What are we supposed to be doing in children’s ministry? The bottom line is we’re in ministry to help mold kids so they live as Christ followers. And we’re painfully aware that, in the church, we have little time with the children to accomplish this. However, the full responsibility is not on us. As the church, we are here to help parents and be their partners in this effort.
For this partnership to work, both parents and the church must understand how their responsibilities complement each other. Our parents need to understand and apply a biblical worldview when raising their children. They have to model daily how to be a Christ follower if they expect their children to be Christ followers. The value of this cannot be underestimated. Then, as the church, we come alongside parents and reinforce what they are living out on a daily basis in the home.
Now let’s make a few assumptions. Let’s assume our children’s parents regularly attend church. Let’s also assume that these parents love their children. Finally let’s assume that these parents want their children to become adults who are Christ followers. If all these assumptions are true, then here are some ways in which children’s ministries can partner with parents.
1. Communicate. It is important to let parents know on a regular basis what is taught in the church. Here are some of the methods we’ve used: sending take-home papers; projecting children’s ministry teaching information on the screen during the main worship service; offering information on the website; teaching in conjunction with the adult curriculum to create family discussion. We know that none of these ways are 100 percent effective, but they provide help to the families who wish to use them.
2. Create family events. We started making children’s events family-oriented. We ask that a parent be present at every teaching or social event. For example, our fall festival is a family event that doesn’t require many volunteers, and it brings families together with other families in the church.
3. Discontinue the kids-only VBS. We have restructured our vacation Bible school to be a family VBS so parents are involved, too. In this type of structure, the parents are brought along in the teaching automatically. We don’t dismiss the adults for a separate lesson—they stay with their kids the entire time. This is a great opportunity for families to enjoy quality time and a shared hands-on experience together.
4. Dedicate parents. For years, we have held Baby Day. There are lots of “oohs” and “aahs” as beautiful babies and proud parents are introduced to the church family. Make no mistake, though—this is not a baby dedication but a parent dedication. While this is a great way for a parent to make a public, verbal commitment, we have increased the impact by requiring that parents attend a special class before participating in the actual ceremony. Parents learn why it’s important to dedicate themselves to godly parenting, and we provide parenting tools and resources. It’s invaluable to educate parents at this juncture about their responsibility to teach their child about matters of faith. If they can form a habit of spiritual education in their family, they have a much better chance of sticking with it in the latter years.
5. Build a Backyard Bible Club. The main goal of Backyard Bible Clubs is to help church members see the influence they can and should have outside the walls of the church building. Each club is held in a church family’s neighborhood and hosted by one or two families. The club is an outreach to the neighborhood, and it creates a way for families to work together to invite neighbors. This is a great opportunity for parents to model that faith is something to be shared on a daily basis.
6. Include parents. We offer a Bible 101 class for children who want to make a commitment to Christ. This is a four-week course, and it is mandatory for parents to participate the first and last week. The purpose of the class is to make sure the parents are informed about what their child will be learning. It’s also to instruct and encourage parents to be involved in their child’s experience of making a decision to follow Christ. The children are given a booklet to work on at home with their parents, and some questions require parents’ input. Hopefully, the parents will become an integral part of their child’s spiritual growth.
7. Organize family teaching. We allow and encourage families to teach together. We have several families who teach a Sunday school class as a family unit. This is yet another opportunity for the parents to be spiritual role models in service and attitude.
8. Mark spiritual growth. One area that we plan to develop is a way to applaud spiritual benchmarks of the children. I think this will be significant for the parents. If we are communicating what we expect the children to learn and then acknowledge these steps when they are accomplished, it will reinforce the importance of spiritual growth.
It is possible to only teach and never offer opportunities for parents to use what they have learned. It also is possible to offer opportunities, but never educate the parents on how to be spiritual leaders in their families. It would seem that our most effective efforts to bring family and church together are through teaching and coaching the parents and providing them with opportunities to use their knowledge in practical ways. These approaches go hand-in-hand.
Since there is limited time spent with the children in our ministry, we need to be effective partners in raising Christ followers. As children’s and family life ministers, we have a timely and exciting challenge before us. Let’s step up to the challenge!
—Becky Arthur is the children’s minister at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, Missouri.
Adapted from Collaborate: Family + Church, by Michael Chanley + the Group of 34, © 2010 Ministers Label. Used by permission.