Saturday, July 17, 2010

When Your Ministry Program Falls Apart

In my last post, I said it would be the final edition of my thoughts on Children's Ministry. Thank you to all who have heard the discouragement in my words and have written to encourage me. You are precious people! That post will be the final edition in this blog about children for awhile because I currently have no contact with children and have nothing to draw from to share with you. However, if you are willing to bear with me, I'd like to turn my attention to sharing vignettes from the journey I'm currently on.

We tend to couple creditability with success. You aren't worthy to write a book unless you're an expert on the subject, unless you have a success story to tell of how the principles you are promoting have worked for you. We look in envy at church programs that attract dozens of kids; those are the "successful" programs. A few years back, our national church convention provided a number of workshops that started with "How our church broke the (fill in the number: 200, 500, 1000) barrier." I talked to a number of people that, like me and my husband, were heartsick. We were floundering in our ministries. We had tried all the formulas. We had seen the heartache, the defeat, the brokenness, the struggle. We felt inferior and intimidated. I so want to write a book on "the inner qualities of leadership" but because I don't have a platform or a resume that lists lines of credentials and success stories, I have an idea no publisher would want to give me the time of day. The world - and too often, the Christian world, wants success stories.

Blogs, websites and books abound on how to make your good children's program better. Printed and digital media give us the impression that "I must be the only one" who oversees a shriveling program. Yet I have a hunch that a significant minority exists out there of those who have encountered broken programs, struggling workers, defeated parents, disillusioned teachers, all wondering why God would allow their program to go down the hole, why the Lord of the harvest hasn't answered their pleas for more workers, why God let a child slip away from the inviting arms of the Savior. Perhaps we need to hear more of the wisdom of those who don't have the numbers to stand behind but have prevailed through the struggle.

I don't have any answers on how to make your children's ministry grow; in fact, I'm asking those hard questions myself The only answer I have today is a series of questions God seems to be asking me. In spite of the way our children's ministry looks, will I still be faithful to Him? Not necessarily to a program, but to Him. Will I still worship Him as great and good, a God whose loving-kindness endures forever? Will I still trust Him that He has a plan? Do I believe that He and only He can bring about change? Am I willing to wait, to be patient even though that change may take years and I may never actually see the change take place? Do I believe that God can work all things for good according to His purposes - that God can possibly bring good to a church who has no children running through the halls?

If I am going to be authentic in this column, I must tell you that my answer lies in the words of the father who witnessed the debilitating results of a demon residing within his son when Jesus reminded him that everything is possible for him who believes. (Mk 9:14-29).

"I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief."

May the Lord give each of us the grace we need to carry us through the seemingly impossible situations we face.


Rhonda said...

I appreciate your thoughts here, Karen. Let me share with you about our VBS this year, that we had in early June. It's getting so hard to compete with busy summer activities and schedules. Not only for the kids to come, but also the adults to help. It usually goes for a week, plus the program on Sunday morning. Well, we heard a nearby church had a ONE DAY Bible School. So we opted to try it, at least this once. We helt it on a Saturday, and still had the Sunday morning program. We had some adults who could help if it was the one day, whereas they couldn't if it was all week. So between adults and youth, we had all the help we needed.

Well, it ended up going really well, and we had a good group of kids. The topic was about Daniel, including some powerful AND fun skits, and it all turned out great. The kids picked up some AWESOME lessons from the book of Daniel.

Perhaps the answer in these challenging days is to present the Bible stories in a way kids can have fun with and relate to, keep it simple, and keep it manageable for everyone timewise. Don't feel you have to explain or apologize if you do something "shorter" or "different" than has been done before. If God's in it it'll go just the way it should! :)

It is just simply DIFFICULT these days to compete with everything else. Making things interesting from a Biblical perspective might be one way to help. Kids might find Bible times and customs fascinating, especially if they can get involved personally somehow.

I hope you and Jack will be ENCOURAGED, and that God will show you great things you can do to reach kids! :) GOD BLESS.

Tony Kummer said...

Thank you so much for your honest writing about this. I know there are so many people in shrinking churches who need to hear this kind of conversation.

Numbers does not equal success. And with Jesus not even 'failure' is the end.

I'm looking forward to reading more of your story.

Karen Wingate said...

