Going into my last children’s pastorate, I definitely had several red flags to consider. I was the eighth children’s pastor in eight years. There were not enough volunteers to manage even the kids we had left. We had resistance, distrust and seven different curriculums in use!
Yet, in less than one year, the kids’ church attendance doubled. Many fantastic new volunteers came on board to join the loyal diehards who had stayed with us. Parent participation was at an all-time high. And the question I got asked time after time by children’s leaders and lead pastors: “How did it happen? What’s the ‘secret’ to growing kids’ church attendance?”
Amid the many changes we had to make that year (and the years to follow), which change was most instrumental in fueling growth? Most leaders expect me to answer that we grew because of a trendy new curriculum, or a brand-new cutting-edge facility, adding or cutting programs, or implementing a forced parent co-op. Or you may be expecting me to say “prayer” or “teaching the Bible” — and yes those things are essential to any kids ministry. But I feel like saying “just pray and your church will grow” is a bit insulting because it presumes that churches that are growing less do not pray enough and that growing churches must be praying more. Prayer and Scripture are crucial! And best practices sure help as well.
What is the one thing that grew our kids’ church the most? Training the children to lead their own service.
What do I mean by that? We trained-in children to run our sound/lighting boards; be in the kids’ worship team (which progressed into a live worship team); pray with others on our altar team; participate in puppetry, drama, and dance teams; serve as greeters, new-child buddies, and more. We announced that the end goal for kids’ church was for every person to have a living relationship with Jesus and to express their love for Jesus by using their gifts to serve others. We taught that each one of us is unique and treasured by God; we each have gifts to bring.
The kids knew this was THEIR service. They are the church NOW, not just in the future. Right away, kids were signing up to be on various teams. Then they started bringing their friends to see them do their skit, or sing, etc. And soon the parents began coming in too, and signing up to serve, because they wanted their kids to be a part of something worthwhile. Kids WANT to be a part, to participate. They want to serve, right now.
This changed everything about how we did ministry. It meant a whole lot more work on our part — weekly rehearsals with the different teams of kids, recruiting talented adults to work with the kids in their areas of gifting, reworking programs to allow the kids to be a part of it (adding a live skit, puppet song, dance number, etc.). For me, it meant that I had to let go of the illusion of being “in control” and having the “perfect” kids’ church. I had to listen to the kids’ ideas and give them chances — even if it wasn’t “perfect.” I finally realized that if I did a great “Trisha show” and the kids were very quiet and all they took home was, “Trisha was great” — I had failed. If we had a not-so-perfect service, but the kids were participating and went home saying “Jesus is great!” — we all won.
I am convinced that when children turn 18, they will continue to do what they have been doing all along in our churches. Do we want them to be adults who sit quietly and do nothing (we have plenty of those already) or do we want adults who can’t wait to participate in THEIR service, use their gifts, and bring their friends? It takes time to change the paradigm from “Adults talk — you kids sit and listen and don’t speak” to “We are all the church together. Let’s all serve God and others today!”
It’s a lot more complicated to put together a service that way, but it is so worth it, right now and into the future.You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 40