Ordinary Time is a good season to connect our neighbors to our congregants and congregations.
According to the Christian calendar, we are in the midst of Ordinary Time — a time when many Christians focus on discipleship and our identity as the sent people of God. This is a good opportunity for congregations to reflect upon the ways in which they are bearing witness to the King and his kingdom in their neighborhoods. Many GCI congregations have planned Love Avenue events in the summer months and are preparing to deepen their community connections. In an effort to connect our neighbors to our congregants and congregations, we should not overlook the ministry that new people often look for first.
In a 2022 report released by the Barna Group titled, Children’s Ministry in a New Reality, data suggests that for parents of children aged 5-14, a quality children’s ministry was the most important factor in choosing a new congregation. Even when non-parents are put into the mix, 51% of congregants see children’s ministry as the most important ministry of their congregation. When churches engage in Love Avenue activities, they typically have a hope that some people would choose to visit the Sunday gathering. However, without ministry offerings for children, many families will not consider visiting, no matter how much they enjoy the Love Avenue event.
For the congregations who are praying for God to grow their church, it is important to pay attention to data like this. Of course, the Spirit can do as he wills and God can do the miraculous. However, Jesus advises us to also be practical and consider our times. Notice his words in Matthew 16:
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:1-3 NIV)
The Barna Group’s data gives us one of the signs of the times. What are we to do with this information? For congregations without a children’s ministry, the key next step is to get prepared; begin to develop a plan to disciple any young people the Holy Spirit may guide to you. If you do not have someone – preferably a team – gifted and willing to disciple children, start by getting your congregation to pray for God to send the right people. At the same time, begin researching curriculum resources, looking for one that matches the personality of your congregation and your available resources. The idea is that when a child comes through your doors, you are ready to swing into action. Consider visiting congregations with thriving children’s ministries; this is a great way to learn best practices. Here are some children’s ministry resources, many of which align with the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). GCI is not formally endorsing any of these curriculums, so congregations should do their due diligence when choosing resources.
Resources for children and teens aligned to the RCL:
- Spark House curricula
- Ministry to Children
- Trinitarian Children’s Lessons
- Sermons 4 Kids
- Age-graded resources: a catalog with links to books, articles, websites, and curricula to use in discipling children, teens, young adults, older adults and families (including parenting and marriage)
Congregations with children’s ministries should make sure it is of the highest quality possible. A great place to start is to survey your parents and children about their experiences. Also, make sure your children and youth have lots of opportunities to practice their faith and demonstrate what they are learning about Jesus. It is a good idea to have children’s ministry leaders attend conferences, networking groups, and other opportunities to learn about best practices. Additionally, make sure the community knows about your children’s ministry. Is your children’s ministry prominently displayed on your website and social media platforms? What about in the materials about your congregation? If a children’s ministry is one of the first things people look for when learning about your congregation, make sure the information is easy to be found.
When it comes to children’s ministry, the most important outcome of interpreting “the signs of the times” is that the children God brings into our path will feel seen and connected to Jesus. All the strategies in this article fall apart if we are motivated by increasing our numbers instead of loving our neighbors. I pray that the love of God compels you to help your children and youth experience that same love.
Generations Ministries Coordinator