Thak you Rhonda for your suggestions. That's an important reminder that we need to think outside the box and to tailor our programs to meet the needs of our audience, not expect them to tailor their time to our convenience.

And thanks Tony for what you said. That means so much to me.

Janet said...

Karen personally I grew up in a very small church (and went to a pretty small bible college) and to tell you the truth ... I have great memories of what we did AND it made me who I am today. My husband always wants to attend BIG churches because he feels they have more to offer ... however, I miss the intimacy of the small church. I know each has it's pluses and minuses ... but I strongly believe that we are not called to bring every person to Christ we are called to be a witness to the people (kids) we are in contact with ... we might only be a seed planter and some one else will be a harvester. Rick Chromey has written a wonderful book specifically for small churches and their CMs (and Standard published it). (see title below) He is speaking from experience because this is taken from the context of the church he also grew up in. If you haven't read it ... give it a shot! I also believe that we are called to be the best we can be and knowing you I know you are giving your best ... turn the rest over to God and he will do what else is needed. In MOPS some of our leaders used to be discouraged when we'd plan and hardly anyone would show up. But I would say to them Hey these moms that came need us and Christ more and we shouldn't call off a meeting because we are used to having 30-50 and we only have 10 tonight. I think the same applies for anything, esp CM. So what if you only have 3, those 3 need Jesus and YOU as much as 40 kids do. The best scenario here is ... you have more time to be personal with 3 than 40. Another thought is "well I did all this planning and now I have no kids to teach" = but maybe God was using the lesson to teach you and not the kids that day. (I learn more about myself and my walk when I am editing our curriculum and I am a better person and teacher for it.) Know that I am praying for you, your ministry and your church. But love the kids who you have and they will remember you and the love of Christ for an eternity! I can attest to that one personally!
Love always,
"Energizing Children's Ministry in the Smaller Church (Standard)"

P.S.: You have some pull ... let the NACC know that there is a need for small churches training ... the more people they hear from the better the training will be ...

Rick Chromey said...

Karen, thanks for sharing your heart and being transparent. It's sad that the modern church has defined success by dollars, numbers, facilities, staff and programs. Success is none of those things, as you've stated.

Thank you for sharing my book through your column and am humbled by its influence. I believe the smaller church and her children hold a special place in the heart and eyes of God.

And I WOULD LOVE TO COME TO THE NORTH AMERICAN CHRISTIAN CONVENTION to lead any number of various workshops I have on smaller churches and her children's/youth ministries.

Finally, I encourage those who like "Energizing CM in the Smaller Church" to check out my new book "Thriving Youth Ministry in the Smaller Church" by Group/Simply Youth Ministry. Get it cheaper on Amazon!

Karen Wingate said...

Rick Chromey's book is truly terrific. I have read it, quoted it, recommended it, read portions again. I anticipate that his new book will be equally fine. Rick, haven't you written another book on the smaller church? You need to contact the NACC offices and propose a workshop on this stuff! I believe the Cincinnati Christian University under the leadership of Dr. Bravard and others has a center for small church ministries.

Kid's Cove said...

So glad to know that you aren't going to stop sharing with us. I was really upset by your last post. I am so sorry that you are so discouraged. A few years ago I was so down about the fact that our church had no building dedicated to children's ministry, few funds and workers, etc. While on a mission trip that same time I came across a wonderful Christian lady who was living in a poor community and teaching children in her small home. I saw her literally trace coloring sheets using a pencil and carbon paper for each child. I was so struck by the advantages that I did have--those that had seemed absent just shortly before. I will never forget that experience. I learned that success is in the lives of the children that do come and how they are changed and live out what they are learning. We are still small and limited in resources but are so, so very blessed with great kids! Please keep sharing with us.

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...


I appreciate your honesty and the questions you raise. I wish I had something to contribute here, but I do want to encourage you and everyone who may be reading this. God does look at individual lives, not numbers. When we make ourselves available to God, He can and will bless others through us. And my hunch is you have touched the hearts of many children because of your faithfulness to Christ all these years.

In Him,

Brenna said...

I know what you are talking about w/ decreasing numbers in your ministry area. I've been there and have had to redefine what my ministry is.
Many of us are not called to do ministry like 'everyone' else.
We must redefine success in ministry and be creative w/ our calling.
Please check out this e-book on reframing success. It is well worth your read and your $1.25.