Why Children’s Ministry Hasn’t Been Working

This might come as a redundant post to where many people have already landed. I think though I’ve finally placed my finger on why children’s ministry at my church and the other churches I’ve worked with have never felt complete. They have always felt unthoughtful, typical and forced. It’s the same how I see a lot of parenting. I’ll be careful with this, because of course I am not a parent. However, you can’t help but notice the harmful ways we have raised our kids over the last fifty years. Everything from what they eat, watch, participate in, how we talk to them and how we don’t spend time with them. It’s all pretty messed up. So I guess it’s fair to say I’ve felt weary about raising children in general, not just in our church communities. However, I’ll focus on children and church for this post.

For the last four years at the story, we have been looking for the right way to raise our kids in the church. Of course, we have come up against a lot of problems. Some of the problems being:

1. Children get 45 minutes a week in a separate room to learn child-appropriate lessons, build relationships with other children and experience the Sunday gathering at their level. Only 45 minutes with their own programming and a few hours if you include the singing and the potluck.

2. Every parent parents differently at home. Every teacher teaches differently at their schools. Because we only get 45 minutes, there is no good way to build a discipline or rhythm into the day or the children for how things are done or what is expected. So we are forced to plan things by the lowest common denominator to work with the most amount of kids. This usually means that plenty of the unique kids with special needs, or that don’t like classrooms or that are disciplined differently don’t get the right kind of love or attention.

3. The curriculum in most books and in most packages that we have seen or purchased is complete crap. It teaches bad theology and cleans up the stories and almost always ceases to place the stories in the proper context of the entire narrative of the scriptures. The only option we could come up with was to write our own, which of course we have no time to do that, so I just stay constantly frustrated with what we are teaching. It’s like playing a preacher’s video over and over again because we don’t have time to prepare our own sermon, and the preacher sucks. We would never do it for our adults, but we do it for our kids all the time.

For the longest time, we’ve really put not much a lot of consideration into the kids and what was happening. We would try and find suitable curriculum and rotate different parents through the teaching schedule and just let it happen. We did make some changes, and I think these changes were very positive for our community.

1. We put in a toddler area into the middle of the seating for Sunday morning. Parents could stay in the service with their children played or coloured. It was a great way to integrate everyone and meet them where they were at. Sure the kids got loud, but we’ve never not had that happen, so it was a good compromise.

2. During the singing, we gave all the kids instruments of some sort, usually percusison. Over the past year we’ve watched as kids who were normally disruptive, running around and moping because of the singing, move to the front, grab and instrument and sing along. The kids are learning our songs and worship is now more centered around them. It’s amazing how much kids learn beautiful songs when you just keep singing them over and over again. When kids are involved in singing, it’s easy for a community to follow suit.

However, once the kids move off into the other room and their own curriculum starts happening, our creative direction sort of ends. We don’t really know what to do. And I think I’ve figured out what our problem is.

I feel like our problem is that we have focused all of our attention on what the kids are learning and what curriculum to use or create. Instead, what we should be focusing on is how we treat our kids, how we are teaching them, how we are sharing the stories of our faith with them and working together as a community to co-operate in raising our kids as a community. I’m really not interested in having the pressure of parents for 45 minutes a week to infuse in them as many Christians character traits as possible. What I am interested in is working alongside of the community and the children to build relationships with them, grow with them in a healthy way and all learn through our growth. We’ve been trying now to just teach them what we know, teach them what is right and use the right curriculum so that they are engaged and interested throughout the entire 45 minutes and come out “learning something.” Instead, we should be spending our time focusing on families (pun intended, but not really) and how they interact with each other and interact with the community at large.

This means we need to be spending time helping the teachers and the parents be better teachers and parents. This means that we have to start creating a culture that we have reached a consensus on in how we treat people, treat families and treat children. This means that we have to work together, especially parents, to figure out boundaries, rituals and agree on the stories that are important to pass down. This isn’t about curriculum anymore. It’s about an entire lifestyle that we are creating for our children so that they are meaningfully integrated into our community, not just another program that we organize so they are entertained. Curriculum will always have very little impact on our children. The environment that we raise them in, the relationships that they build and the experiences that they have with each other and with the community has a whole will be what defines their relationship to the church as they grow up.

We’ve been reading Godly Play recently, and I just finished reading Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and have been dabbling in some Montessori philosophy of education. This I feel is just the first layer of unpacking everything we need to learn as a community and how to grow with kids. But for the first time, I feel like we are on the right track. It feels good.

1 thought on “Why Children’s Ministry Hasn’t Been Working”

  1. I like this post. As I might have mentioned to you last time I was down, my goal following university is to become an elementary school teacher and you brought up some good points. Two teachers can present the children with the exact same material but their different styles of interaction will decide how much the children actually learn both scholastically and socially. Also I will be coming down in the second week of September and I’ll come by and see you if you’re going to be around.

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