While some pastors worry about having a clever maxim on their church signs or tasty beverages in their foyer coffee bars, others have discovered what really matters to families--their kids.
A recent Barna Research Group survey reported that the vast majority of parents feel that imparting spiritual values to their children is extremely important.
While parents recognize this need, the study also showed that 86 percent of parents don't really know how to do it.
Most pastors are quick to laud the importance of reaching and teaching the younger generation, but they are equally quick to admit frustration in satisfying the increasing demand for a children's ministry that is both vibrant and deep.
As one who has served as a children's pastor, speaker and publisher of curriculum for Strang Communications (publisher of Ministries Today), I have discovered that kids today are starved for supernatural reality. They are not just open to spiritual power; they long for it.
If you've not surveyed the children's curriculum landscape recently, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that many publishers have moved beyond flannelgraphs and mindless puzzles to create high-tech, fast-paced programs that will attract today's media-savvy, hot-wired kids.
For years, churches have offered children's discipleship programs that come in one flavor: a Sunday-school hour in which the Bible and church doctrine were taught in age- and grade-appropriate classrooms.
As our society changes, our need to be entertained expands and our attention spans shrink. Churches must find ways to adapt to the changing culture without diluting the timeless gospel message.
While there are a variety of ministries attempting to meet this need, we felt more could be done. That's why we've developed an exciting, multimedia, one-year program with the latest technology that can be modified to fit the needs of the largest, most sophisticated churches to small churches with only a few hundred dollars to spend, but which have the same need to capture the attention of the kids so they will learn spiritual values and begin to experience the power of God.
For more than a decade, Strang Communications has been meeting this need through its KIDS Church programs. Tens of thousands of charismatic churches have used one of six year-long programs in "boxes" with names such as "Power Tool Box" and "Extreme Adventure Box."
Now, a new generation of children's ministries is being provided through what we believe is an exciting new product called KIDS Church: The Next Generation.
"We've made a huge investment in what we believe is the most innovative and spiritually dynamic program on the market," said Stephen Strang, founder of CharismaLife and the KIDS Church programs.
The program is launching this fall, but already hundreds of churches have pre-purchased it. Is it right for you and your church? We've studied the methods needed by churches and prepared questions you can ask to see how your children's ministry stacks up to others.
How can your church reach and keep young families with children? Although entire seminars could be taught on the subject, answer the seven questions below to evaluate your own children's ministry.
If you're brave, don't just take this test yourself but ask your children's ministry leader or some parents to answer the same questions and compare your answers.
Do you focus on experiencing God or learning facts? Often, children's ministry is seen simply as a time when kids memorize Bible stories and learn about what God did. This, of course, is not wrong, but it stops far short of what is needed. Children, like adults, want to know that the God they are learning about is real and that He wants to interact with them in a personal way.
It's not enough to focus only on teaching children Bible facts. In reality, it's not what children know but who they know that will change their lives. Make sure you encourage and expect children to have encounters with the living God, moving beyond education to impartation.
One of the ministry components of KIDS Church: The Next Generation is actually called "God Encounters" because children need more than information; they need transformation! That comes by allowing room for the Holy Spirit to truly minister and touch young hearts.
Do you focus on evangelism as well as discipleship? We want our children's ministry to train and equip young hearts to do the work of the kingdom. But part of our kingdom mandate is to go out and win the lost, to live our lives as lamps shining brightly for our neighbors and co-workers to see.
An on-fire children's ministry program can be one of the most effective outreach programs your church has. The KIDS Church program that we publish was created in partnership with Bill Wilson and Metro Ministries International. The entire ministry of Metro focuses on reaching unchurched kids. Every person on the Metro staff goes out on weekly visitation runs. As a result, an adult congregation of more than 1,000 has sprung up, simply through outreach to children.
Do you have an expectation that children can do ministry? In far too many church programs, the children are expected to passively listen and learn what is being taught without any expectation that they can do ministry. Make sure your children's programs involve kids in ministry.
In your children's programs, let them serve as ushers and greeters, run the sound system, do prayer walks, raise funds for service projects, lead in praise and worship, participate in puppet ministry, lay hands on the sick--do what Jesus commands all of us to do.
During a kid's camp in Redding, Pennsylvania, a 7-year-old girl with a scratchy voice came forward for prayer. Several children gathered around her to pray. Although there was no noticeable change in the girl's voice that night, the next day, the girl's grandmother announced that she had been healed.
It turned out that she was suffering from more than a common cold. The girl had a growth in her throat, and doctors had accidentally slit her esophagus while removing the growth, damaging her voice permanently. When the little girl woke up the next morning after prayer, she could speak perfectly.
