Mobilizing a Millennial Generation
Four champions of children’s ministry discuss these and other questions related to children’s ministry: Earl Banning, pastor, Braeswood Assembly , Houston, Texas; Tommy Barnett, pastor, First Assembly of God, Phoenix, Arizona; Peter Hohmann, associate pastor of Christian education and missions, Mechanicsville Christian Center, Mechanicsville, Virginia; and Jay Hostetler, children’s pastor, First Church of God, San Diego, California.
Was there a childhood event or relationship that influenced you to enter the ministry?
BANNING: My father was a rancher and my mother was the pastor of a small church of about 75. I was impacted by their role model, worship, my Sunday school teachers, and the Word these people proclaimed. I came to know Jesus Christ at age 7. My call to the ministry came later.
BARNETT: Someone gave my dad an old bus that he used to take several of the boys from our church and me on Saturdays to knock on doors and leave a handbill. The burden for ministry resulted from this outreach. My Sunday school teacher led me to the baptism in the Holy Spirit in my class. I learned most about the Bible in Sunday school.
HOHMANN: I was raised Catholic and attended a parochial school when I was in first grade. The priest visited our classroom and interacted with the kids. He knew our names even though thousands were in that parish. We could tell he loved us. A seed was sown in my heart to be a priest like him, but God redirected my path. I still follow that priest’s example, though I’m an Assemblies of God pastor. Each Sunday I try to acknowledge all the kids and communicate that I love them. I’ve heard that one of the real test factors in determining a child’s future involvement in a church is, “The pastor knew my name.”
HOSTETLER: I had no experience in the church until I was 11. I attended a small house church in western Pennsylvania where I met a Sunday school teacher who took me in. My home situation was not good, and this teacher developed a relationship with me. He took me to baseball games, played tennis with me, and through his guidance I felt tied into the church. As he talked to me and worked with me, I felt I would be involved in the ministry someday. His interaction in my life did it for me.
How should the statistic that says 85 percent of those who become Christians do so between the ages of 4 and 14 impact ministry to children and a church’s budget and promotion?
HOSTETLER: In most churches an inversion of money, personnel, and facilities is dedicated to the people in the 15 percent bracket and not as much to the 85 percent bracket. Churches should put more energy into the 85 percent age bracket in every way possible.
BARNETT: Our number one priority in children’s ministry is soul winning. As soon as children begin coming to church, we tell them they must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We give altar calls in each Sunday school class, Royal Rangers meeting, and Missionettes meeting. We also teach children how to witness to their friends.
Concerning the church budget, most of it should be spent on children. That’s why we run buses and feel the children’s pastor is one of the first staff members we should get. If children’s ministry is the most important, we must have a children’s church high-tech auditorium. Right now we’re building three such auditoriums with video equipment and other things that can compete with television and do it better.
BANNING: Our priority begins in the nursery and goes through the youth department, with special attention to the elementary grades. We want the best and do what we need to do to obtain that, whether it is working with volunteers or paid staff.
Budget wise, if any sacrifice is to be made in the church, it will be in the adult department. We will provide the best for our children, for they are the most precious resource we have presently and for the future.
Worship services are piped into the nursery so newborn and preschool children know the sound of church and are introduced to the body of Christ. We also developed a children-friendly board who has the same heart I have for our children. Our board has exposure to our nursery and children’s department through assignments or to investigate certain activities or functions. This has made a tremendous impact on our budget.
HOHMANN: The greatest unreached congregation probably lies in the preschool children’s church and Sunday school, not in the general congregation. But what about the other statistic that 85 percent of our attitude—how we feel about God and the church—is formed by age 6? Some pastors still see children’s ministries as a place to shuffle kids while the adults get on with spiritual business. Children’s ministries deserve our best workers and resources, and that’s what new families look for in a church home.
How do you integrate children into the body of your church?
BARNETT: Church kids need to come with their parents to one of the services, such as Sunday night, instead of being placed in the nursery or children’s church. To integrate, I use something that relates to children and their understanding such as illustrated sermons. I keep sermons short because kids must go to school the next day.
