Five essentials for thriving children's ministry, Picture of boy with watering can.
Principles

Five Essentials For Thriving Children’s Ministry

Is your children’s ministry thriving, surviving, or declining?

According to Deuteronomy 6:1-9, there are five essentials for thriving children’s ministry:

1. Children’s ministry thrives when it’s relational.

Strong vertical and horizontal relationships are vital for a child’s faith formation.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength – Deuteronomy 6:5.

Note the phrase “love the Lord.” Faith formation is heart-motivated and heart-shaped. Salvation is an indispensable step in a child’s spiritual journey. We should never equate a child’s participation in a program with a child’s conversion. Nor should we assume a child is a Christian because they know some Bible stories or come from a Christian home. Children’s ministry flourishes when it identifies and prioritizes preaching and teaching that invites children to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus and love Him with all that’s in them and all they’ve got.

Children … honour your father and mother – Ephesians 6:1-2.

Note the phrase “your father and mother.” Faith formation mainly happens in the family. The single most important social influence on the spiritual lives of children is their parents (or primary caregivers). A thriving children’s ministry doesn’t take the leading role in the discipleship of children. It supports parents by equipping them to permeate faith into the daily rhythms of family life.

Love your neighbour as yourself – Mark 12:31.

Note the phrase “love your neighbour.” Children’s ministry should be one another orientated. Healthy children’s ministry actively incorporates and integrates people of all age groups and all sorts of diversity into the rites and rituals of the church. We should never marginalize children from the church’s mission or deprive them of intergenerational relationships. Nor should we exclude them from involvement in regular church meetings or activities.

Healthy children's ministry actively incorporates and integrates people of all age groups into the rites and rituals of the church. Click To Tweet

2. Children’s ministry thrives when it’s biblical.

God’s Word does God’s work. Receiving, reflecting, remembering and responding to God’s Word is crucial for a child’s faith formation. If children are going to have a relationship with Christ that runs deep, we must immerse them in the Word.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children Deuteronomy 6:6-7.

Note the phrase “impress them on your children.” Belief matters! Connecting children with Jesus and His Story is crucial for children’s ministry to thrive. Bible engagement isn’t an option – it’s an imperative. One of the most important things parents, teachers, and pastors can do is help children develop a biblical worldview that informs their values and directs their actions.

There should be no hypocrisy gaps in children’s ministry. To engage children with the Word, children’s ministry leaders must personally engage with the Word. As Eugene Peterson paraphrased in The Message, the task is to first “Get them (the Scriptures) inside of you and then get them inside your children.”

If children are going to have a relationship with Christ that runs deep, we must immerse them in the Word. Click To Tweet

3. Children’s ministry thrives when it’s conversational.

A vibrant children’s ministry cultivates reflective dialogue about Christian faith and practice.

Talk about them (the Scriptures) when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up – Deuteronomy 6:7.

Note the phrase “talk about them.” Children’s identities, convictions, and spiritual resilience are nurtured through discussions about faith.

Spiritual conversations need to be nurtured. To foster intergenerational connections in local churches, we must teach adults how to ask children open-ended questions, listen actively, hold eye contact, affirm a child’s contribution, pay attention to details, genuinely relate, and include Jesus in the discussion.

We should also teach parents how to develop their children’s critical thinking skills and help them find answers to faith questions online.

Children's identities, convictions, and spiritual resilience are nurtured through discussions about faith. Click To Tweet

4. Children’s ministry thrives when it’s experiential.

A Chinese proverb says, “Tell me, and I’ll forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me, and I’ll understand.”

Tie them (the Scriptures) as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates – Deuteronomy 6:8-9.

Note the phrase “tie them as symbols on your hands.” Experiences are another key to stimulating children’s faith formation. Faith should be taught and caught. Children learn through reflection on doing—children’s ministry blossoms when it involves children in hands-on learning. Giving children frequent opportunities to engage their senses and interact with what they see and hear accelerates their faith formation. On the other hand, when children’s ministry doesn’t incorporate experiential activities, children soon become demotivated or disengaged.

Children's ministry blossoms when it involves children in hands-on learning. Click To Tweet

5. Children’s ministry thrives when it’s practical.

Actions speak louder than words. Successful children’s ministry focuses on application.

(Teach God’s Word) so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life – Deuteronomy 6:2.

Note the phrase “keeping all his decrees and commands.” The objective isn’t theoretical Christians with big heads – it’s teaching children to love and obey God. Children’s ministry can be relationally focused, prioritize God’s Word, cultivate conversations, and facilitate experiential learning, but it falls short if it doesn’t help children to walk the talk. However, when children’s ministry equips children to imitate Jesus with real actions in actual circumstances, it fulfills what God intended. Thus for children’s ministry to thrive, its methodology must culminate in children living holistically for Jesus both inside and outside the walls of the church.

When children's ministry equips children to imitate Jesus with real actions in actual circumstances, it fulfills what God intended. Click To Tweet

These five essentials should be part and parcel of every children’s ministry. Dr. Seuss’ protagonist villain, the Once-Ler, said, “It’s not about what it is. It’s about what it can become.” If your church isn’t highlighting these things, don’t delay in resetting, realigning and restarting with a new strategy.

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© Scripture Union, 2023

2 Corinthians 4:5

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