The Future of Children’s Ministry

Here is the first of 18 articles from Greg Baird’s series from Kidmin360.com

In January 2007, I presented ten trends I predicted would characterize children’s ministry in the years ahead. As we approach January 2011 and I review those, it is interesting to consider which of those have trends still resonate as hot trends, which are assumed or fading, and which I wish were of greater emphasis as I scan articles, workshop descriptions of conferences or forum discussions of various websites.

Whenever I am asked to write or speak on the “future” I often start with one of my favorite quotes, which always goes off better verbally…

“I’m not a prophet, nor the son of prophet. In fact, I work for a non-profit organization.”

The reality is, I’m always faced with a very real dilemma. Do I respond with my Predicted Future, or my Preferred Future? Because in many ways, unfortunately, they are very different when I look over the children’s ministry landscape today. I often feel as though I am both fighting against the advance of the kidmin culture as well as contributing to it. On one hand, I’ve been a significant influencer of children’s ministry over the years, and on the other hand, I often find myself trying to push against the goads and challenging the status quo. As I’m about to do.

My answer to the question, “What is the Future of Children’s Ministry?” is going to be to answer it twice. First, I will give you my Predicted Future and then my Preferred Future. Which describes your future will depend on whether you are a leader who is interested in numbers or disciple-making. It will depend on whether you want to wow kids and parents or whether you want children who will walk with Jesus through high school and into their adult lives.

The stats are in. Despite all the modern advances of children’s ministry, youth pastor’s can tell us, if we will listen, we aren’t doing them any favors with our million dollar facilities and fancy curriculum and edutainment and mini-youth groups. Their job hasn’t gotten much easier. And blaming families isn’t the answer either. While supporting families is critically important, in our culture, less and less children are in healthy Christian families, so there will only be a growing need for strong children’s ministries to reach them. So let’s take a look at two possible futures and then make a choice.

My Predicted Future

The demise of the children’s pastor and children’s ministry. Both have been usurped and swallowed by family ministry. Misunderstanding the distinct difference between children’s ministry and family ministry, churches opt to roll the children’s ministry into family ministry. Rather than embracing family ministry as a church-wide responsibility that should coordinate with and work in concert with children’s ministry, it is seen as the solution and biblical mandate that renders children’s ministry obsolete. Of course, this happens slowly. First the children’s pastor is replaced. Next, the word “ministry” is dropped from children’s ministry. In time, “children’s programming” becomes part of the family ministry, a disguised name for child care. This is denied emphatically, but the lack of evangelism, discipleship and solid biblical teaching is the proof, those having been all been delegated to parents. Volunteers are no longer trained to study and teach and lead children to a saving faith in Christ. They are trained in safety standards, how to run video equipment, and to foster caring environments and build loving relationships. Worship is emphasized and is central to the experience at church along with highly entertaining programs teaching bible stories and virtues based on biblical principles. All of which are important, but do not fulfill Jesus’ mandate to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 18:19-20) Processing large groups of children through similar group experiences with as few volunteers as possible will be key. Resources that make volunteering as easy as possible with as little preparation as necessary will be the best selling. And of course, neither children, nor volunteers, will bother bringing their Bibles to church anymore, because they simply are no longer needed in the Lord’s House.

My Preferred Future

The resurgence of the teacher and a return of the student. When was the last time you heard the kids at church referred to as “students?” I would like to envision both the children’s pastor and volunteers studying the Bible during the week. I’d like to see children again memorizing Scripture and completing assignments at home. I see them logging on to a website with their parents to interact with materials the church has provided to help them engage with what the church is teaching their children. I see Dad getting a text message during the week from the children’s pastor with a question he can ask his son about the main point of the week in class and Mom getting an e-mail with ideas of discussion questions the family can use at dinner time about the theme of the month from the family pastor. I see the family ministry and children’s ministry working together, one first being far broader than families with kids – and the latter being far broader than kids with a mom and dad. Where they overlap, there is a lot they do together, but where they don’t, they have learned that merging them leaves too many left neglected. So family ministry reaching far more than a children’s ministry ever could, and children’s ministry reaches more than families ever could. Oh, and on Sundays, the children’s pastor, (this is a role, not necessarily their title) is actually teaching from the Word, with a Bible in hand, and the children are following along in their Bibles, some even underlining, learning to correctly handle the Word of Truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Neither of these futures are automatic, nor will either represent every church. But both will exist in some churches. The question is only which is more likely to more closely represent your church?

What the future of children’s ministry needs most for success is a return to an emphasis on the study of and teaching of the Word of God, and less on making ministry easy for volunteers, attractive to families and processing large groups of children through fun environments. That hasn’t produced disciples who will walk with Jesus for life. The future doesn’t need more technology – it needs deeper and better relationships. If technology can foster more connectivity or methods of relating, that is wonderful. But “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

Karl Bastian, the Kidologist
www.karlbastian.com

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