By Tim Massengale
The last several years I have witnessed a disturbing trend among our churches. It seems that some have come to the conclusion that Children’s Ministry is not an effective method for church growth, or for that matter, to win souls. I could not disagree more strongly.
Several weeks ago while teaching a church growth seminar, I did what I commonly do to make a particular point. I asked the congregation, “What method brought you into church? Was it the witness and invitation of family, friend, acquaintance, or co-worker? Did someone teach you a home Bible study? Did someone knock on your door? Was it Bus ministry?” I then go down a list of evangelism methods and ask for a show of hands for each. When I reach the last method, I then ask if there are any additional methods that I failed to mention. A hand was raised by a middle-aged lady and she told the following story:
“We lived next door to the Apostolic church in my home town. I started going to Sunday School after they had a ‘Sunday School Fair Day.’ They had decorated the parking lot with balloons and banners. Booths provided various fun games and activities and prizes were awarded. I was eight years old. I asked my mom for permission to go to the ‘church fair’ and she gave me a few coins and I had so much fun. One booth told Bible stories with puppets and I had never heard these stories before. They asked me if I wanted to come to Sunday school every week, and of course, I did. For the two years we lived next to that church I rarely missed a Sunday.
Two years later we moved to the other side of town. I cried when I told my teacher that I would not be coming to Sunday school any more. When she asked me where I was moving to and I told her, she said she would make sure someone picked me up every Sunday. Sure enough, one of the ladies in the church stopped every Sunday morning and brought me to Sunday school.
When I was eleven years old a children’s evangelist came. He dressed as a clown and was so very funny. When he gave the altar call I went up and I received the Holy Ghost. I was so excited! My mom gave me permission to be baptized. I’ll never forget that Sunday Morning. I felt so good and clean!
I then started to attend regular church services. Someone picked me up almost every service. I got involved in the youth group and later, after high school, married a young man in that church. I am the only one in my family that is living for God. You mentioned Bus ministry as an evangelism method. But I am in church today for one reason: My church had a Sunday school and this is the method that brought me to God.”
Of the four most successful methods of evangelism in Apostolic churches today, Sunday school is consistently one of the most successful. It is also a method that most all of our churches utilize. But the question we must ask ourselves is this: Are we effectively utilizing our Sunday schools for evangelism?
Sunday Schools become an effective tool for evangelism when a church makes a concerted effort to bring in unsaved children each week and teach them the Word of God. In this day and age, when most parents will not allow children to walk very far for safety reasons, you must utilize a bus, van, or car ministry in order to see children come when their parents do not attend. One way or another, we must provide transportation for these children or they will be unable to attend.
Getting children to come is rarely a problem. Contests, special promotions and prizes, when done regularly, provide a steady stream of children for our teachers to teach. Every child that comes must be treated with care and respect. Every soul that enters our doors deserves our best effort. Good absentee follow-up and child visitor follow-up are great ways to keep that child coming after their initial visit.
Bus and van workers must be committed to following up on every new contact. A visit to the home to get permission to pick up the child every Sunday and to give an information brochure about the church is an important first step in building a relationship with the parent. Every Saturday, bus/van workers must be committed to making that all-important Saturday morning visit.
Why are we visiting on Saturday? Our excuse is to make sure that little Johnny is coming in the morning. But the real reason is to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Churches that are winning families from their bus/van ministry often utilize a form of ‘ParentReach,’ which is a program that works to see the parents saved. Through ParentReach we discover the interests of the parents (by asking the kids). If Mr. Smith is a big NASCAR fan, we talk racing. If Mrs. Smith loves planting tomatoes, we talk tomatoes. We get to know them. We befriend them. This way they quickly change from being ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ into ‘Mike and Judy.’
Once we have a good relationship, we begin to reach for their soul. We regularly ask them to let us teach them a home Bible study. We invite them to every special service and revival we have at church. We encourage them to come and see little Johnny in the Easter play, Christmas drama, Summer Children’s Choir, and any other program we can come up with. If anyone from the home is in the hospital or jail, we make sure someone goes by to visit and pray. We look for every opportunity to show the love of Christ. We reach for their soul.
On the other side, our Sunday school classes reach for the soul of little Johnny. Starting at about six years of age, many opportunities are provided for Johnny to receive the Holy Ghost. Children’s Church, Children’s Crusades, Summer Youth Camp, Vacation Bible School, Holy Ghost Sundays, and Youth Revivals, are just a few of the events we hold during the year. We want little Johnny to be saved. The teacher prays for their soul regularly and is not afraid to talk with Johnny about his need of God.
When Johnny receives the Holy Ghost, we do all we can to get permission to see them baptized. Then, we begin car ministry. We find someone that will give them a ride to church. This is especially important as they grow into their teenage years. Every child that attends our Sunday school, whose parents are not in church, should have a way to attend each service once they turn eleven or twelve. We make sure they are involved in our youth group. We ensure they have transportation to every youth activity and outing. Together the youth leader and Sunday school teacher mentor Johnny until he grows into a young adult, living for God, and hopefully marries a good Apostolic girl. He’s first generation Pentecost. His Apostolic heritage started in our Sunday school.
Is your Sunday school evangelistic? Do you have a bus, van or car ministry? Do you provide regular opportunities for your Sunday school children to receive the Holy Ghost? Do you have an annual Children’s Revival or Crusade? Do you encourage your youth whose parents are not in church to attend summer youth camps? Does your bus ministry utilize ‘ParentReach’ to win the parents of your bus children? Is your Sunday school a successful tool of evangelism? If not, it should be! Children’s ministry is one of the finest evangelism tools that any church can be involved in. It is also a key method of church growth.
Bro. Tim Massengale is the author of Total Church Growth Vol. 1 & 2 and Let My People Grow. He is also director of the Apostolic Information Service, editor of the IBC Perspectives Magazine, and an instructor at Indiana Bible College. He travels often to teach church growth seminars.