It’s not unusual for church leadership to regard ministry to children as “cute,” “adjunct,” “ancilliary,” or as “filler.” Minstering to kids may be “nice” – a ministry “frill” – but it’s not all that important. Certainly not as important as “the real deal” – ministry to adults.
A “Loss Leader”?
How many churches hire paid senior and youth pastors but rely solely on volunteers to lead and run children’s ministries? How many have office space or regular office hours for children’s leaders? How many pastors value those who minister to children as crucial, vital, part of executive church leadership? How many view ministry to children as a “loss leader” – something to draw in adults or keep the young ‘uns occupied while “real ministry” – to grown-ups – takes precedence and priority? As long as the Sunday babysitting service is manned, we’re good to go?
While all ministry is important, Victory Circle contends that “little victories” – those involving children – matter. MOST. Why? Well, how much time do you have?
A fews ?s to ponder: If ministry to children isn’t priority #1, what is? If children aren’t a top priority, then where are they? What are kids behind or below? What did Jesus have to say about kids and ministry to children?
What Jesus Says
For one thing, Jesus said that when we welcome a child (or young believer) in His name, we welcome Him (Matthew 18:5). Did He say that about receiving adults?
In Matthew 10 Jesus said those who give even cold water to little ones receive a reward that cannot be lost. He simply did not make that promise to other ministries…. those who can do ANYTHING in children’s ministry—such as prepare the refreshments—have a unique promise of reward others cannot claim.”
– Roger Fields, KidzBlitz
A selected sampling from just another respected source, researcher George Barna, includes the following:
“… the probability of someone embracing Jesus as his or her Savior was 32% for those between the ages of 5 and 12; 4% for those in the 13 to 18 age range; and 6% for people 19 or older.” (Barna page 34. Emphasis added.)
“Why focus on this particular slice of the youth market? Because if you want to shape a person’s life – whether you are most concerned about his or her moral, spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional or economic development – it is during these crucial eight years that lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.” (Barna page 18)
“Many churches do not adequately support ministry to children because kids are seen as the bait that enables the church to land the real treasure – i.e., adults – rather than as valuable, if unrefined treasure in themselves.” (Barna page 41)
“Most churches and faith communities pour the bulk of their resources into trying to affect the lives of adults and are often disappointed to find the return on investment minimal at best.” (Barna page 48)
Does this make any sense to you?
“41% of the people who attend the church on a typical weekend are under the age of 18, yet less than 15% of the average church’s ministry budget is allocated to the needs of children’s ministry.” (Barna page 40. Emphasis added.)
“Over and Over”
Want to have a lasting influence on the world? If so, where do you maximize your investment?
“The research reinforces one simple but profound truth over and over again: If you want to have a lasting influence upon the world, you must invest in people’s lives; and if you want to maximize that investment, then you must invest in those people while they are young.” (Barna, page 42, emphasis added.)
Seen this before? Sound familiar?
“Church leaders often view the children’s ministry as a loss leader – a retail term used to describe the marketing of a product that loses money but generates a sufficient payback through ancillary benefits.” (Barna, page 40)
The Central Issue?
What about finances and budget constraints?
“Although we spend roughly 68 times more money per capita on caring for the average felon than on a church’s ministry to a spiritually hungry child and we spend substantially more on church buildings and maintenance than on raising up spiritual champions among our progeny, I don’t believe the central issue is finances. More than anything, it is an issue of understanding the incredible importance of developing strong, spiritual foundations early and reinforcing those foundations as the child ages.” (Barna page 41. Emphasis added.)
If your church’s ministry to children is “status quo,” (or ho-hum), you may be missing something. Something BIG:
“Painfully few churches have paid the price to break out of decades of status-quo ministry to children. Those that do break out soon discover a kind of anointing from God that suggests He might just favor churches that focus on and build up little ones.” (Bill Hybels in Barna, page 8)
“Invariably, the churches where the children’s ministry prospers are those led by pastors who are unapologetic advocates for that ministry focus.” (Barna, page 104)
The converse is also true.
“Like most adults, I have been aware of children, fond of them and willing to invest some resources in them; but I have not really been fully devoted to their development. In my mind, they were people en route to significance – i.e., adulthood – but were not yet deserving of the choice resources.” (Barna, page 11)
How crucial is ministry to children? How large is the mission field? What’s the potential impact for God’s kingdom?
“Children in the 5-12 year-old age range… This group, some 31 million strong, represents nearly half of the under-18-year-olds in the country. That’s almost equal to the population of the entire state of California.” (Barna, page 18)
“Only 3% of the nation’s 13 year-olds have a biblical worldview, which serves as the foundation for their decision making.” (Barna, page 37)
Is it enough? Time for a change?
“The attention devoted to the children’s ministry most frequently revolves around making sure there are teachers in place, rooms available and a standardized curriculum ready to be used.” (Barna, page 39)
“More often than not, what a person decides about truth, sin, forgiveness and eternal consequences during the preteen years is the same perspective that person carries to the grave and beyond, whoever that may take him or her.” (Barna, page 46)
When is the window of opportunity greatest for a “significant influence” on another person’s moral and spiritual life?
“Anyone who wishes to have significant influence on the development of a person’s moral and spiritual foundations had better exert that influence while the person is still open-minded and impressionable – in other words, while the person is still young.” (Barna, page 47)
“The older a person gets, the more difficult it is for him or her to replace existing moral and spiritual pillars.” (Barna page 47)
“Most adults received ministry leftovers (i.e. limited funding, minimal resources, and teaching that was ill-focused) when they were young, they became exactly what we made them: well-intentioned, inadequately nurtured, minimally equipped secular people who dabble in religious thought and activity.” (Barna, page 48)
“Nearly half of the adults who attended church regularly as children and now bring their own offspring to a church do not even know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, even after more then a quarter of a century of consistent church exposure and involvement.” (Barna, page 48)
“You simply cannot raise a child to be a compliant workhorse and then expect him or her to turn around and become a majestic thoroughbred when he or she is older.” (Barna, page 49)
What’s one the most effective means of evangelism?
“Further, we have discovered that peer evangelism among young children – one kid leading another kid to the foot of the cross for a life-changing encounter with Jesus – is one of the most prolific and effective means of evangelism in the nation.” (Barna, page 49)
Do you want to win?
“Ever the strategic mastermind, Satan knows well that if you destroy the character and hope of children, you rule the world. Satan is not omnipotent, but he is intelligent and clever – certainly sharp enough to realize that if you win over children, you have won the war for at least one generation and probably more.” (Barna, page 51)
“Please know that the foundation of the war for people’s souls, minds and hearts is waged against our children. If they can be persuaded when they are young, then it is incredibly difficult to change their allegiance as they age. And you, as a parent or spiritual leader, bear the primary responsibility for how that battle turns out.” (Barna page 57)
“Four-fifths of our senior pastors say their church is doing an excellent or good job of enabling kids to understand and engage in worship. Our studies show that 4 out of every 5 churched 13-year-olds do not know what worship is, and a substantial majority of them admit that they do not feel they have ever experienced God’s presence.” (Barna page 123)
Lots more. But here’s the point: children matter. MOST. And so do those who minister to them.
God bless those who further God’s kingdom by teaching, reaching, praying for, loving, guiding, serving and ministering to kids! You are among the most dedicated, most talented, most tireless and most effective ministers on the planet! The work you do is crucial and essential. Few things are more important or significant than raising tomorrow’s leaders! Kudos to all you do for the “little victories.” They matter. MOST.
Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should Be Your Church’s #1 Priority, by George Barna. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 2003.