Children are integrated into our church’s special drama productions and my illustrated sermons. A children’s choir and a children’s day give kids opportunity to participate, including bus kids who may do a rap with the choir. We are constantly concerned about how to keep kids’ interest.
BANNING: If children only attend the children’s service, when they reach the age when they can make a choice, they will not be in church because they have not been a part of it. Total integration is the key.
We hold a children’s musical each quarter in the sanctuary as well as a periodic drama. Children, including preschoolers, are featured in Sunday night services. Frequently, we have an all-church VBS in the evening.
Children are baptized in water in the same service as adults. They participate in Junior Bible Quiz by memorizing Scriptures. Quiz-offs in the church service integrate them into the congregation. Children participate in worship or whatever is going on.
HOHMANN: A great way to accomplish integration is by providing kids with opportunities to minister to others through their spiritual gifts. One way we do this is in our preschool children’s church; preteens and early teens staff most of the 25 learning centers. The younger children are mentored by the older children. The public schools usually follow the opposite model and segregate or isolate children by age groups, which prevents younger children from benefiting from older children’s experience. Unfortunately, most churches adopt this same model.
HOSTETLER: Participation, not entertainment, is the key. Children should be alongside other ministries that are ongoing. They actually participate so we’re not looking at the church as ministry that’s always focused toward children, but the children are involved in the body of Christ in such a way they’re participating in the ministry of the church.
The church’s attention needs to be on helping parents train morally and spiritually responsible children. How can the church work with parents in this way?
HOSTETLER: The church needs to view families, parents, and children’s ministries as a partnership in the decision-making process of nurturing children spiritually. This may take the form of focus groups or idea exchanges where parents give input. Basically, two things must be considered: (1) the institutional approach—providing education through seminars, guest speakers, etc.; and (2) the organic approach—bringing parents together to talk about childhood issues and what the church expects of kids in their life development. For example, caring for others, which is modeled in our church. We can train children in areas such as socialization skills, discipline issues, self-discipline, and how to develop priorities in spiritual growth.
HOHMANN: Several hundred parents in our church have gone through Christian parenting classes that cover every stage of development from prenatal through adolescence. It’s not uncommon to see entire families ministering together in children’s church or other ministries. God advances His kingdom through the local church, but the church is composed of families. We started an intergenerational outreach team composed of children and adults to encourage families to stay together. We feel it is important to have at least one place in the church where entire families can minister together without being divided into age-specific grouping.
BANNING: In teaching, training, disciplining children, make sure they have a strong self-image, self-confidence, or self-reliance. Many children from broken homes have torn self-images. Strengthen these children and make sure they understand they are can-do believers by faith. Feed them the full gospel of Christ. By the time the children in our church reach fifth grade, nearly all have received the Baptism and speak with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance. We expect, teach, and anticipate this. For children we also have doctrinal classes that teach the fundamental truths of our faith.
In the adult division, we have classes to help unhealthy families, divorce recovery, parenting, premarital counseling, and doctrine.
We introduce our children to service wherever the need arises as well as support groups of all kinds for both adults and children. Body ministry is introduced in children’s church where children pray for children; lead other children into the baptism in the Holy Spirit, etc.
Churches differ in size and formation, so programs must differ as well. Much attention is given to build children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
BARNETT: We have a Family Enrichment Month, beginning on Mother’s Day and ending on Father’s Day, where we focus on equipping the family in the art of parenting. My sermons address the family, and I use illustrated sermons. Specialists come in and teach parenting, which includes single and unwed parents. During this month we conduct our kids camps and seminars.
Equipping the family to raise children and be examples is the most important part. As a pastor I must also be the example of that and show the congregation that even though I’m busy, I have priorities—to the Lord first, then to the family, and to the church. Preach it, mirror it, live it.
To what degree does children’s ministry impact church growth?
BARNETT: People will come to a church they don’t even like if there is a great children’s/youth program there. If you can win the kids, you have a good chance at the parents. Many people in our church came because their kids first rode the bus, and we went to the home and developed a relationship with the parents. We have one thing in common: We both love their children.
