BUILD A FOUNDATION SO YOU DON’T CRASH & BURN

Quit taking one step forward and three steps back

If you’re on this page, you know kids are important.

Maybe you are in charge of the kids’ ministry at your church. Maybe you are a parent wishing your small church did a better job.

Countless resources exist for youth and children’s ministry. Lots of ideas, books, and websites.

But few address the real challenges of a small church. And your small church needs to do better.

Why Your Small Church Needs To Do Better

Most Americans worship in small churches, which means their kids are there as well. That’s why we need to do better. It’s where the kids are!

Kids in small churches are often bored. Sometimes ignored. Even small churches that try their best are met with unique challenges.

Youth and Children’s Leaders at Small Churches have frustrations that aren’t shared by Large Churches.

  • It’s so hard to plan a lesson if I might not have more than 1 kid.
  • If one family is out of town, that’s half our youth group.
  • How can I do Sunday School with two 6-yr olds and one 5th grader?

Or how about this?

  • I’m tired of reading resources that say how to grow my youth group when the ones we have don’t even want to come.
  • We don’t have money for a youth director.
  • The kid’s ministry isn’t growing. I wish I knew what to do.

The truth is most youth and children’s leaders in small churches have big hearts, but very little training.

Most don’t serve more than a year and often feel they have failed.

The inconsistency in volunteer leadership is harmful and deflating.

If there is any vision left in the transition between one leader to the next, it’s like restarting all over again.

In the end, kids are dragged to small churches with hit-or-miss kids’ ministries until they are loud enough to fight back and win the argument with their parents.

Let’s change that.

What if there was an intriguing, interesting, and fun way to develop a kids’ ministry at a small church that was consistent, attractive, and life-changing? A place where kids actually CHOOSE to be?

WHAT DOES A SMALL CHURCH HAVE TO OFFER?

Luckily for the small church, kids today don’t need more entertainment.

Small Churches don’t have the budget to compete with the latest gaming system or Taylor Swift concert.

We can’t keep up with the latest social media craze. Or Mega-Church Youth Conference with bungee jumping.

But the cool thing is, kids today aren’t looking for more to do. They have plenty of options to keep them busy.

The small church has exactly what kids are looking for today.

  • Significance
  • Relationship
  • And Truth

Uniqueness of the Small Church

While the Small Church Kids’ Ministry has definite challenges and struggles, it also has joys and opportunities that the Large Church will never experience.

Instead of trying to make Small Church Ministry mimic the set up of Large Churches, let’s go with our strengths.

My goal is to provide a one-stop spot for Small Church Kids’ Ministry. To help your church set up a foundation to build on.

Let’s start doing what we were meant to do. Instead of wishing for something different.

If you hold the reins of the Kids’ Ministry, please dig in. If you’re simply exploring how to help your small church, please do the same! Your leaders need you desperately.

YOU CAN’T FUNCTION WITHOUT A CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM

Whoever Thought Youth & Children’s Ministry Was all about Events is Really Messed Up!

Imagine your hands and feet moving around without any input from your Central Nervous System.

  • No brain to make decent decisions
  • No interpretation of the external environment
  • No control of movement

Crazy, right?

I think that is a great analogy for most Youth and Children’s Ministries.

Let’s get connected with our Central Nervous System.

Take the time to do what you need to do to reach kids and keep them coming back.

Define Core Beliefs

Quit wasting time changing direction with every new leader. Put your zig-zag ministry on a straight path so you are headed to an actual destination.

Policies That Protect

Keep your kids safe. Your volunteers protected. And your church from getting sued. This isn’t a glamorous part of ministry, but it is not optional. (And I’ll make it easy for you.)

Keep Kids Coming Back

Kids don’t leave your church because it’s too small. They leave because their needs aren’t met. Relationships. Significance. Truth.

This is the STRENGTH of the Small Church. But you need a strategy to make it happen.

Develop the Right Team

Getting the right people in place is only the beginning. Without training and support, your Youth and Children’s Ministry will keep taking 1 step forward and 3 steps back.

6 CORE BELIEFS

For Smart Decisions, Easy Planning, and Better Results

Imagine going to a job interview at a cafe. The person interviewing you says, “Thank God you are here.”

She hands you the keys and says, “Let me know if you need anything.”

You look around, eyeing the espresso machine. The commercial kitchen. The booths. Customers coming in. She tosses you the apron while she walks out the front door.

Sound ridiculous? Welcome to kids’ ministry in many churches across America.

I think our kids are worth more than tossing in a willing body to teach Sunday School. Or throwing random events on the calendar.

We have a responsibility to serve them and their fragile hearts in a manner worthy of the God who created them.

Defining Core Beliefs is Crucial

Let’s quit flailing and take a little time to define our path. Articulate our beliefs. And set our vision.

