Finding time to reflect on the bigger picture is difficult.
In this article, I want to give space to some important questions about ministry purpose. They come as a list of negative outcomes when we fail to have clear goals.
My hope is to spark a conversation about why we’re doing kids ministry, what exactly we want to accomplish, and why some expectations actually hinder these efforts.
1. Volunteers get frustrated and eventually burn out.
This was my own example. After 10 years in full-time ministry, I was nearly ruined by my own misguided dedication. Only a time away has helped me to see the whole forest again, having been lost among the trees.
2. Kids are confused about the purpose of church gatherings.
Every church is different, and the implied goals of children’s ministries can vary widely. What lessons do children actually take into their teen years about the meaning of church? Is this only a time for fun and games? Is church only high-pressure salvation sales pitch? If the leaders can’t articulate the point, how will the kids move beyond confusion?
3. Resources are wasted, which could be better deployed.
All those crafts and snack supplies add up. Do they serve the purpose of the ministry or simply fill the time until the parents arrive? Without a vision, it’s hard to know if that question even matters. How can you count the cost without knowing what you’re building?
4. Curriculum doesn’t match the mission.
Most major publishers market their material for specific types of ministries. Some focus on creating a positive experience, others on full-scale child evangelism. One popular program even champion’s deep theological training for preschoolers. Knowing what to buy starts with knowing what you are trying to do.
5. Parents assume they’ve “done their part” by leading kids to church.
Many churches are focusing on so-called family ministry to combat this very idea. However, does that message carry across the occasional church visitor? What lessons are parents (and grandparents) taking home from your programs?
6. Thousands of minutes are lost, which could have been advancing the Kingdom.
Time is short, and childhood gets shorter with each generation. How can churches leverage those precious years to make the most of every opportunity?
7. Children who grow up in struggling ministries carry those negative experiences into future church experience.
When these children become adults, will they remember your church as a loving place? Will they ask why the adults always got so frustrated at them? Is this a safe place to be themselves?
8. Programs can take on too much.
While Sunday School teachers can do tremendous work in witnessing the Gospel, only God’s Spirit can make lifelong disciples of Jesus. Every ministry can have an impact, but sometimes our well-intending goals lose sight of reality. It’s a lot of pressure to imagine one goldfish snack will lead a person to eternal salvation (or not)!
9. We mistake activity for accomplishment.
There can be a lot of wheel spinning, but the car never moves forward. Once it starts moving, you need to know where you are going. That’s what a good ministry vision gives the kids, parents, volunteers, and church supporters.
Agree or Disagree?
I hope this has given you some food for thought. We can all be honest and look for ways to improve. I’m writing this as an outsider now, not responsible for weekly ministry programs.
My point is simple — doing better must start with the better understanding of what we’re trying to do. That’s what having goals (or vision if you prefer) is all about.
This list could be longer, but negative stuff isn’t my favorite topic. I’d rather list the many reasons why children’s ministry matters!
None of this should diminish the role of Christ in directing the work. Without a doubt, God uses all of his less than perfect followers (and programs) to advance his Kingdom.
At the same time, we should remember Ephesians 5:16 and make the most of our opportunities to do good. We need to be wise with the privilege of influencing God’s children.
Tony Kummer is a children’s pastor from Indiana and founder of Ministry-To-Children.com.