Writer’s Note: though my purpose in this article is to advocate for greater involvement in children’s ministry, I want to be clear that churches should not sacrifice strict safety precautions for the sake of getting more volunteers. Proper measures (background checks, an identification system, clear guidelines, accountability, etc.) should always be prioritized for the sake of children’s safety in our churches.
In my last three churches, it’s been like pulling teeth to get members to volunteer in children’s ministry. Perhaps this is true of all churches. Regardless, I have taught children over the last ten years because it’s usually an area of great need within the church.
I’m going to be honest. I don’t feel a special call to children’s ministry. I often volunteer solely because few others will do it. I’ve not always served joyfully. But something recently convicted me of this attitude and changed my perspective.
A few weeks ago, my pastor’s sermon led me to reflect on my testimony. I grew up in the church and heard the gospel many times as a young child.
I understood that I was a sinner, that Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient payment for my sins, and his resurrection secured eternal life for those who believe in him. I believed and was baptized at nine years old.
By God’s grace, I’ve not strayed from that young faith, and the Lord continues to sanctify me as I learn more about and seek to obey him.
My salvation is largely a result of my parents’ and grandparents’ influence. But I also have the testimony I do because of the children’s ministry at the church in which I grew up.
It’s sad that at thirty years old—with almost ten years of lackluster volunteering in children’s ministry under my belt—I am just now recognizing the vital role children’s ministry played in my life.
The fact is, many of us benefitted as young children from the adults who volunteered to teach us about God, Jesus, and the Bible. So let’s consider why we should participate in children’s ministry ourselves and how to involve others.
Children are a valuable part of our church.
The Bible speaks to parents about how to raise their children and of children’s value in general. Children are blessings from the Lord—like arrows in a quiver (Psalm 127). Scripture instructs parents to teach their children God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 6:7), to discipline them (Proverbs 13:24), to raise them in the training of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
Though the disciples rebuked people for bringing their children to see Jesus, Jesus welcomed the children and exhorted his disciples not to hinder them (Matthew 19). Children worshipped Jesus in the temple (Matthew 21).
Parents may be the primary disciplers of their children, but they’re not alone in this work. Disciple-making is a communal effort—a responsibility given to the church as a whole.
As families join our churches or existing members have children, we have the opportunity to raise up new believers and make disciples of children within our church. The Lord is sovereign over their salvation, but we play our part by sharing the gospel with them.
Consider the implications of those who come to Christ at a young age.
Every testimony is a miracle and testament to the glory of Jesus. The Lord is the one who saves, and not all believers were saved as a young child. Many of us know someone who was baptized as a child, but was not genuinely saved until later in life.
But let’s not let those instances distract us from the fact that children are, in fact, capable of understanding the gospel and being genuinely saved at a young age. Our churches’ children’s ministries give us the privilege of preaching the gospel to children.
By the Lord’s grace, we will see children come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We can disciple them to grow in their young faith. We can raise them to be powerful disciples of Jesus Christ in their own communities. Let’s not underestimate how the Lord can use a child who comes to faith in him.
Increasing Your Volunteer Base.
Unfortunately, there is not a surefire way to get church members to volunteer in your church’s kids ministry. But I do think there are a few steps you can take to increase your volunteer base, even if it’s just a few.
Ask members individually, in person.
This seems obvious, and many church leaders may have tried this method to no avail. But it’s often inadequate to announce from the pulpit or in an email with a generic “sign up to serve” message. Many people tend to hear or read a group message and assume someone else is taking responsibility.
While it’s more work to approach individuals in person or by phone, I’m of the opinion that it’s a more effective way to get people to volunteer to serve the church. Individuals realize that the church needs them in specific ways, rather than assuming someone else is taking responsibility.
Many do not volunteer because they don’t feel comfortable teaching. I certainly didn’t at first. If that’s the case, take steps to help them feel more equipped.
Have them observe other teachers. Make sure they understand the curriculum. Ironically, some kid’s ministry curriculums can be really confusing for adults who have never used one before.
Additionally, make sure any supplies they might need are available on site. You don’t have to have a giant closet of craft supplies. However, basics like crayons, markers, paper, some toys, etc. are helpful.
Give them plenty of time to study the lesson by sending it early in the week. Have the lesson available on site, as well, in case they aren’t able to print it at home (my church keeps a folder containing all the lessons for the year, so all the teachers have to do is flip to that week’s lesson.)
Finally, maintain reasonable expectations for volunteers. Studying the lesson is a reasonable expectation, but expecting them to prepare a fancy craft is not as necessary. Prioritize good teaching over entertainment.
Use good curriculum.
Research different curriculums and be selective about which one you use (if your budget allows it). I’ve used several different types, and let me tell you, not all kid’s ministry curriculum is good curriculum.
For volunteers who are not used to teaching or comfortable coming up with their own material, a clear, well-organized, gospel-centered curriculum makes a big difference.
Consider the timing.
If you have flexibility in your Sunday morning schedule, consider the timing of your children’s ministry. Does it occur at the same time as your worship service? If so, that’s a likely deterrent for potential volunteers.
Consider creating a separate time for adult and children discipleship classes (or—yes—Sunday School classes), so volunteers don’t miss out on corporate worship. Or, perhaps your church has multiple worship services. In this case, kid’s classes can happen at the same time as at least one service, but volunteers can both attend worship and teach kids.
If your church is mobile like mine, you may not have the time to separate corporate worship from kids’ classes because of time restraints enforced by the space you rent. However, even the most committed church member can experience volunteer fatigue, so try to avoid scheduling volunteers more than once a month.
Communicate to potential volunteers about the importance of serving the church and sharing responsibility with fellow church members. A peripheral benefit to more manpower is the decreased frequency at which each volunteer is scheduled to serve.
Incorporate children into the worship service.
When we keep children’s ministry separate from corporate worship, many of us can adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Some may consider children a nuisance or distraction from “adult” worship. However, let’s consider what we are communicating by neglecting to welcome children into our worship services.
Children aren’t second-class church attendees who we need to keep separate from corporate worship. There is value to multi-generational community.
When we welcome children into the service, they get to observe their parents and other adults worshipping the King, opening their Bibles, and listening to teaching from God’s word. They have the opportunity to learn how to be disciplined as they listen to the sermon. And we get to witness and learn from their childlike faith.
Children understand more than we often give them credit for, and they are watching. By welcoming children into corporate worship, we show church members the value of children and the importance of teaching them to obey all that God has commanded.
The responsibility of teaching children is weighty and important. Let’s serve our churches by helping take care of the children among us.
Meredith Cook (@meredithcook716) is the wife of Keelan, an editor for IMB.org, and an M.Div graduate in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.