Friday, March 19, 2010

Retention in Children's Ministry: What's the Answer?

Children’s Ministry should be the primary focus of the church. I’ve quoted that concept for years and I’ve believed it with all my heart. Our youth are the future of the church, right? Therefore, we need to pour ourselves into creative programs that both attract and retain children, right? Doesn’t George Barna say as much in his book, “Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions?”

I wanted to use a quote from Barna’s book that expresses the above concept, but guess what? George Barna does not say that! It’s not that simple. Mark Holman, author of “
Building Faith at Home” puts into practical terms what George Barna was really trying to say – the parents are the primary nurturers of spiritual faith.

Holman quotes Barna as saying, “The local church should be an intimate and valuable partner in the effort to raise the coming generation of Christ’s followers and church leaders, but it is the parents whom God will hold primarily responsible for the spiritual maturation of their children.”

Do you remember how children’s ministry was done in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and “80’s? Do you remember the bus ministries as hordes of kids scampered off retired school buses and filled classrooms? Then we moved to having separate worship services for kids and youth. Our programs kept up with the times as we’ve used media, technology, created themed environments, and introduced lots of active games, drama and crafts to keep ‘em coming and keep ‘em interested.

Kids came. And when they graduated from high school, most of them left. In fact, many churches see a significant decrease in their children’s department after sixth grade. More kids will come to special programs like Vacation Bible School and tone-time events – but they don’t keep coming. What are we doing wrong?

For too long, says Holman, we’ve treated church like one more program, where children are dropped off by their parents. If you want your child to know how to play the piano, you take them to piano lessons. If you want them to enjoy basketball, you sign them up for basketball camp and let them play on a school team. If you want your child to get a little faith, you drop them off at the church. When church is placed in the same categories as other events, no wonder our kids drop it when they leave home. You don’t see them continue to play basketball or play the piano either, do you? The church has enabled this attitude, says Holman, by creating programs that try to compete with school and extra curricular activities. Sadly, I’ve seen churches sacrifice content for style because we’ve falsely believed the only way to reach the kids is through exciting programs that match what they get on Nintendo and DVD’s. Now the data is in and we’re realizing that programming isn’t the only answer.

What do we need to do to make their faith stick? Barna and Holman both agree. Our faith has to be authentically lived out at home. Mom and Dad have to live the faith walk. Faith talk has to be part of the family lifestyle. Devotions, prayer, Bible reading, memory work and values applied to everyday situations should be woven into home life and family discussions.

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 becomes a family’s marching orders regarding God’s laws, worldview, and values: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols around your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”

Children’s ministry in the local church is still very much needed. Countless stories of kids who have brought their parents to Christ or who found out the true definition of love and grace at church when it was lacking at home propels us forward. But, as church leaders, teachers and people in the pew, we need to lower our expectations, realizing it is not the Church’s sole responsibility to teach children the Gospel message in a way that they will retain it. The best recipe for success is when the parents are actively in the mix, supporting their kids, attending church themselves, and reinforcing at home the lessons the kids learn at church.

How can parents “train their children in the way they should go?” And how can the local church influence parents to be a part of their child’s faith education? Those will be the topics of future blogs. If you have any practical ideas you would like me to add to the list, I invite you to email me at

Someone has said that the church is only one generation away from extinction. Let’s grow together in making our children spiritual champions, ones who will carry on the faith of our fathers!


jec said...

I think we were onto this idea the other day. Christian workers should be mentoring children and ministering to the whole family.

Karen Wingate said...

How can we do this? Do you have any practical suggestions of how? Share with us!