After prominent Christian researcher George Barna spent three years studying ministry to children, his findings “revolutionized” his view of ministry. “I have concluded that children are the single most important population group for the Church to focus upon,” he said.
Barna found, for example, that most people’s spiritual beliefs “are irrevocably formed when they are pre-teens.” In addition, a person’s moral foundation is generally laid by the age of nine.
Clearly, reaching children for Christ should be a top priority for churches, but you can’t target children with your messaging. Parents are the primary audience to reach when attracting families to church.
So, what should churches prioritize in order to attract the attention of parents and help them feel comfortable about bringing and leaving their children? I asked a mother of three who is actively serving in the children’s ministry of a Dallas church what she–as a parent–looks for in this area.
“In my third year of directing a weekly Bible study for babies and preschoolers at our church, I’ve thought a lot about this question. In addition, my husband works in law enforcement, and is particularly cautious about leaving our own three children in an unfamiliar place. For us, here are some things that make a strong first impression:
1. “Personal invitations. The safety and formation of my children tops my list of priorities. And you have to know the deep, inner-workings of a children’s program to trust that it’s serious and effective in these two areas. If someone I trust recommends the quality and depth of a church, school, or Bible class, I’ll give it serious consideration, no matter what the “bells and whistles” look like.”
Make it yours: Churches should continue to encourage members (and children!) with the classic admonition, “Invite your friends to church!” Word of mouth works, especially when it comes to the best options for kids.
2. “A warm welcome. When I’m in a new place with my children, I’m immediately put to ease when greeted by someone who’s warm, friendly, and knowledgeable; who’s willing to walk me down the hall and introduce me to a teacher; and who’s present enough to speak to my children and extend them a personal welcome.”
Make it yours: Churches should not only put friendly people in welcoming positions, but also provide some training. It can be difficult for longtime members to recall the insecurities of a visitor.
3. “One teacher + another helper. I want to leave my children with at least one mature adult, preferably a woman if I’m leaving them somewhere for the first time. Though men can be great teachers, too, child abuse is most often perpetrated by men. So, I prefer at least one female adult + another person to ensure the safest environment.”
Make it yours: Contact local authorities about the best ways to educate your children’s teachers and volunteers on safety precautions in a classroom setting, and implement recommendations. A great resource for churches is MinistrySafe. We’ve also discussed ways to protect children in this blogpost.
4. “Someone in charge. If I have questions, especially about safety procedures or my child’s individual needs, I want to know who’s responsible. I want to feel like someone is steering the ship, in a humble, gentle way, and know I can talk to that person, as needed.”
Make it yours: Ensure that your children’s ministry director or another knowledgeable staff or lay minister is in close proximity to classrooms to answer questions from parents, when needed.
5. “A child-friendly, tidy appearance. The classroom doesn’t have to be fancy; in fact, I personally feel more comfortable with a space that isn’t too sensationalized. (No indoor climbing wall necessary for me.) But it must be bright, cheery, and organized. Not that solid teaching can’t happen in a boring room, but I want to feel like children are celebrated in this place, and not just an afterthought.”
Make it yours: At least once a year, evaluate children’s spaces to make sure they’re organized, efficient, deep-cleaned, and appealing. Set up processes that will help you and your volunteers take care of your space.
6. “Substance over style. Are my children being exposed to solid teaching or just baby-sitting? How is the Bible being taught? Does the church believe that children can learn and understand deep truths about God? While simple childcare is sometimes appropriate, a church’s primary children’s program should have clear goals for developing kids spiritually, specifically in their knowledge of the Bible, prayer, service, and personal experience with God.”
Make it yours: Learn how to articulate the heart and vision of your children’s ministry in a few, short sentences. Be ready to share this regularly with visitors, volunteers, and even children (in kid-friendly terms). And, we’re beginning to hear more and more on this: Make sure that your children’s learning environment isn’t simply a flashy, overstimulating amusement park.