THEN we can invite others to join the journey. Instead of asking others to step in and steer a boat, carrying infinitely precious cargo, with no set course.

Who Should Define Your Core Beliefs?

Ideally, the people you trust who are already invested in your kids. Pastors. Staff. Parents. Volunteers. Student Leaders. Elders. Grandparents.

To save you time, I have a great list here of 6 Core Believes Every Small Church Should Cling To.

If you have more time and energy than most, an even better option is to host Kids’ Ministry Vision Event. Develop these Core Beliefs together in a fun, interactive format and it will launch a new ministry vision, recruit volunteers, and plan your year at the same time!

But until you can get that on the calendar, this list should serve you well.

6 CORE BELIEFS EVERY SMALL CHURCH SHOULD CLING TO

1. We Believe in Biblical Truth

We Believe in the Truth of the Bible and an Ever-Present, Ever-Powerful, Ever-Loving God.

This belief drives our WHY.

It is the foundation of what we do, what we teach, who we recruit, and how we serve.

2. We Believe in Relational Ministry

We believe Relationships change lives, not Programs.

We train Volunteers in relational ministry.

We design our Events to build and deepen positive relationships, both Student-to-Student and Student-to-Leader.

We strive to cover every student with care, celebrating significant occasions and pursuing when absent.

3. We Believe in a Safe, Affirming Environment

Our standards foster a place where every student is loved, included, and protected.

We prioritize Physical, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual Safety. Students and volunteers are built up and not torn down.

4. We Believe in Congregational Involvement

We recognize every person in our small church as a significant influence to our kids.

Our kids’ ministry is part of the Whole Ministry of the Church, not an entity unto itself.

We seek opportunities to Partner With Parents and other Church Ministries.

We believe our kids should be seen, heard, valued, and loved!

5. We Believe in a Cradle to College Ministry

We believe transitions between program ages are incredibly important in a small church.

We build consistency between leaders and programs to keep students looking forward to next-level involvement.

We believe a great kids’ ministry leads to active adult involvement in the local church.

6. We Believe in Building Student Leaders through Service

We recognize that kids need a place where they can make a difference and feel significant.

We develop gifts, responsibility and leadership through service to others.

What These Core Beliefs Will Do For You?

  • Smarter Decisions
  • Easier Planning
  • Better Results

Core Beliefs make it easy to know how to spend your time, decide on events, and even help you recruit the right volunteers.

Core Beliefs set the direction of your ministry and keep it on track through leadership changes and age transitions.

Instead of stops and restarts, you see the fruits of a solid foundation.

POLICIES PROTECT YOUR KIDS AND SAFE-GUARD YOUR MINISTRY

If you do not already have clear and written policies in place, you have no business inviting kids in your care.

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Get it done now. Before you do anything else.

Whether children are 16 months old or 16 years old, they trust you to protect them.

There is nothing more precious or precarious than being responsible for another person’s child.

Policies Create Trust and Keep You From Going to Jail

Last fall, I received this text from a parent of one of our youth. Her student needed a ride home from an event and we arranged one according to our policy.

“My daughter just said there is a rule that females can’t be alone with male leaders in cars. I just want to say that I appreciate that a lot. Both my husband and I are glad that you’ve set up rules like that. Makes us feel like you are looking out for our kiddo! (Of course we aren’t worried about the leaders but we like the extra care.)”

No one wants to talk about child predators, gun violence or youth group vans getting hit on the highway.

But it’s reality.

And if you don’t want to go to jail and you don’t want your church in a lawsuit, you need to do your due diligence.

The size of your church doesn’t preclude the need to protect our kids.

We need well-thought out policies. ESPECIALLY IN A SMALL CHURCH.

Minimum Standards for Protecting Students, Volunteers, and the Church include written policies in the following areas:

  • Volunteer Applications and Screening
  • Volunteer Training
  • Drivers’ Covenant
  • Behavioral Policies (for children and volunteers)
  • Medical Release/Health Information
  • Transportation Permission/Release
  • Photographic Permission/Release
  • Adult-Student Ratios
  • Male-Female Policies & Supervision

Having these standards and policies in place speaks loudly for the credibility of your ministry. It declares that you take the responsibility seriously.

The governing board of your church needs to read and approve your policies. This gives them weight and legality.

But Having Policies is NOT Enough

You Need to Live Them Loudly!

Every parent, every student, and every volunteer should be aware of your policies. They should be written, published, and available always.

Train your staff on all policies. All staff needs to fully commit to uphold them.

CRADLE TO COLLEGE … AND BEYOND

The Strategy to Keep Your Kids Coming Back

I saw some incredible ceiling tiles in a high school photography class. Individual tiles displayed gorgeous photographs, each done by a graduating senior. The educator mentioned that these tiles keep her kids coming back. You only get a tile if you graduate in her class.

There is a great lesson here for our Youth and Children’s Ministries!