Have you fallen into the trap of not really expecting God to work through or use your kids--or you?
Let's ask the Holy Spirit to renew our expectation that God can and will flow through our children in powerful ways. Let's create opportunities for them to ask and expect God to show up in a big way.
Is your church a fun place to be? I want my kids to look forward to coming to church. In the book of Acts we read how the early Christians met constantly. Did they do that simply because they were more spiritual than we are today? I suspect they met so often because they enjoyed it. Make sure your children's ministry is fun for kids.
Is your children's ministry highly visible? In some churches the praise band is front-and-center. In others, it's the personality of the pastor. However, if you want to reach families with kids, let your children's ministry be visible.
Refer to it with signs, announcements and testimonials. Encourage kids to come into the adult service to minister in a special presentation. Put on an entire children's church service during the morning worship service.
Let parents see that what goes on in your children's ministry is not just baby-sitting or childcare but powerful ministry of the Word and Spirit.
Do you set high standards for your children's ministry team? Too often we are so desperate for workers that we'll take any warm body and place it in a classroom. But if you want to build a ministry of excellence, you simply cannot staff it with untrained or lukewarm people.
How much time do you personally spend sharing vision with your children's ministry workers and training them? Most children's ministry leaders will tell you that their greatest challenge is recruiting enough help. If you make working with children a position of honor at your church, you'll find that getting the help you need is much easier.
Do you partner with parents in training children? The Bible makes it clear that we are to "train our children in the way they should go." God is a multigenerational God whose plans and purposes cannot be contained in the span of your lifetime.
Part of your ministry is not only to win your generation, but to also ensure that the next generation is prepared to step into their divine destinies and callings.
A church in Nashville, Tennessee, states in its motto that it is called to neighbors, nations and generations. They understand that part of the evangelistic mandate to go and make disciples applies to winning the next generation so that, in every generation, there is a remnant that declares the work of the Lord.
It's not the church's job to train up a child. That's a parental calling, but parents are looking for help. So recognize that a very real and strategic part of your children's ministry needs to be supporting, equipping and training parents to do a better job training their kids.
Let's stop lamenting the lack of faith and experience our society tends to produce. Let's rededicate ourselves instead to training this next generation to be mighty for God--to channel their energy and effort to seeing God's kingdom established here on Earth as it is in heaven.
Reaching the Next Generation
Beyond flannelgraphs and mindless puzzles, CharismaLife offers a new children's church program that challenges kids to experience God and participate in ministry.
Kids today want more than facts. They want encounters with a real and living God. One resource being used by churches to train kids for living and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit is KIDS Church: The Next Generation. This new program has been more than 10 years in the making and began with Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries International.
If you've been a reader of Ministries Today for a while, you likely are familiar with Wilson--the founder of Metro Ministries International in Brooklyn, New York. He left a comfortable children's pastorate more than 25 years ago to reach unwanted children in the New York borough. Those humble beginnings have led to Wilson and his team now ministering weekly to 20,000 kids in the city, while influencing children's ministries worldwide.
The Next Generation adapts the concepts of children's ministry Wilson has developed and applies them to the changing formats churches use today to reach kids with the gospel.
Equally important, The Next Generation is a tool by which kids experience the power of God in personal ways.
With The Next Generation, children not only are taught spiritual truth in an engaging and fun way, but they also are given opportunities to actually encounter God for themselves, in the classroom and at home.
The Next Generation was designed to be highly flexible so that churches of almost any size or format could use it effectively. And the program works--whether the children are together in worship services or divided into age-appropriate classroom services, or a combination of the two.
Keys to the success of The Next Generation include:
A highly creative format and the use of multimedia. Kids are not lectured to or forced to sit through tedious crafts that likely will not make it out of the church parking lot, much less into the home.
From start to finish, kids with short attention spans are grabbed with high-energy ministry. The Next Generation makes use of a praise and worship DVD that includes hand motions and on-screen words, object lessons that explain spiritual truth, and vibrantly illustrated sermons with full-color artwork that help Bible truth make sense within today's multi-media culture.
"I'm amazed at how well our kids have responded to this program. Our attendance is up and last week three kids got saved," says Debby Maxwell, the children's ministry coordinator at Evangel Assembly of God in Orlando, Florida.
A commitment to involving kids in ministry. The Next Generation promotes the involvement of kids in ministry, helping them to embrace the spiritual truths being taught and apply them in their own lives.
"Too often curriculum programs focus on giving kids good information rather than allowing them to experience God in a real and life-changing way," says Tim Carpenter, project editor of The Next Generation. "This is definitely not your grandma's curriculum."