How do we reach and minister to kids and teenagers when our church doesn’t have any?: 9 strategies
There are unique challenges, but there are also unique opportunities for youth and children’s ministry in an aging or declining congregation. In light of this reality, let’s get practical and consider nine core strategies to help you develop and build a healthy, Biblical ministry to kids and teenagers.
Core Strategy #1: Keep the vision in front of people. Maybe there are some major challenges that look like roadblocks to you at the moment. Perhaps you think there is no point in creating and communicating a vision to your people because there are so few kids and young families at your church. Please hear this: they are not going to come if you don't begin to function as though they're already there. For example, as leaders and as a congregation, you have to begin approaching Sunday morning with the mindset that you are prepared to minister effectively to any young family that walks through the doors. Again, you are not trying to be the big church down the street, you want to be the best version of your church that you can be: a church that loves kids and teenagers. In time, as young families begin to show up to your church, be prepared to share your church’s vision for ministering to families just like theirs.
Of course, there are many different opportunities for you to share this vision in your church. Sunday morning sermons, congregational meetings, new members classes, baby dedications, youth baptisms, these are all opportunities to share the vision of wanting to reach children and teenagers with the Gospel. Remember, young families are walking into your church, and what they're wondering is, “Does this church even want us here? Do they want little kiddos that are going to be screaming and crying? Do they want teenagers around who are kind of messy?” It is crucial that you communicate boldly and lovingly, “Yes! We want you! We want you like the Lord wants you. We want you to be part of this church and what we're doing.”Constantly keeping this vision in front of people is critical.
Core Strategy #2: Keep programming simple with excellence. Simple with excellence. Again, a large church can pull off all kinds of programs. Smaller churches simply can’t do that. And it's ok. What we need to do is keep our programming simple and to do whatever we do with excellence. By excellence, I mean all-around excellence. Not just quality in the event itself, but also quality of relational care and the Gospel-centric nature and motivation of the program. We want to create “potent” events. In other words, we want Jesus to be potent, and we want the Gospel to be potent in the programming that we do.
The bottom line is we can't do a million programs, but we can do a few things, simply and with excellence. Frankly, this is a much better way to go than trying to do a bunch of programs poorly. Do what you can well.
Core Strategy #3: Focus on relational ministry. When trying to grow a youth and children's ministry, it's all about relationally caring for the child, the teenager, and their parents. If you only have 10 kids or so at your church, there's no excuse for why you can't make each and every one of them feel so loved and encouraged that they know without a doubt they are an important part of your church family. And if you're faithful with a few, the Lord will trust you with more! But you've got to take care of the few that you have first. Instead of being upset or disappointed in all the kids your congregation doesn’t have, be thankful for the few the Lord has given you. Care for them well.
Core Strategy #4: Show off-the-charts hospitality. This one is very practical. When young families begin to show up, work to provide an environment for their kids that is warm and inviting. As I mentioned before, adding some fresh paint, new furniture, and playing some fun, energetic music can help create an amazing environment for youth and children. We’re not trying to be some cool church in doing these things, we are simply trying to show over-the-top hospitality to young families. This is love in action that will make an impact.
Think about the hospitality you show in your home when you're having folks over for dinner. I hope you've thought about the environment you want to create for the evening. You probably want your guests to feel welcomed and loved and comfortable as they come into your home. We want the same thing in our churches. We need to make off-the-charts hospitality a top priority.
Core Strategy #5: Get parents plugged in. Once again, this is one of the great strengths in church revitalization. We can get parents really involved in the ministry of their kids. You don't have a million volunteers; instead, the parents are the volunteers. And that's a good thing! In fact, it's a beautiful thing if you lean into it. You should start with parents who are already very involved in their children's lives, and care deeply about their spiritual health and growth. These parents will be crucial in sharing the vision and helping to build a ministry that ministers to all kids in your church with excellence.
From the beginning of your ministry, you want to create a church culture that encourages parents to be heavily involved in the youth and children’s ministry. Here's why: while mom and dad are to be the primary spiritual leaders of their kids, in the church, they also have a responsibility to care for the souls of other young people. God’s design for discipleship involves both the home and the church working together hand in hand. Kids need both. So do adults. It’s a beautiful design.
Core Strategy #6: Involve the entire church body in some way. Be thinking about different ways you can get the congregation involved, on some level, in your ministry to children and teenagers. Now, this doesn't mean every person in your church will be in a classroom with kids, but it means they are serving in some way. It may mean they're helping paint a wall in the nursery, or helping to fix the bathrooms in the kids' wing, or driving a group of teenagers to church camp in the summer. Be regularly asking the question, “What are some different ways we can get this entire church involved in this ministry?” Your ministry to youth and children will be most effective when the whole congregation feels a sense of ownership of it. This means trying to get everyone involved in some way.