Every ceiling tile celebrates a student, while also displaying a talented skill set.

  • Are we giving our kids a reason to keep coming back?
  • Are we Developing their Skills? Their Confidence? Their Character?
  • Are we Celebrating Them?

The truth of Youth and Children’s Ministry is that not every year is amazing.

Some seasons are full of energy and growth. And others we consider “building years.” (which is code for “really struggling!”)

Developing a comprehensive vision that moves kids from nursery to elementary to junior/senior high to young adult needs an intentional strategy.

Every age group should build on the next. With added elements to look forward to.

Here’s a Simplified Example.

Lower Elementary

Focus on learning familiar Bible Stories and understanding God Loves Me. Sunday School has games and a snack time with juice boxes!

Upper Elementary

Focus on applying God’s truth to actions. God Wants Me to Follow His Ways. Love others. Make Good Choices. Introduce monthly fun events outside of Sunday School. A 4-6th Grade Youth Group.

Junior/Senior High

Learn that God’s truth applies to their questions and struggles. Focus on sharing faith and service. The Youth Room feels grown up with couches and a basketball hoop. They have monthly events and a Summer Mission Trip. Teens serve as leaders at VBS and elementary activities.

Young Adult / College & Career

Evening Bible Studies and Game Nights. They are involved in Community Service Projects and Church Ministries. Plus their own Mission Trip.

And throughout every level, kids are ushered by Relationship.

Kids Need Consistency

Core Beliefs and Strategy ensure consistency through leadership changes. Then kids aren’t thrown to the wind when a volunteer leaves and another takes over.

Cradle to College and Beyond

It’s about building mature Christ-followers, not having separate stand-alone ministries.

The goal isn’t growing a kids’ ministry. The goal is growing kids.

Which means walking with them, from toddler to adulthood and through all the transitions in between.

Modeling Jesus and Truth for a lifetime of learning.

DEVELOP THE RIGHT TEAM

A lesson from Friends: Why you need a Joey and a Monica

It’s not that one person can’t handle the 6 kids in your small church.

It’s just that your goal isn’t to run events. Your goal is to develop Christ-followers for a lifetime.

And that kind of team looks different.

Even with small numbers, your youth ministry team should look a lot like the cast of an effective sitcom.

Lives are changed by relationships. And relationships take time.

And energy.

Although we covet the energetic young adult who can stay up all night playing nerf gun wars, that person does not relate to every kid.

We also need a Ross, a Rachel, a Monica, a Phoebe, and a Chandler.

Under the Leadership section of this website you can find help for developing any kind of team, youth ministry included.

Find ideas there for Recruiting, Developing, and Appreciating Volunteers. Running meetings. Vision casting. Delegating. Evaluating. And More.

What I want to emphasize here is you need a team because you need relationships. There are as many different types of kids as there are adults.

The one-size-fits-all youth minister is a myth.

If we are going to be serious about relationships, we need to remember the shy kids, happy kids, anxious kids.

The bookworms, the athletes, the geeks, the gamers, the environmentalists, the fashionistas, and more.

Can we offer a place that welcomes and walks with all? This needs to be reflected in your team of volunteers.

This doesn’t mean your events have a 1-1 ratio of Adult:Kids. Or that you have 4 teachers in a class of 6 kids.

It just means you have a variety of adults around who love kids AND are trained in relational ministry.

They are on hand for larger events. Maybe on call. Maybe as needed. But they are seen and available.

Be on the lookout for an uncommon team.

Watch for the elderly usher who softens a student with his kind smile.

And the young adult who encourages the 8-year old with a fist bump and a head nod at your Sunday Service.

This informal mentoring at Small Churches is undeniably God at work.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

If you were hoping for a specific list of programs and lesson plans for Kids Ministries in Small Churches, check out new content on the blog every week! And sign up for emails so you don’t miss anything.

I have plenty of ideas, lists and lessons to share. But this comes first.

You don’t want to be a bunch of moving hands and feet not connected to a brain or a spine!

Events are the icing on the cake. Too often we offer the icing but no cake.

We are about developing kids to love and serve Christ.

Instead of trying to do ministry like a large church, embrace this truth.

The Small Church is uniquely positioned to offer relationship and significance in a way that large churches cannot.

  • Define Core Beliefs
  • Develop Policies that Protect
  • Strategize to Keep them Coming Back (Cradle to College)
  • Develop the RIGHT Team

Having a small number of youth is not failure. Failure is in not caring for the youth we have.

FOR MORE YOUTH MINISTRY HELP, CHECK OUT:

Team Building in a Small Church. Your Ultimate Resource for Finding Volunteers, Keeping Volunteers, and Appreciating Volunteers! Especially for Women in Ministry in Small Churches.

The Best Youth Ministry Kick-Off Event Ever! Get youth and adults together to plan a year of events in one evening and leave with volunteers in place.