Here’s a statement that will probably make most pastors and church members pause: Children’s ministry may be the most important ministry of your church. D.L. Moody once said, “If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God!”
Statistics show that 80-85% of those who believe in Christ came to know the Lord between the ages of 4 and 14. With somewhere around 65% of the population in many countries now under the age of 25, the need for effective youth ministries has never been greater than it is right now! Millions of children and teens are living without any foundation or focus. They have no role model to look at or hero to aspire to be like. They need Jesus! Children’s ministry is particularly important because it could well be the first place a child has an encounter with the Gospel. This is why Jesus so desperately wanted the little children to come to him (Matthew 19:14).
According to research by the Fuller Youth Institute, 40 to 50% of kids who are part of a youth group in high school fail to stick with their faith in college. In attempt to find out why the researchers at FYI conducted a 6-year, comprehensive and longitudinal study from 2004 to 2010. The study’s findings are found in the 2011 book Sticky Faith: Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers by Kara E. Powell, Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl A. Crawford.
One of the major findings that stood out to me in their research was the fact that the paths of where our teens will end up in their faith are set during their childhood years. Basically, if we have an idea of what we want our teens to know or at least be exposed to when they graduate high school, we need to start planning that when they enter the nursery. Children’s ministry sets the foundation of faith that should be built on the Gospel. Neglecting children’s ministry, or treating it less than top priority, is like not properly pouring the foundation for your home. Things might looks nice for a while but eventually it’s all going to crumble.
Sadly, many churches don’t immediately recognize this as a need. They may say that there is a need but the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words” has special relevance in this conversation. In some cases a church’s children’s ministry budget is the smallest part. In some cases a youth pastor (who primarily focuses on teens) is the first staff hire. In some cases the nursery paint or supplies haven’t been updated since the time they were first purchased, which could have been 10 years ago.
Now please understand, my point here is not to just push for exceptional facilities. While I do believe excellence in facilities are important, we’re not just interested in running a good “Sunday Daycare.” As part of the body of Christ, children’s ministry should be evaluated with the same care and concern as the church itself. Are we really preaching the Gospel here?
Teaching children is a huge responsibility! Matthew 18:5-6 makes it clear that we must take it seriously and do it well. We are called to, and absolutely must, tell the stories of faith to our children. In Psalm 78:5-7 God “commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children.” Deuteronomy 6:4 acknowledges that the passing on of faith is one that all adults should take seriously (not just parents). The verse says “Listen, O Israel," not, “Listen, O Parents.” While parents are certainly the number one influencer in their kids’ lives, the church is also called on to minister to the lives of the next generation
I’m driving at all this to help us realize that it may be time we reevaluated our priorities. It may be time we put children’s ministry back on the top. As a youth minister, myself, I recognize that my role in children’s ministry has significant importance. While I may have been brought on staff to minister to the needs of teens I am beginning to realize that children’s ministry has greater implications on the future of my teens than perhaps anything else I could do right now.
A healthy children’s ministry will attract families to the church just as an unhealthy or declining children’s ministry may result in families leaving the church. Thriving children’s ministries could have more of an impact on the church as a whole than any other ministry in the church. An effective children’s ministry can make a positive impact in a child’s life that will last for a lifetime. It’s time that our churches took this fact seriously.
Caleb Phelps graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb now serves as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. You can check out his youth group's website at www.crosspointeyouth.com.
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