Christine Yount Jones
The top trends that could rattle your ministry from the ground up — if you let them
Trend-spotting is best done by experts. It takes a savvy person to distinguish the difference between a passing fad that’ll waste your time and a seismic trend that could rattle the very foundations of your ministry. That’s why we asked the experts — leading children’s ministers, consultants, authors, resource creators, advisors, and professors — to spot the macrotrends that are poised to send quakes through your ministry.
Just as fads and trends differ, not all trends are created equal. Macrotrends are emerging from the culture of children and require serious consideration and change in course.
So hold on tight as we unveil what’ll be shaking, rattling, and rolling in your ministry this coming year. Your mission is to strategically create a ministry with an impact that’s off the Richter scale.
Macrotrend #1: Family Ministry
Family Ministry is a strategy that directly impacts a child’s spiritual growth by reaching the child’s entire family. It’s a response to God’s directive for parents to train their children spiritually (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Family Ministry acknowledges that our time with kids is limited at church — one hour a week compared to dozens of hours at home. By reaching the entire family, children’s ministers maximize opportunities parents have throughout the week to help their children develop a thriving friendship with Jesus.
Family Ministry degree programs in Christian colleges and seminaries have increased, and the position of Family Minister is on the upswing on church staffs. Increasing numbers of churches are strategically hiring a Family Ministry staff person and reorganizing their entire birth-through-high-school ministry under the umbrella of Family Ministry. Each age-specific ministry area plans, coordinates, schedules, communicates, and prays so everything they do supports and equips families.
Family Ministry strategies span the spectrum from take-home papers to intergenerational programs — with everything from family events, parent training, resource libraries, and family counseling in between. Effective Family Ministry churches have multiple communication points for families: the weekly take-home paper; downloadable podcasts of large group teaching; CDs to purchase or take for free that families can listen to in the car; and weekly emails to parents with tips, insights, and faith-nurturing ideas.
Family Ministry churches invest in resources that equip families with training and tools. Many churches have an online resource library similar to Hill Country Bible Church’s Web site in Austin, Texas. Parents can browse recommended resources for them and their children that are available for purchase in the church bookstore. There’s also a burgeoning offering in family-focused curriculum. Programs that target families include Group’s FaithWeaver family of resources that maximizes multigenerational learning (every person studying the same Scripture in age-graded classes) and Northpoint Church’s 252 Basics that focuses on intergenerational learning (families learning together in the same environment).
“Family Ministry is a way to bring the generations together. We are recognizing that by dividing our ministries exclusively by ages and stages (children, youth, young adult, middle adult, and older adults), we contribute to the fragmentation of families. Family Ministry is not just ministry to families and ministry for families, but also ministry with and in families. We want to encourage more opportunities for our families to experience life in Christ together.”– Holly Allen, director of children and family ministries at John Brown University
Strategic Impact: Retool your ministry to focus on reaching families through everything you do. Create a strategic plan from birth through high school that integrates the family at each stage. Focus less on segregating families and more on bringing families together for Christian education — whether it’s in the same room or everyone in separate rooms studying the same Bible passage.
Macrotrend #2: Wired Ministry
Wired Ministry is the use of media and technology to capture kids’ attention and communicate the gospel to a media-savvy generation. It’s a response to kids’ glassy-eyed stares when they’re taught in ways that aren’t culturally relevant.
Kids today are “digital natives,” according to trend-spotter and author of Trend-Savvy Parenting Mary Manz Simon. And kids enter the digital world from birth. Manz Simon has tagged babies as “mousers” who access computer programs called lapware via their parent’s lap.
Kids today are Firefly cell phone-toting, video-game playing, TV-watching, iTunes downloading, instant messaging wonders. The proliferation of digital choices is not unique to children; it’s just that children know nothing else but a technologically saturated environment. As a result, their brains work differently, their attention spans are shorter, and their patience for nontechnological teaching is thin.
Wired Ministry pulls kids into the technology rather than simply using media as a passive communication tool (that is, setting them in front of a TV screen for the entire lesson).
Video gaming stations for kids to use before class are a good example of Wired Ministry. Another one is interactive video countdowns where kids are prompted to build relationships with one another — rather than simply answer trivia questions.
Wired Ministry churches maximize the Internet for their ministries. They have dynamic, secure, kid-friendly sites that do a fabulous job showcasing their ministry while also giving kids a reason to come back to the site — games, clues, changing content, email capacity, and downloadable music and videos.
