The COVID pandemic has revealed some previously hidden spiritual weaknesses in our churches. As we assess the damage and take steps to lead our churches to better spiritual health, we must not overlook the health of our children and children’s ministries. We wouldn’t be the first to make that fatal mistake.
Why Is a Healthy Children’s Ministry Essential?
After Joshua and his generation occupied the promised land, openly affirmed their commitment to serve the Lord (Joshua 24:4-28), and faithfully did so (Judges 2:6-7), they died, and the next generation of leaders emerged (Judges 2:8-10).
That next generation did not know the Lord or what he had done for them. What went wrong? Clearly, Joshua and his generation failed to pass on their faith to their children. The gospel is always just one generation away from extinction.
How could this have happened? Certainly, it wasn’t the intention of Joshua and his generation to neglect the next generation. Quite possibly they were busy conquering their new land, establishing homes, planting crops, building defenses, and focusing on “adult” life.
What were the results of failing to pass on their faith to the next generation?
- They did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the false gods of the culture (Judges 2:11-13). Sound familiar?
- The anger of the Lord burned against them (Judges 2:14a).
- They lacked the strength to withstand their enemies (Judges 2:14b). It isn’t that they would not stand against their enemies; they could not stand against them.
- They were sorely distressed (Judges 2:15). Post-pandemic depression and anxiety rates among youth (25.2%) and children (20.5%) are staggering.
- They continually succumbed to the temptation of worshipping other gods (Judges 2:16-19). Our culture offers a multitude of false gods for our children to pursue.
- They missed out on God’s very best for them (Judges 2:20-23). Today, we refer to it as FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.
Can you see the parallels between the 300-year period of the Judges when everyone did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25) and what we see in our next generation? Alarming, aren’t they? If we truly love the children in our churches, we must not overlook their faith development.
Building a Healthy Children’s Ministry that Produces Healthy Children
Although responsibility for the spiritual health of the next generation lies primarily with their parents, those parents and families need the support and involvement of their faith community, the church. Churches need to invest in those who directly lead and teach the next generation, namely, volunteers. What can we do to recruit, train, and value them so they will eagerly and faithfully serve for many years?
- Recruit well. The higher our volunteer retention rate is, the less recruiting we will need to do.
- Cast a compelling vision. Time is precious and people volunteer where they can make a difference.
- Raise volunteer requirements. Lowering them does not attract more volunteers, it cheapens the value of ministry to children.
- Honestly communicate roles, expectations, responsibilities, time, and duration.
- Leverage ministry events, like VBS, to identify people who love ministry to children and approach them about continuing to serve in other ways.
- Contact people personally. General appeals, for example church bulletin or pulpit announcements, have very limited effectiveness.
- Remember that this is God’s ministry, and he will provide the right people for the right roles. Distinguish between his responsibilities and yours; let him do his, you do yours, and don’t take on his responsibilities because they will crush you.
- Equip for effectiveness. Give volunteers the training they need to serve with confidence and enjoyment. Don’t consider training to be unnecessary.
- Give volunteers the resources they need to serve well.
- Constantly cast vision so volunteers see their part in what God is doing.
- Offer a trial period to see if the volunteer is in the right role. They will continue serving with enjoyment if they are in their “sweet spot.”
- Continue supporting volunteers.
- Meet before ministries begin to cast vision and pray.
- Check often on volunteers.
- Show interest in them as people, not just as volunteers.
- Build community among volunteers so they don’t feel isolated.
- Provide ongoing training via videos, “lunch and learns,” volunteer newsletters.
- Provide mentorships of new volunteers by experienced ones.
- Learn their names and get to know them as people.
- Connect with them beyond asking them to serve.
- Show grace when they are not able to serve; don’t make them feel guilty.
- Invite volunteers to be part of the decision-making for their ministries so they feel ownership.
- Give them time off to refresh.
- Appreciate and affirm volunteers throughout the year.
- Volunteers don’t HAVE to serve so appreciate them.
- Frequently share stories of changed lives so they hear how their ministries matter.
- Appreciation can be shown in small ways (e.g. personal notes, small gifts)
- End-of-the-year gatherings of volunteers expand the vision and scope of the ministry and build motivation to continue serving.
- Don’t refer to them as “volunteers”; we call them “Ministry Partners.” Another church calls them “Disciple Makers.” What you call them reveals how you look at them.
Don’t Overlook Your Children’s Ministry
With so many aspects of our churches’ ministries demanding our time and attention, it is easy for us to unintentionally overlook the health of our children’s ministries. If Joshua and his generation could make that mistake, so could we.
Judges 2:6-23 clearly warns us about the dangers of neglecting the spiritual health of the next generation.We are already seeing evidences of these dangers.Make time to assess the spiritual health of your children’s ministry.Determine ways that you can provide a stronger and more spiritually healthy children’s ministry team to lead and teach the children God has entrusted to your care.
Don’t delay; the future of our next generation is hanging in the balance right now.