The biggest mistake we made in the first couple years of our church gives me 20/20 hindsight vision, as it is so clear looking back. We (more like ME) didn’t take children’s ministry seriously enough. Be not mistaken, those who served in our children’s ministry took it very seriously, they are heroes in our church’s story, but as the lead planting pastor, I didn’t push for anywhere near the support for making it flourish like it needed and deserved.
I’ll never forget the comment someone made; “It feels like we have a Ferrari in the worship service and a Pinto in kids.” Sadly, that was an accurate statement. I’m thankful for the first and original team of volunteers in City Church Kids because they did a great job while having no budget, direction, or environment. I often get asked about some of the factors that caused our church to grow in the earlier days. While there were a lot of factors, my first answer to our eventual growth was when we began to take children’s ministry seriously.
I first wanted to plant a church in order to reach my friends, and a majority of my friends have children. It became clear to me that to reach my friends meant we also needed to reach their kids. Realistically, a “Ferrari” won’t be an option at first for a church plant’s children’s ministry, but a Pinto doesn’t have to be the other option. For most churches, Sunday morning is the gateway and front door into the church life. Church plants are likely portable, so not having a Pinto is essential and thankfully there are ways to have a decent car in the parking lot.
Answer questions parents are asking.
There are four questions parents ask about a local church’s children’s ministry. The first two questions they think and don’t actually say out loud as they scan the room with their eyes are, “Is this place safe?” and “Is this place clean?” The other two questions they only ask their kids on the walk to the minivan or on the drive home, “Did you have fun?” and “What did you learn?”
Any church plant can create a ministry where those four important aspects are a reality.
The day you launch the church, budget for children’s ministry.
Take the money you’re thinking about using on business cards, pens with the church logo, paying someone to design that logo, and put the money into children’s ministry. We looked nice out of the gate when we launched. We had good design, a decent website, and a modern feel. Those things did absolutely nothing for the family who would show up to our church service and see us cram kids in a little back room behind the stage (I seriously can’t believe our first group of volunteers still speak to me).
Hire someone to lead the ministry early in the planting process.
Most church plants I know might only be able to compensate someone $50 a week, if they can even compensate anyone at all. Fine, pay that person $50 a week! It places a different level of responsibility on the individual and shows a true commitment to the ministry. Making an effort to pay someone to lead the ministry establishes that the ministry is a priority. I would recommend to first try hiring your best volunteer.
Ask for patience from your core team.
A church plant sounds really great until the people who agreed to come help with this mission actually get started and it isn’t like their old church especially if they come from a very programmed children’s ministry. “We love the church and the mission, we just need something more for our kids.” I’ll bet you a steak at Outback that you will hear that from someone as they walk out the door in the first three months. I guarantee it. Beat them to the punch. Remind the first core group of parents regularly that they are planting something that (near) future families will harvest. Don’t be afraid to challenge people about their view of church and children’s ministry from the past, and invite them to help create something dynamic. This could be a mission trip for their entire family. What an opportunity!
Choose a facility based on children’s ministry.
We left our original portable location solely because of our children’s ministry. The seating was great, parking was suitable, and the auditorium was what we needed for our worship service, but the space and environment for kids was terrible. We were willing to give up a great worship center space in a quality auditorium for a crappy warehouse with horrific acoustics because the new property we were leasing had a storefront we could transform into a kid’s space that was no Pinto.
I NEVER would have done that in the first couple years of the church because I didn’t understand. If you can find a space with a great worship and kids space, fantastic. If you have to choose one or the other, choose a space based on kids. There are always exceptions based on where your church is located, but if you are anywhere remotely suburban or with family neighborhoods, I would always choose a facility based on a sufficient space for a quality children’s ministry.
Realize children’s ministry is not childcare.
It is often a thing that church people expect childcare at every single solitary thing that the church does. Make a precedent that it is not the church’s responsibility to find childcare for people because the children’s ministry is not childcare, it is a ministry. One time I said from stage, “and childcare will be provided” when making an announcement about an event. One of our staff members got ALL OVER ME about it, and it was deserved. She said, “We have worked too hard to ever refer to it as childcare, this is a ministry.” Now we say, “City Church Kids will be open.” If you think of it as childcare, you will get childcare. Childcare won’t provide the most exciting hour of a kid’s week and even more important, childcare won’t point kids to Jesus.
Not viewing children’s ministry as childcare also makes the ministry more intentional about the gospel. We ditched a free and fun curriculum because our team didn’t feel it was gospel centered enough and was only teaching morals. The new curriculum we currently use is theologically faithful, pointing to Christ, but tends to be a little hokey. Our solution has been using the content but creating our own themes and teaching elements to make it fit the culture we’ve created at City Church.
All of this is based on intentionally which goes far beyond childcare. Some of those who serve in our ministry do have a childcare aspect to their role, such as rocking babies in the nursery. This is more missional than about childcare because it allows parents to have peace of mind about their child’s welfare in our kid’s environment while they are hearing the gospel themselves with other adults in the worship service. A quality children’s ministry thinks about every detail and sees every aspect from a missional viewpoint.
Connect families by caring about kids.
I believe that in most church planting situations, taking children’s ministry seriously is essential for connecting people to the church. The scope of reach extends beyond the children to the entire family and begins with the simple idea that the kids would love their church. We’ve been told, “This isn’t really our style, but our kids just love being here.” It doesn’t take a large church budget to make this happen, but it does take a focused effort that may require saying no to other areas of ministry in order to leverage the limited resources of a church plant into something that can connect people to the life of the local church and ultimately, the gospel. We have a joke that is kind of true and it’s that our children’s ministry staff is never told no. It is never too late to re-launch what you are doing to connect families, so do it today!