In a recent interview surrounding my new book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker), I made the statement that the most important sub-ministry of any church is its children’s ministry.
And I believe that to the core of my being.
As I write in one of the chapters in my book, here’s why:
When our kids were young, my family and I went to a church while on our summer study break; it was a new church, very small, that was meeting in a movie theatre. How can I say this...it was one of the most programming challenged services I've ever attended. It was so bad, that we were looking at our watches five minutes after the service started. When the service mercifully ended, we wanted to get out of there and never return. I know, that isn’t very gracious and I should have been focused more on worshiping Jesus and...
…you would have wanted to leave too.
But when we went to pick up our kids, they were having an absolute blast. They didn't want to leave! There was a couple who had just poured themselves into that ministry, and made it really, really good. I still recall how they had transformed a meager space into a time-machine with special-effects music that took the kids “back” into Bible times. New kids, such as ours, we’re treated extra special and taken to a treasure chest full of small toys from which they could choose, just for coming the first time.
We went to some of the “best” churches in the area that summer, but our kids pleaded with us to take them back to the one we could barely stand.
Now if I lived there, and felt compelled to find a church home as a father of four, do you think I would have at least given that church another try? You can count on it. Most parents would.
Here's the lesson: You can drop the ball in the service, but ace it with the kids, and still have a chance that they'll return. But no matter how good the service is, if the children's ministry is bad, they won't come back - unless they're people without children.
Too many people treat children’s ministry as a necessary evil. It’s severely underfunded, understaffed, and underappreciated.
Wake up. Children are the heart of your growth engine.
And if a “none” ever were to come to your church uninvited, it would probably be for the sake of their kids. And if a “none” comes because they were invited, what you do with their children will be a deal-breaker.
In other words, you live and die by the strength of your children’s ministry. I know, you’re thinking they shouldn’t make such consumer decisions. But you’re forgetting they aren’t Christ-followers; all they have is consumerism. And meeting their needs in this way isn’t compromising the gospel one bit.
It’s being strategic.
And, I might add, it’s bringing the message of the gospel, in age-appropriate ways, to the lives of those kids.
So I’ll say it again: Your church’s children’s ministry is the most important sub-ministry in the life of your church.
Now, start treating it that way.
James Emery White
James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).