Children’s ministry is not just taking care of the parents’ children when they come to church. It’s not baby-sitting. To win the kids to the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest evangelistic tool we have.
BANNING: If you touch a child, you touch the parents, and you minister to them in a positive sense with positive response. And if you have happy children, you’ll have happy parents. If we can bring children in, excite them in Christ, and bring them to a living knowledge of Jesus Christ, they’re going to take it home with them, and it will impact their parents as well.
Without a children’s program, you’re going to miss parents with families coming to your church. Parents look for the best. We should do the best we can with what we have through creative programs that minister to children in a spiritual, vital way.
We give the best part of our building and facilities to the children—space-wise as well as appropriateness in design. Parents are looking for answers to their children’s futures, and the church is the answer. We’re building Kingdom people and must get this principle into parents’ hearts and heads, which is often done through the children.
Why is it important for senior pastors to understand the ministry of their children’s pastors?
BANNING: It’s very important for senior pastors to understand the children’s pastor’s role, not only in terms of program and curriculum but personally—to know him,* have fellowship with him, and talk with him. Find out where his heart is, what he’s thinking, his frustrations, his joys, and his blessings. It’s important for the pastor to be a part of that and share the frustration of the social and spiritual pressure under which he performs. Let him know you are there to help him succeed in his ministry.
A team is being developed at our church with 10 full-time ministers on staff. We want the staff to understand the Kingdom principle: Not my kingdom, but God’s; not my department, but the church’s, the body of Christ. The pastor has a large role to play in the team atmosphere. Spend time with your children’s pastor personally as well as in group activity, not just in the formal staffing situations. Most of the best work is done interacting with your staff in casual discussion. Lift the burden of the 24-hour caring and nurturing they go through and create a team spirit. I want my children’s pastor to know me and that I care. I’m a servant working alongside the team to help them do the best job.
We want them to be a visible and vocal part of what’s happening. The pastor must provide a role model to the congregation. I want the board, the elders, and the entire church to know we are a team.
BARNETT: We need to communicate several things to the children’s pastor: (1) He’s the most important pastor on the staff. (2) Build a sense of equality. He can go to the board and address his needs anytime. (3) Include him in everything. I am always talking about the children, which is part of bringing him into the loop—part of keeping kids interested. (4) Try to make the children’s pastor the kids’ hero, a role model—God’s person to them. He loves them; he loves God, and he’s a mirror of what Jesus Christ is like. The pastor’s duty is to create an image of the children’s pastor to the children and to the parents—that he is God’s gift to the church. When we give the children’s pastor that sense of self-esteem, he is going to run though walls and leap over them at the same time.
BANNING: One more thing. In our program evaluations, we found we were not feeding workers into the children’s department—preschool, and elementary grades—as we should. In these areas more workers per capita are needed than in any other department.
Our adult department began assigning their teachers the responsibility to disciple and provide a tithe of members from their classes into the children’s programs. When they are ready to send out these volunteers, the class lays hands on them and prays for them, brings them before the entire congregation, lays hands on them again, and commissions them to work in the children’s department. We make a big issue of it so the whole church sees that this is a Kingdom process, not a departmental program. This provides ready workers for the children’s department.
Furthermore, some of the children’s workers have been on duty for years, and we’re going to give them a sabbatical of 6 months to 1 year to go to any class they want and be refreshed, and then go back to the children if they wish.
HOSTETLER: Senior pastors can help children’s pastors best by listening to them, spending time with them, getting an idea where their ministry is headed. When a senior pastor links arms with the children’s pastor, things go a lot smoother in such things as budgeting and facility use. If the children’s pastor and youth pastor are on the same stage as the senior pastor regarding purpose and mission, that helps. Sometimes children’s pastors fail to give senior pastors the information they need to help them in decision making. It’s a two-way street, but senior pastors can help by publicly recognizing the children’s ministry, not just the fact children are in another building or out of the adults’ hair.
I’m starting to see a slippage of focus and to hear terminology such as baby-sitting kids or doing child care as opposed to ministry to kids. Senior pastors can help keep that mind-set at bay.
