By Julia Schumacher Martin
Twelve months . . . 365 days . . . a year. It may seem like a long time, especially to children, but in your children’s ministry, it goes by quickly! One day, you’re still reeling from an exhausting December, and the next thing you know, it’s Easter. With the many demands on you as a ministry leader, it helps to focus your energy on implementing activities that will make the most impact. You need to concentrate on ADS.
No, not advertisements! ADS stands for Attract, Deepen, and Send.
ATTRACT Families, DEEPEN Their Relationship with Christ, and SEND Them Out as Witnesses
You want to attract families with children to your ministry. Some people who visit your church may be new to the very idea of Jesus; some longtime members may just be out of the habit of making Christ a priority. Attracting participation means providing a welcoming environment, fun and interactive activities, and plenty of options so families in many different circumstances can feel included.
Once children are in the door, your goal is to deepen their relationship with Jesus. This starts with prayer and the Word. You can never have too many Bible-based activities or too much Jesus time in your ministry! Stock up on resources that help the teachers or Sunday school leaders on your team share the story of salvation in various ways, so that each kid develops understanding and a personal relationship with their Savior.
Jesus himself recognized the special faith of children (see Luke 18:15–17). You know well that kids can be powerful witnesses: send the children in your ministry into the world aglow with the light of Christ. Whether you make a point of regularly providing them with activities to work through with their families at home or offer wearable prizes so they can boldly state their faith at school, strengthen kids’ faith by giving them materials and motivation to share what they know about Jesus.
First Things First
While you may be itching to launch into attracting people to your first family event or deepening experiences with Scripture-based activities, it’s important to build your ministry on a rock-solid foundation. When it comes to making a difference in families’ lives, a little planning can go a long way.
Build your team. Surround yourself with as many helpers as possible. Some volunteers may have a lot of energy and not much time; some may be readily available to help but reluctant to take initiative in planning. Do you need fresh ideas in your event committee? That enthusiastic but busy working mom might not be able to lead a weekly Sunday school class, but she can probably attend a one-time brainstorming session. Do you have hundreds of envelopes to stuff or craft supplies to prepare? The shy, retired man who signed up to help may be intimidated by the thought of manning a noisy event station, but he can take the time to help you prepare. Be aware of the different circumstances and personalities of your volunteers, and lead them accordingly.
Design your calendar. At your very first meeting with your leadership team, try to mark dates for the whole year’s sequence of events. Knowing when something is going to happen—months in advance—can help you order supplies, advertise intelligently, and take enough time to make it as effective as possible. Don’t forget to consider events in other areas of ministry in your church to avoid conflicts.
Set the tone. With the demands of equipping volunteers, assembling resources, juggling Sunday school curriculum, sharing ministry space, maintaining a budget, and a score of other responsibilities, it’s easy to forget the purpose of your ministry. You are sharing the love of Christ with the children in your care. This means that your top priorities are, first and foremost, serving your Savior and, secondly, caring for the kids. To this end, you should be sensitive to the needs of the children who participate in your ministry. Children are developing and different from one another: one kid may need to stand or run around whenever possible, while another may need quiet time to read in a corner after a stimulating activity. Kids have diverse home environments and numerous fears. Equip your teachers and fellow leaders to be flexible and nurturing.
Now you’re ready to turn to a year of ADS—attracting families to Christ, deepening their understanding of the Word, and sending them out as witnesses of Jesus’ love.
A Year of Planning Children’s Ministry Programs at a Glance
Attract—Easter is coming! When it’s time for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, you have the opportunity to share the life-changing joy of salvation not only with the families you usually see but potentially also with unchurched children in your community. As you plan your Easter event, keep in mind that not everyone attending will know what all the fuss is about. Stock up on take-home activities and gifts that tell the Easter story in simple, engaging ways.
Deepen—Before the trees start budding their new leaves, you can already be preparing young hearts in your ministry. The season of Lent comprises the six weeks prior to Easter Sunday. Enrich the Easter preparation time for the families you work with by offering weekly devotions they can experience at home or a buildable six-part activity, encouraging family discussions and anticipation as Easter approaches.
Send—Children who are hearing about Jesus for the first time aren’t the only people who need reminders that they are cherished and saved. Even those families who regularly attend church and participate eagerly in your ministry might be inclined to stop thinking about Easter as soon as your Easter celebration ends. But as Christians, we are “Easter people”: we live every minute of every day with the joy and promise of eternity with God! Send children home with fun ways to remember Jesus’ love, so they can revisit the story again and again.
