To make our ministry more attractive and enticing, we can sometimes get caught up in trying to impress kids with a professional quality of entertainment and technology. Excellence is important, but not only is constant excellence not possible, what these kids really need is less stuff and more relationships. We need to return to the good old-fashioned ways. Rather than focusing primarily on programs, we need to focus on people.
Relationships are what really matters, and they are the only thing that will really last. We won’t be remembered for the amazing graphics or high-tech lighting, but our kids will remember the teacher who cared. The teacher that prayed with them, or even better, showed up on their front doorstep on their birthday. Small church or mega-church, this is achievable in every church. And it won’t take a chunk out of your budget!
I love what Dale Hudson says:
“Children are not desperate for our amazing, on-screen graphics. They see much better graphics all week on TV and social media.
But they are desperate to see someone who believes in them.
Children are not desperate for our games and fun at VBS. They play in sports leagues and have tons of other extracurricular activities.
But they are desperate for someone who will listen...really listen to them.
Children are not desperate for our take-home papers. They are already overwhelmed by hundreds of messages that are sent their way every day.
But they are desperate for someone who knows their challenges at home and cares about what they are going through.”
Kids need to know that someone loves them, someone cares about them, and that they matter! Remember: Kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.
For children to grow and understand God’s love, they need to know they’re loved, accepted, and cared for by those who are the messengers. Children want to feel welcome, and meaningful relationships are key.
Do you remember how it feels to visit a church for the first time? You don’t know anyone, and you stand there awkwardly, watching groups of people talking… but not with you. You try smiling and appearing friendly, but they don’t “see” you.
My personal strategy then is to find the nearest bulletin board and pretend to be busy reading, trying desperately to look like I belong. You want to shrink down between the floorboards so that you’re not so obvious. What you really need is for a friendly face to approach you and say “welcome” - anything to help you feel more comfortable.
Begin with an icebreaker game each week to help kids connect.
Get directly involved and play games with them; don’t just stand in the back corner and watch.
Appoint "classroom hosts” who sit with first-time visitors.
Follow up with children who miss two programs in a row.
Children experience similar feelings when they visit for the first time. They may feel alone, unnoticed, or awkward. Our first task should be to implement a strategy to alleviate those first-time jitters and fears. There’s nothing worse than having to read the bulletin board!
When I began as a children’s ministry director, there were no consistent volunteers in our church. Everyone rotated, teaching once each month, and there were only enough volunteers to schedule one adult in each class. None of them knew the kids’ names, and the parents had no idea who the teachers would be each week. This kind of scheduling is less than ideal and, worse, ineffective. It is impossible to develop any level of relationship with the kids or the families when you only see them once a month for an hour. There was no consistency with the lessons, classroom management, or even knowledge of who needed follow-up. I had never heard of a Girl Scout troop or a sports team asking for volunteers to only serve once a month, but here we were, with once-a-month volunteers.
Whatever your scenario, try as much as possible to keep your team regular and consistent to enable them to develop some depth in their relationships with the kids. If you only have one service each week, form “teams” which serve for a month and rotate, and provide them with a copy of the sermon. If you have two services, encourage your team to “attend one, serve one.” Do whatever you can to provide consistency for your children and get to know them.
Maintain small group ratios to provide greater interaction with the kids.
Come early, leave late. Spend time with early arrivers and late pick-ups.
Ask questions about their hobbies, aspirations, and struggles.
If a child tells you his favorite candy bar, take note and surprise him on his birthday.
Make relationships a priority!
Whether or not your title says “Pastor,” that’s what you are; a shepherd. They are craving real relationships, and that should be our goal. Not amazing programs, eye-catching VBS backdrops, or flashing lights. Yes, those things are great, but loving our kids is greater and will reap unfathomable results.
Send a handwritten personal postcard to visitors, absent kids, and birthday kids—and remember other special occasions.
Get down on their level and make direct eye contact.
Show up at their baseball practice or special school event.
Get down on the floor to welcome each child with a smile and a high five. "I'm SO glad you're here. I've been waiting all week to see you!"
I still remember my Sunday school teacher. I don’t remember the lessons, but I remember that she loved me.
The relationship we develop with our kids might be the difference between them succumbing to the attractions of our ever-darkening world and, instead, choosing to run to the light of God’s love.
The number one priority needs to be relationships before everything. Be the leader who cares. It just might be the missing link to draw them back in.
Welcome them. Know them. Love them.
 Hudson, Dale, Fertile Soil, See Kids’ Faith Grow and Flourish for A Lifetime. 2022, 90.