Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rick Chromey on Building a Positive and Powerful Children's Ministry

This week, I’m pleased to have Dr. Rick Chromey serve as a guest columnist for Inside The Classroom. Dr. Chromey is a leadership imagineer and cultural explorer. He’s also the preteen columnist for Children’s Ministry magazine and author of Energizing Children’s Ministry in the Smaller Church (Standard, 2008). Rick is available to speak for your conference, convention or leadership summit on emergent culture, smaller church, leadership, creative teaching, parenting, positive learning and motivation. Be sure to check out his website at

By Dr. Rick Chromey

Are you looking for the secret to unlock learning, positive behavior and motivation in kids? It’s easier than you think. The answer is always rooted in feeding the inner needs of children. When a child’s soul is hungry, their spirit GROWLS: “Feed Me!” How (and what) you feed will define the results!

Every child desires unconditional love and children’s ministries draw kids through a “conspiracy of grace” and pardon. Grace forgives, fortifies and foretells the future. Kids make mistakes and messes, so mop up and move on. Grace encourages and edifies children. Childhood is a minefield of bombs wired to dismember and disable body, soul and mind. Sometimes our words of affirmation are the only things that defuse potential destruction. Grace helps children look forward. Build dreams in their hearts. Carve visions for their souls. Hammer opportunities to discover gifts.

Everyone seeks to connect and commune. The key to relationships is personal attention and affection to promote acceptance and affirmation. Deep personal relationships draw children into a group and the inner conviction for friends to find faith motivates evangelism. As outsiders discover rich relationships, they also connect to a community.

Purpose is a primary need of children. Every child hungers for the power to change, control and contribute. A key? Avoid treating kids as second-class citizens. Give them opportunity to contribute or even change their circumstance. Ownership empowers children to lead and serve. Every child needs to find a place. I believe the reason teens quit coming to church is because, as children, they never sensed ownership. When was the last time a child helped plan? Or lead a service project? Or worship? The message: every child has a job. Turn them loose.

If power emerges in ownership, then purpose rises from a thirst for worthiness. Children desperately seek purpose. In a nutshell, children seek productive contribution. They need to feel good about doing something. Singing. Playing baseball. Math. Whatever. A children’s ministry must continually satisfy this craving. Most children act up and out for recognition. The gross jokes? Showing off? Seeking your attention and attendance? Disruptions? These are growls to be fed. Ignore them and they will worsen. Humiliate them and you’ll lose respect. Continually affirm your kids’ contributions. Eventually, these form purpose and identity.

It’s funny. Everybody wants to have fun and every soul struggles to smile. To laugh is to love. A child understands this need better than anyone. Show me a children’s ministry where the kids laugh and I’ll show you a bunch of kids geared to change the world. Ministry requires a smirk and smile. Most memories are marked by mirth. You’ll be the butt of some jokes. Enjoy it (and smile). Some children will spout funny stuff. Pause for the laughter. Occasionally a mistake will humor the kids. Chuckle and move on. If you’re going to do serious children’s ministry, start with a smile. Otherwise the joke’s on you.

The last need lays a foundation for the others. Below the surface, there’s a need for protection and provision. The children’s world is wrought with hazards of the heart. For many children, finding an emotionally safe harbor is a sinking feeling. Most kids are punctured by disillusionment, pricked by discouragement and popped by disappointment. Some are even physically beaten and emotionally abused, by bullies and by parents. Emotional protection is a priority. The church should be the last place to be persecuted. Unfortunately, for many kids, their congregation harbors more hurt than help. These misfit children learn to walk with emotional limps. “I’m no good.” “I’m ugly.” “No one likes me.” Safety issues also concern physical provisions. Heating or cooling. Lighting. Nutritious snacks. Are there places where children can be physically hurt?

Some will argue there’s a lot of work (and even expense) to this type of motivation. No doubt. But you get what you grow. If you really want children to grow into a faith that is committed to discipleship and dialogue, respect and revival, then nourish the need. Live grace. Foster relationships. Encourage ownership. Affirm worth. Celebrate laughter. And supply safety. What you win them with is what you’ll keep them with. Guaranteed.

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