Begin by looking for those men and women who just naturally are drawn to and relate well with kids. Likewise, look for those who the kids are naturally drawn to. You may find that these individuals have never even had a vision for being involved in youth or children's ministry. This can be especially true of older folks in the church. Many times, our seniors just assume that only young people are needed for these ministries, when the truth is we need godly people in there! We need people who love children and teenagers in there! Again, you want to involve parents, but you also want to involve the rest of the congregation. The church body needs to own this ministry and be excited about it.
Core Strategy #7: Emphasize home discipleship. Deuteronomy 6 displays a deep, theological conviction that discipleship at home matters. There are many other passages throughout Scripture that emphasize the same thing. This is why home discipleship must be one of the chief strategies in your church revitalization efforts. It is crucial to help families understand that home discipleship isn’t simply another church program. It is a mandate to moms and dads from the Lord Himself.
For this reason, you need to strategize for how your church is going to equip parents to be the primary disciplers of their kids in their home. Most parents have never been instructed in this, nor did they grow up in homes where this kind of discipleship was modeled for them by their own parents. As pastors and church leaders, we must equip them in this. In my experience, so many Christian parents are longing to be trained in how to disciple their children, as they see in the Word. Work to build a culture where home discipleship is a priority among your people.
Core Strategy #8: Make it safe. Make it safe. It’s as simple as that. Make. It. Safe. This is so important. If families are coming to your church, you're going to want to go over the top with hospitality, with love, and with encouragement, but you must also make sure they feel this is a safe place for their kids. We can’t be naive and take the approach of “Hey, trust us! We know everybody, we love each other, and we're a very safe church!” Listen, those outside of your church don't know anything about you, which is why you must communicate not only that your church is safe, but that you have developed safety and security policies to assure it.
Jared Kennedy, pastor of families at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, helpfully recommends the following in regard to safety and security essentials :
Run complete background checks on all children's ministry volunteers in addition to completed applications, completed training on guidelines, and volunteering interviews.
Provide clearly marked registration areas where registration information is collected and a name tag and accompanying ID number can be asigned to each child for pick up. Volunteers must never release a child to a parent or family member without the proper ID tag or other appropriate identification.
All volunteers need to have some sort of identification. This may be as simple as nametags, or it may include a smock or t-shirt with the church logo.
Post and train volunteers on emergency policies, evacuation plans, diapering procedures, room schedules, and classroom-cleaning procedures. Toys, cribs, and other things that little hands and mouths touch should be washed or sanitized after each use.
Post and follow appropriate volunteer/child ratios. Volunteers must never be alone with a child.
Never give children food that has not been approved by parents. Allergies can be deadly.
There is nothing more important than making sure kids are safe in our churches. Do all that you can to make sure children, teenagers, and their parents experience this firsthand.
Core Strategy #9: Balance good content with good fun. If there is one thing we must get right in youth and children’s ministry, it is assuring that the content we are teaching kids is biblically and theologically solid. For this reason, we need to regularly ask, “What are we feeding these little lambs?” Content is crucial; it needs to be solid food. However, some churches only care about this – it's content, content, content. As a result, kids don't want to be there, mainly because they don't enjoy it. This should never be.
It’s important when building a ministry to children and teenagers to balance good content with good fun. These two things should not be at odds, but rather work together hand in hand. Helping kids see and experience the JOY of the Lord, should be one of our greatest desires and aims. I can tell you this: vibrant, healthy, growing youth and children's ministries balance content with fun, all in a safe, relational, joy-filled environment. We're not trying to be Disneyland, but we want to communicate that following Jesus is not drudgery – it's a joy to follow the Lord! And we want to help kids catch this joy! The type of environments we create, the content we teach, and the way we lead it all will have a major impact on the spiritual lives of the young people the Lord entrusts to our shepherding care. Balancing good content with good fun is key to doing this well.
The most important thing to remember: The power of prayer. Only God can help an aging or declining church begin to minister effectively to children, teenagers, and their families. All the strategies above are fine strategies, but without the power of God, without the power of the Holy Spirit moving through your people and in the hearts of young families in your community, none of this is going to produce the fruit that we long to see. Being thankful and prayerful ultimately makes us hopeful for what the Lord can do. And we need hope. Without hope, we will never move forward in radical faith. May the Lord fill us with the hope and faith we need to be churches that love teenagers, love children, and love families, doing whatever it takes to reach them and minister to them effectively for the glory of God.
 Jared Kennedy, “Four Essentials For Children’s Ministry In Your Church Plant,” gospelcenteredfamily.com, accessed November 8, 2017, https://gospelcenteredfamily.com/blog/childrens-ministry-church-planting.