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Worth the Risk

For more than 20 years, former children's ministry leader Patty Smith's church had offered a traditional classroom-based Sunday school program. Her church and staff members were familiar with this format and felt comfortable using this approach to teach and interact with children.

"They were comfortable, but the kids were bored," recalls Patty who now serves as the Director of Children and Family Ministries for the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The decision to transform their children's ministry to a large group/small group model wasn't easy-and it brought with it a huge risk. Would they have enough volunteers to succeed with this new approach? Would the children's needs be met?

"Looking back, it was hard at first, but God sent us many new volunteers…and tons of new kids," she said. "We risked changing a church culture."

Whether faced with unreasonable time-constraints or skeptical congregations, every risk, and church, presents a unique set of hurdles that must be addressed before change will succeed.

We asked: What hurdles to change have you faced?

  • Many times it's fear of change. Other times it's the time it takes.
  • Concern over using the budget.
  • The ones who feel we need to "do it the way we've always done it."
  • Probably myself-not dreaming bigger or going for it.
  • Pastor's ideal of perfection.
  • Lack of support from colleagues.
  • Fear that others won't help or that once things start, others back out from their commitments.
  • Nothing. I have a wonderful church that encourages it!
  • Risks take time and planning, and I've been so busy doing busy stuff that I haven't had time to take risks.
  • Tradition...we've always done it this way and change will upset some of the more influential personalities.

While change is rarely easy and may involve hurdles and barriers, those taking our survey found that the benefits to their ministry far outweigh the risk when they follow God's lead.

When Anne Clay, director of children's ministries at Central Church in Collierville, Tennessee, decided to drop its traditional VBS program and replace it with a family-focused event, the decision brought with it many serious risks.

"It was a challenge to convince parents that participating with their children was far better than dropping them off," Anne recalls. Not only did this new direction eliminate an existing program, but it also replaced it with one that would require additional volunteers.

"We believed in it and stood firm," Anne says. While initially the idea was met with strong resistance, through open communication, including staff talking points and a clearly communicated vision, the results were worth the risk. "It…led to even more and better opportunities to minister to kids and their parents together."

As ministry leaders, those involved in our survey realized that the future of their children's ministry relies not only on their ability to recognize the need for change, but also on the leadership skills to make it happen. And now these leaders are looking forward to more innovation and risk.

We asked: If all obstacles were removed, what one risk would you take for your ministry?

  • I'd love to implement some type of program for children for afterschool hours-whether they need a place to stay until parents get off work, tutoring, food, fellowship, or more. All this would be provided free or at very little cost. I want to provide a safe, loving, God-filled environment every day, not just Sunday.
  • I'd like to see children and family ministry become a part of the core DNA of our church. I'd like to see our parents and adults seeing the value and necessity of passing their faith to the next generation. I'd also like to see us become a bit more bold on our stance on certain issues that have been points of contention so our young people are hearing legitimate answers and alternatives to what they're learning in the world.
  • I'd bring the children into the sanctuary to pray over the adults every Sunday. To start a prayer group for children that would meet with the adults. The young learn from the old.
  • I'd like to make the children's department into a multimedia experience for the kids with state of the art equipment and mounted speakers and a flatscreen TV. I'd like for them to walk in and go "WOW" and walk out saying "Mom and Dad, you won't believe what we learned today!"
  • Change the way preschool and nursery rooms are set up. Add teacher training and church attendance as a requirement for our Mother's Day Out teachers and reformat it into a more educationally focused ministry to prepare children for school instead of just babysitting/playtime for four hours. I would add a circle time, music/movement time, and a Bible story time.
  • Start a separate family worship service or a family worship Sunday once a month.
  • Conduct major publicity and outreach for our church to draw in unchurched kids.
  • Begin a fatherhood initiative within my community.Clearly God's grace and a church's ability to have a positive impact on children can't be accurately measured or restrained. As children's ministry continues to evolve and churches discover what works best in their unique settings, ministry leaders will continue to seek out new and innovative methods for spreading God's love.

For this to happen, leaders must continue to seek out God's will and have the strength, courage, and leadership skills that it takes to lead their churches in change.

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