“I have a 7-year-old son who loves to go online and play games. He has taken possession of my PS2, and now when I bring my laptop home he leaves the PlayStation for online gaming. I don’t want to make it sound bad; we limit his game time. When he goes online it’s to play games, and I hear that from many other parents…I am working on a new children’s Web site, and we will offer 15 different games, hoping this will encourage kids to check us out.”– Russ Hill, associate pastor of children at First Baptist Church in Rogers, Arkansas
Strategic Impact: Use multimedia in your teaching every single time you teach. It’s not optional. Spend the money to get the resources you need — a Web site, a video projection unit and large screen for a large room, televisions and DVD players for individual classrooms, gaming stations for kids before class. Learn to speak digital to the kids in your ministry in classrooms and online. If you’re not, then you’re not speaking their language.
Macrotrend #3: Safety First
Safety First is when a church takes every step possible to ensure that all children are protected at church so parents have peace of mind about children’s safety.
Safety First churches start with background checks for volunteers. This is an emerging trend that must continue. There’s not a court of law in this country that would frown on a church that conducts background checks for every single volunteer who ministers to children.
The next key step every Safety First ministry takes today is a simple check-in/checkout procedure. Kids are checked into classrooms and don’t get to leave until parents submit a “ticket” — much like a coat-check system. Much more advanced check-in/checkout procedures include software programs and even computer kiosks in central areas.
A step above this Safety First measure is secure facilities. Secure children’s ministry areas require a ministry-approved name tag or family ID number for people to even enter the children’s ministry wing. The goal of such a secure environment is to protect children from unauthorized people who may want to harm them.
The coming phase of Safety First that your church will soon encounter is the need for facility lockdown procedures and drills. Such practices are commonplace for school systems, and most schools actually evacuate students to the haven of nearby churches. Some Safety First churches, though, deliberate over the possibility of an armed intruder turning their haven into a war zone. These churches such as Grace Community Church in Gresham, Oregon, create their own lockdown procedures. Inherent in having a plan will be the need for lockdown drills so children, parents, and staff know how to follow the procedures.
“Simply stated, the dangers to children have increased recently. There are increased risks from medical concerns, custody battles, and unsolicited acts of violence. This is demonstrated regularly on the evening news and it has exposed how vulnerable churches and schools have become…Those of us in children’s ministry have been entrusted with the spiritual and physical safety of the students in our classes. A little prevention is a small price to pay compared to the consequences if something were to happen to a child. Many parents factor the security of their children as a top priority when they select a church.”– Nelson Dervaes, system developer for SonBlest Technologies, LLC
Strategic Impact: Parents live in a culture of fear and over-protection for their children. Neighborhood play is a thing of the past and locked-down homes are children’s primary playgrounds. Your church is not immune. Parents and society itself demand that you ensure children’s safety with screened volunteers and secure environments.
Macrotrend #4: Experience Required
Experience Required is an educational philosophy involving kids in hands-on learning as they make faith discoveries. All of kids’ culture pulls them toward interactive experiences; they crave engagement.
Experience Required is everywhere. And kid-targeted entities that don’t understand this are at risk. For example, while Toys ‘R’ Us faces declining sales, experts advise them to transform their environment into a “store-as-destination.”
“Kids want experiences, not just things,” writes David Kiley, marketing editor for Business Week.
Experience Required products for children include simulation games where kids create environments (Zoo Tycoon 2) or immerse themselves in another culture (Real Lives). “Experience marketing” gets children and families to return for services and to buy products.
Schools and creative theme parks integrate Experience Required. Farms for City Kids in Reading, Vermont, gives kids and teachers practical, hands-on experiences with farm chores. Wannado City in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is another child destination that immerses children as citizens in Wannado City — anything kids “wannado,” they can. Churches are following suit.
“Children learn best by doing, using their senses, and exploring the world around them. It’s how God designed them. Given the choice (and choice is key) to watch someone else do something or experience it themselves, today’s kids will opt for the latter. Experience is the new frontier and we must join kids on the adventure.” — Patty Anderson, senior product developer for Group’s Children’s Ministry Essentials
Strategic Impact: Kids will remember 20% of what they hear, 50% of what they see, and 90% of what they do. To make learning memorable, immerse kids in hands-on learning.
Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.
The article “Trend Quakes” written by Christine Yount Jones was excerpted from www.childrensministries.com web site, August 2009.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”