21 Feb 2017

Children’s and youth ministries: Better together

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The relationship between children’s ministry and youth ministry in our churches can sometimes look like one of three things:

1. A railway track. This is where the two ministries head in the same direction but only interact at transition points once or twice a year. Each ministry has their own vision and programs and operate without concern or synergy for the other. 

2. Sibling rivalry. This is where the two ministries exist in a constant state of friction. They battle for leaders, for spots in the calendar and resources. Families and young people often see this and join a faction.

3. A Superpower. This is where one of the two ministries dominates the other. The church values one of the ministries over the other in terms of budget, communication and resources, whilst other ministries must fit around it.

None of these are strategic or biblical ways to build ministries for the next generation, yet they often exist in our churches. Why? 

The 'car' approach to children's and youth ministry

Ministries to children and youth are often led by passionate young adults who fail to appreciate the significance of other ministries. Moreover, the popular strategy of age specific siloing creates lots of railway tracks and even superpowers. This produces ministries that focus on achieving their own needs and demands, even at the expense of others. 

I think there's a better way … and it works like car.

This is where the four wheels of the car (children’s ministry, youth ministry, parents and the intergenerational church) work together to grow the next generation of passionate, robust Christ followers. There is no place for solo, competing or dominant wheels. 

Instead each group intentionally celebrates and partners with the others. Key measures of success change. No longer is the focus on children’s ministry numbers or youth ministry conversions (though important). Success for the car includes:

  • Wheels aligned: A clear, unified, and bold discipleship strategy that flows across children’s ministry, youth ministry and into the home.
  • Four wheel drive: A joint leadership strategy which recruits, trains and engages leaders across the next generation ministries. 
  • Common map: Every transition point (where young people move between ministries) is planned, enacted and celebrated across the church.
  • Multiple passengers: Our children and youth experience a breadth of intergenerational relationships helping them engage with Christian life.

When children’s ministry, youth ministry, parents and the church work together like a car, we are living out the ecclesiological picture in Romans 12:4-5.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

This is not easy in our individualistic, age-segregated world. However it's not impossible. It requires us to move our focus from our own programs to others and see the powerful benefits of working together.

Four ways to help children's and youth ministries work better together

Here are four ideas that all children’s and youth leaders can do to change their focus:

  1. Build a bridge. Gather key leaders from the children's and youth ministries and talk through the purpose and plans for your ministries. Understand the goals, challenges and opportunities that each group are working through. Then work out your common vision for parents and the wider church. Commit to respecting one another and praying for one another regularly.
  2. Communicate to parents and the wider church together. Use every opportunity to speak to parents and the wider church with one voice. Help them see the common vision for 0-18 year olds within the wider church’s vision. Call parents to one key activity in the home rather than five. Invite the generations into the ministry at key moments. 
  3. Plan this year’s transition points. Each time a young person moves groups is an opportunity for all four wheels of the car to work together. It's a calendar point where parents can be equipped and encouraged to engage with their child. Invite the whole church to celebrate the previous group and pray for the new group.
  4. Share leaders. Rather than build a culture where leaders prefer one ministry over the other, or where leaders are battled over, look at next generation ministries as one system. Work together to raise and equip leaders for all groups. Develop a junior leadership plan for youth serving in children’s ministry. Encourage leaders to stay in ministries where they are needed.

Children’s and youth ministry are significant ministries that partner with parents to raise the next generation of passionate disciples of Christ. We belong to each other and work best when we work with each other. How can they work better together in your church?

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