Attract—Summer offers churches a unique opportunity to engage with children without the usual school-year busyness of lessons and sports. One way to maximize this time is to host a VBS at your church. With the right preparation, your VBS can be the perfect opportunity to help kids in your community learn about and deepen their relationship with Jesus. Select a theme that suits your group and resources, and be sure to start advertising well in advance so families can take the dates into account as they make their summer plans. As you come up with ideas for activities and gifts, don’t forget to recognize your amazing volunteers.
Deepen—Even though the Word of God is its own reward, we all know that prizes are a great way to help kids celebrate their progress as they learn. Consider implementing a rewards program (this dog tag system is a great option) to help the children in your ministry keep track of their achievements throughout the year.
Send—When vacation season arrives, your ministry faces a challenge: while volunteers are enjoying a much-needed break and the families you work with are traveling or relaxing their schedules, there are fewer structured opportunities to share Jesus with the children in your care. Encourage families to keep Jesus central to their lives all year long, whether Sunday school is in session or not, by equipping them with devotions and age-appropriate activities that they can complete at home. These same tools can easily be used to share the love and joy of Jesus with new friends! You can prepare hard copies of activity ideas and family devotions to send home with each child on the last day of your ministry before summer break—or keep in contact with your group by emailing materials out weekly.
Attract—The start of the school year is a time of new beginnings for the kids you work with; make it a special time in your ministry, too! Make arrangements in advance for a warm “welcome back” event—or at least take the time to pray all together as you start up again, asking for God’s blessings on the adventures you will take through his Word this year.
It’s not too early to plan your fall festival event. Whether you hold it as an alternative to secular Halloween activities or simply as a fun, Christ-centered addition to the season, a community event in the fall is a great way to invite new families to experience your loving ministry. If weather and your facilities permit, have plenty of outdoor games and serve seasonal treats and warm drinks in a way that encourages fellowship. Don’t forget to send each family home with information about your regular ministry and a gift to remind them that Jesus is the Light of the World.
Deepen—Reading the Bible and learning about what God tells us through his Word are important in your children’s ministry. As your group meetings settle into a rhythm this fall, be sure to incorporate a rich education in God’s Word into your routine activities. Design each session around a Bible story, reading it from a kid-friendly translation or a picture book version. By sending home gifts aimed at strengthening kids’ faith, you can let children know that reading the Bible isn’t just for Sunday school: they can explore God’s Word at home with their families, too!
Send—There are so many ways that God uses us to shine his light into the world. Helping others, using our gifts to serve him, telling people about Jesus: each person in your ministry, from the leadership team to the smallest child, can be a vehicle for sharing God’s grace. One way to help the children in your ministry shine brightly is to encourage them to be thankful. Thanksgiving is a great time to talk about living with grateful hearts, but of course gratitude isn’t limited to one season. Find ways to promote feelings of thankfulness to God on a regular basis in your children’s ministry.
Attract—Every child gets excited about a birthday. And Christmas is the most important birthday of all: Jesus’ birthday! Throw a Happy Birthday, Jesus party in your ministry this December, complete with balloons, party hats, and cake, and invite kids from the community. With a birthday party, you can shift the focus of the season from “What will I get for Christmas?” to a celebration of the One who was born on Christmas. Be prepared with outreach-appropriate gifts for every child, churched and unchurched, to bring home to their families.
Deepen—Your church and ministry have traditions this time of year, and these traditions are important to kids, too! Plan the date for your as early as possible, and let everyone know when it will be—the children will get excited to participate. At some point before your service, read through the Christmas story with all of the kids in your ministry, either from the Gospel of Luke in your children’s Bible or from a picture book. Encourage children to ask questions about the story as they prepare to act it out, and answer them lovingly. Even kids who have had plenty of exposure to God’s Word will still wonder about some things.
Send—In certain liturgical calendars, the season of Advent (leading up to Christmas) marks the beginning of the church year, rather than the end. Encourage the idea of starting fresh in your ministry this December by inviting children to make “new church year resolutions” or by changing up your classrooms or an aspect of your routine. Tell the children that they can do the same at home: they can start a new habit of talking about Jesus with their families on a regular basis. Send home weekly devotions or activities to facilitate this and celebrate the ways that God uses the kids in your ministry to share his love with so many others.
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