This blog piece is the second in a series of blog articles on developing and sustaining an effective children’s ministry. See the first in the series -‘Becoming a Leader of Leaders in Disciple-Making. We’re thankful for Sandy Galea, for her generosity in offering this important series for publishing on the E.M website as part of her commitment to see children’s ministry grow and flourish across all churches.
As well as reading this series we highly recommend viewing her amazing children’s ministry resources on her ‘Kidswise‘ website.
If a church has children, then it has a ministry to children – even before any program is established, any leadership team raised, any curriculum sourced, any resource bought. And the primary way a church establishes an effective children’s ministry is by equipping the primary shepherds of children – their parents.
Too often the opposite is the case. Parents come way down the list of priorities when it comes to establishing an effective ministry to children. Parents, at best, are in our peripheral vision.
Scripture however places parents front and centre. Deuteronomy 6 instructs parents to make God inescapable in the family home. To talk with your children, to impress, to write, to bind… and to do it morning, noon and night. Parents’ primary ministry is to raise their children to fear and love the Lord.
A study across a number of US Evangelical Churches  found that 96% of parents agreed or strongly agreed that they were the primary shepherds of their children (11% said the church, 1% said the school). However, 35 % of parents surveyed said they’d not read or discussed the Bible with their children more than a couple of times in the last month. Another 20% said they’d not done it at all in the last month.
Australian Evangelical Churches tend to have similar trends to our US counterparts. If this is the case, then we (like the US), have a significant percentage of parents who know they are the primary shepherds but are doing very little about it. The result of such disparity can result in guilt. And guilt tends to paralyze rather than motivate us to action.
So how do we address this guilt and help our parents become the God-given shepherds scripture intends them to be?
The person who has the most significant voice in any church is the Senior Pastor. He is the one who not only shapes a church’s attitude to children, but shapes parents’ understanding of their privileged position. So preaching, that regularly addresses the shepherding of children and seeks to illustrate what shepherding looks like, is vital. Ministry to children by parents needs to be addressed from the pulpit.
Secondly, we need to ask… do we, in anyway, encourage parents to abdicate their role as shepherds to us?
For the past 24 years our pattern has been to have a children’s spot in our family services that unpacks the passage being taught that day (our school age children’s program follows the adult sermon series). My primary aim of the children’s spot has been to equip parents – to give them the language with which to discuss the big idea of that section of scripture with their children. This purpose was clear in my head. However, as I found out recently, it was not as clear in the minds of the majority of parents in our church.
I asked parents why we had a children’s spot in church each week. Parents said things like… because the children like it, it engages the children, it teaches the children… I pointed out we could do the children’s spot (which is always a story) in Children’s Church and achieve the same thing. It was interesting that not one parent said, the children’s spot in church helps me teach my child… This was what I’d hoped to hear.
All these years I thought I was equipping parents – giving them the language with which to talk with their children. All the while, parents were sitting back, thankful that their children were being taught by others. So how do we move parents from a passive to an active position?
I realized I needed to state (and repeatedly state) why we do what we do. What purpose were we hoping to achieve?
So at the beginning of this year, instead of the children’s spot addressing children, I addressed the parents and listed all the ways we seek to support, resource and equip them.
- I began by stating why we do children’s spots in church each week… to equip them with child friendly language they can use to unpack that passage of scripture… to tell a story they can discuss as a family that teaches the big idea…
- Each term we produce a Parent Newsletter . The Newsletters have a Ten Tipssection addressing a specific area of shepherding (usually tied to what we’re teaching that term). For example: Ten Tips On Developing A Generous Heart In Your Child for term we looked at the book of Philippians.
- A variety of helpful resources are listed at the bottom of each Ten Tips and these are made available each term on our church’s bookstall.
- Each Newsletter poses the same question… Why not ask your child what they’ve been learning or discuss the Children’s Talk with your child on the way home from church?
- The term we looked at the book of Genesis, I e-mailed parents the question of the week (questions asked by children aged 8 to 11). The aim was for children, with the help of their parents, to read Genesis looking for the answer.
- This year we began to produce a monthly Bible Reading Plan for each age group based on the passages the children were looking at in Children’s Church. 
- Recordings of memory verses being taught in each age group are e-mailed to parents. Parents are encouraged to download them and help their children learn them.
- Both Toddlers (18 months to 2 year olds) and Pre-schoolers (3 and 4 year olds) take home scrapbooks full of the Bible stories they’ve been taught and the craft they’ve done for each story. A homemade Bible parents can read with their children.
Think intentionally about resourcing and equipping parents and remind them repeated why you’re doing it.
Then get good at good gossip. Passing on stories (with permission) of when families are impacted. For example, one Mum shared recently she’d always struggled to regularly read the Bible and pray with her children. Since using the Bible Reading Plans, her children now refuse to go to bed until they’ve read the Bible story listed on the plan, prayed and checked it off each night. What a great bedtime problem to have! Sharing stories like these helps other parents see how they too can use these resources to help their own children develop a daily devotional life.
The list above is only just beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do in our church.
I recently heard of a Children’s Minister in New Zealand who is systematically visiting every family in her church to discuss how her team can help each parent best disciple their own children. What a great idea! To sit with parents and hear first hand how best to support and equip them for this vital ministry!
 Youth & Children’s Ministry by Sarie King for Effective Ministry, page 13-14.
 Parenting Newsletters are available on the MBM web site. If helpful, I’m happy for the Ten Tips to be used in non-profit church publications, as long the copyright information remains attached.