Jesus’ interaction with children from Matthew 19:13-15 is an instructive passage for churches today. You remember the story. Parents were bringing their children to Jesus, and the disciples were sending them away. Jesus rebuked his disciples and received the children. It is obvious from Jesus’ example that he cares deeply about younger generations.
As our culture moves to become decidedly more post-Christian, churches will have some challenging issues to address—not the least of which is how they will introduce children and students to Jesus. Churches need to be willing to adapt in order to effectively invite children and young people to Jesus. Following are five principles for inviting children to meet Jesus in a shifting culture.
Value People More Than Programs
Churches that value people more than programs will have the chance to succeed in introducing more children to Jesus. You’re likely familiar with the last words of a dying church, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Programs have life cycles. There is a reason they worked so well in the past or in a different context. Programs (especially children’s programs) should be allowed to die, replaced or adapted to fit the dynamics of your church’s context. People and their growth in Christ matter much more than allegiance to a failing program.
Recognize and Adapt
Churches that recognize the shifting nature of culture and are willing to adapt their methods will be more effective in children’s ministry. Like the previous principle, methods of reaching and teaching children will change. The message of the gospel never changes, but methods and their medium for delivery change all the time. Paul never imagined teaching from a printed book. Luther couldn’t dream of using a flannelgraph. My grandfather, a Baptist pastor, would have balked at the idea of a screen in a church. But the changing methods over the years do not require a change in the content of the gospel. Churches need to realize that quickening pace of technology changes and adapt their methods accordingly.
Disciple to Disciple
Churches that disciple parents will disciple the generations. One method of reaching children that will never change is to reach and disciple their parents. Parents exert more influence on the spiritual lives of children than anyone else. The single best strategy for introducing children to Jesus is training their parents to do so. Churches that strategically disciple parents to disciple their children will have intergenerational influence for the kingdom of God.
Adopting a Legacy Strategy
Churches that adopt a legacy strategy will leverage the influence of parents and grandparents. Grandparents have always played an important part of a child’s development. I am seeing more and more grandparents become the primary caretakers of their grandchildren. By equipping grandparents to teach and disciple their grandchildren, churches can extend their legacy into future generations.
Engage Passionate Leaders
Churches that engage passionate leaders in the early stages of a child’s life will reap a lifetime of rewards. Churches should recruit the best teachers and most gifted volunteers to serve with children and student ministries. A church’s investment in young people can be clearly seen by the quality of adults serving in these key areas. If your children and student volunteers are essentially functioning as religious-babysitter-childcare-workers, then your church needs new volunteers.
Children and student volunteers should be excited about the potential to influence young people for eternity. Pastors, whether or not you have a staff member or lay leader responsible for your children’s ministry, it is your job to passionately equip adults to serve in children’s ministry. The future, and present, of your church depends upon it.
What other principles or suggestions would you recommend for promoting children and student ministries at your church?
Featured image is a screen-grab from the Story of Jesus for Children (CRU).