HOHMANN: Affirmation is important. I believe 85 percent of mentoring is simply affirmation. Many children’s pastors feel the senior pastor doesn’t know or appreciate what they do. An affirming word goes a long way toward preventing staff burnout. Whenever possible the senior pastor should attend the children’s program. An occasional visit will do wonders for the children’s workers’ attitudes also.
What spiritually promising trends have you observed in children’s ministries?
HOSTETLER: Three things: (1) Children’s ministry is heading toward relational-based ministry as opposed to programmatic ministry. We deal with so many kids who are deprived that to have ministry based on relationship building is a promising spiritual trend. Jesus accomplished great things through relationships. (2) I see support aids in curriculum now available for kids—a shift in focus such as Scripture memorization and knowledge. (3) I’ve seen real growth in small groups, which will be significant as we head into a new millennium. Kids are dealing with more and more isolation from adults. They need opportunities as a church to talk with someone. So much of our program is based on large groups, even Sunday school classes.
HOHMANN: (1) I see small groups being utilized to a greater extent in children’s ministries. These groups enable kids to process and apply lessons taught in a large group setting. We have action groups, which are composed of about five kids and provide a time for the kids to pray for one another.
(2) I see a trend toward discipleship of children in the context of outreach missions as the senior pastor such as nursing homes and inner-city housing projects. They’re doing it through the performing arts and practical service project support.
(3) I also see a greater recognition of children’s spiritual capacity. Kids can hear God and obey Him, intercede for people and nations, and minister to others. We used to say to kids, “When you grow up, you can be used by God or anointed or be a missionary.” Now they are shouting back, “Why not now?”
Equipping and releasing children in ministry is important. how is this done?
HOHMANN: One way is through children’s evangelistic outreaches. We develop teams to disciple children for involvement in missions outreaches.
At Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida, children’s pastor Van Lane conducts his children’s church this way: He has a worship team of children ages 8 to 15. A 12-year-old runs the sound system. Greeters are all kids. The 16 puppeteers are third and fourth graders. Kids decide who deserves the prize for good behavior. Seventy-five children on the prayer team rotate weekly and are trained to pray for other kids’ needs in corporate prayer.
What this involves is change in leadership style. Instead of adults directing all the ministry, they need to become facilitators. Equipping and releasing kids to ministry should be our goal, but most adults love center stage and are reluctant to give that up. If you don’t equip preteens to minister to others, they often become bored with Christianity. They can link the generation between adults, teens, and younger children.
HOSTETLER: One of the key issues is to provide many different opportunities for kids to serve. These kids are willing. Church leaders must lead the way in training and using kids through mentoring, training, and actually participating in ministry. We also need to train children in the context of their regular attendance at church and create some training modules within our programming for ministry in other arenas.
What about churches that are large enough to have a children’s pastor but don’t have one?
HOHMANN: They should view children as needing a pastor of their own, and it should be a high priority. Often the children’s pastor might be the fifth, sixth, or seventh staff member added to the list—so many things come before them. Yet we’re talking about a large group of people.
HOSTETLER: That comes in the area of strategy: Where does the senior pastor want to take the church? The staff development plan should expand to include family-type ministry.
Any final remarks?
HOHMANN: I do many things as a pastor, but nothing is as strategic as my ministry to children. What could possibly be more strategic than mobilizing a millennial generation that could turn the world to Jesus Christ? Kids living today will actually bring closure to the Great Commission. What greater task could there be than preparing them for this task?
HOSTETLER: This is a great day for ministry to children. We have the best technology available to reach this generation. People who are involved in children’s ministry are anxious to continue to grow, be effective, and develop partnerships with senior/executive pastors and other staff. Many children’s ministry leaders feel isolated. Affirmation from the senior pastor can turn a program around. We need to work together and see what God will do.
*Although the above discussion uses the male gender form in reference to the children’s pastor’s role, the discussion is equally valid for females serving as children’s pastors.
The above article, “Mobilizing a Millennial Generation,” is written by Ron Feeler. The article was excerpted from www.childrensministry.com website, where it was published in October of 2012.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.