No, there’s not a typo in the title. Yes, Lesson One was entitled “Begin with Parents.” So is it possible to have two different starting points in children’s ministry? It’s not only possible; it’s essential! To begin only with our members and our covenant children will potentially make us more inward rather than outward looking. Choosing to minister to our own children first, and then reach out to children of the community at some point “later on” keeps us from obeying the Great Commission. The church of Jesus Christ must always, at the same time, be UPWARD (worship), INWARD (educating and equipping), and OUTWARD (evangelizing and making disciples). This goes for children’s ministry as well. Thus. under the umbrella of the UPWARD “worship of God,” we have the dual starting points of ministry to our covenant families AND to the children of our community. So, let’s continue with Children’s Ministry 101…
Lesson Two: Begin with Outreach
When you hear the word “outreach” connected to children’s ministry, what comes to mind? Do you think about the church bus picking up the little neighborhood children? Or maybe door-to-door invitations to VBS of Sunday School? Well, before we jump to process and programs, we must first consider vision, philosophy, and attitudes:
- Do you desire to see unchurched and unconverted children brought to Christ?
- Does your church leadership have a vision for reaching your community?
- What is your community, and what is your attitude towards it?
- What does it mean to be outward regarding children in your community?
These are just some of the questions that must be answered first–through much prayer, deliberation, and conversation. As Christians, we know that we are commissioned and called to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19), but what does that look like for our church–and specifically children’s ministry? In other words, how can we set our children’s ministry on a path to be covenantal as well as missional?
Once you get good answers to those questions ,and determine that children’s ministry should begin with outreach to the community, what do you do next? Here’s where it may be helpful to think about two categories of children’s ministry outreach: Relational Outreach and Intentional Outreach.
Relational outreach is the most natural way to be missional, and a great way for most churches to begin, since it focuses on the hearts of your covenant children. This type of outreach begins with training children of your church to reach out to their neighbors, schoolmates, friends, and even their enemies! It fulfills the first words of Matthew 28:19–literally translated “In your going…” As your children live in this world, they should be building relationships with other children, including the unchurched. So here are some suggestions of what Relational Outreach looks like:
- Lead your children/Sunday School classes to pray for their neighbors.
- Encourage children to invite their neighbors to Sunday School, choir, and other weekly activities.
- Challenge children to invite their neighbors to Vacation Bible School.
- Train children to share the gospel with their neighbors.
Of course, these relational efforts must be led and exemplified by the adults in your church! But the overall theme of this sort of outreach is: Children reaching children.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Being relational is intentional. But what I mean with this label is: Adults reaching children. It’s the “make disciples” command of Matthew 28:19. It’s the development of specific plans and programs to reach out to the children in your community. Whereas relational outreach is fairly similar in most churches, the nature of your Intentional Outreach will depend on your specific church context. In other words, you will need to know the demographics of the families of your community in order to make good decisions concerning your outreach programs. And, secondarily, you will need to understand the gifts, skills, and commitments of your own church members for your programs to materialize and succeed. So, here are just a few ideas of programs that fall under this category of outreach:
- After school programs–tutoring, mentoring, etc.
- Backyard Bible clubs during the summer.
- Sports programs designed for outreach.
- Other enrichment programs during the year.
- English as a Second Language (children’s Bible classes while parents are learning English).
- Respite care nights for parents of children with disabilities.
Again, you have to know your community and know your church. It’s not about just seeing what other churches are doing and then replicate it. this will only lead to frustration, especially if the children’s ministry plans outreach programs that do not have the support of the leadership, the “manpower” to develop it, and the passion to carry it through. So, I guess I’m saying: Be INTENTIONAL about your Intentional Outreach!
The Bottom line…
We will address more practical issues and challenges in a later post, but let’s close with just a few summary thoughts:
- Beginning with outreach keeps the hearts of your covenant children to be others-focused, and the-lost-focused.
- Reaching children means reaching families–even if these families don’t immediately join the church.
- Outreach is all about: “As you are going…make disciples.”
- Outreach begins relationally, and then continues to be relational in an intentional way.
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