Not long ago, Susan Cutshall fell into the latter category. As children's pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky., she remembers being overwhelmed with the task of starting her church's ministry to kids. "I was very alone," she recalls of her early days. "I've always said I was the giant talking head of children's ministry."
Cutshall may joke about launching the ministry from scratchâ€”"no budget, no volunteers and no paradigm to follow"â€”but she's serious about crediting a major resource that's helped shape it since day one. Only months after being hired by St. Luke in 1994, Cutshall attended a conference in San Diego put on by the International Network of Children's Ministry (INCM). She came back a different leader.
Tina Houser, children's pastor at First Church of God in Kokomo, Ind., had a similar experience. Soon after starting the church's ministry from nothing, she attended the same event, INCM's Children's Pastors' Conference (CPC). "It completely changed our children's ministry," Houser says.
Whether coming to the rescue of a struggling ministry or partnering with a cutting-edge one to become even more effective, the INCM has had the same positive effect on thousands of leaders within this movement. Since hosting its first conference in 1980, the Castle Rock, Colo.-based organization has trained, motivated and networked Christian leaders who minister to children at churches of all sizes. Almost 28 years later, the ministry continues to equip through national conferences, local seminars, customized programs and global training teams that venture into the likes of Russia, Mongolia, India, Malaysia and Kazakhstan.
The INCM's main feature remains its annual CPC, which this year takes place in Orlando, Fla., (Jan. 23-26) and San Diego (March 3-6). Each event includes more than 125 workshops, the largest children's ministry resource center in the world, six general sessions, banquet meals, unique ministry spotlights and pre-conference seminars and tours.
Those aren't the only things that have kept Cutshall coming back 14 years in a row. "It's the wide variety of what they offer in workshops and the vendors," she says. "They believe in finding the best of the best, regardless of who's publishing or producing it. That gives an all-round experience of children's ministry."
"It's knowing that there are other people out there with the same vision as you have," Houser adds. "You draw from that. A lot of it is the training, the pool of ideas. It's just been overwhelming getting to see that there are so many people that have the same heart as you do."
After almost three decades, the INCM continues to share that heart as it connects the world one children's ministry at a time.
To find out if an INCM event is scheduled near you, visit incm.org.
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today and comes from a family full of children's ministers.