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3 Keys for Effective Kids Ministry

This transcript is from an INC Generational Leadership Podcast Interview with Beth Cunningham from Church of the Highlands Birmingham, USA. Listen to the full podcast here.

Equipping parents and caregivers in Kids Ministry

Question 1: We only have an hour or two with the kids each week. We are not their main disciplers. What are some things we can do as kids pastors and leaders to equip parents and caregivers to disciple their children towards Jesus?

Summary answer:

  • Parents are the primary influencers in their children’s spiritual lives and often underestimate their own impact.
  • Children’s ministries should focus on celebrating and empowering parents through various interactions, including social media and personal encouragement.
  • It’s important to highlight simple, everyday interactions that affirm and support parents’ efforts in spiritual education.
  • Utilising digital tools like the Bible app for kids and the kids Bible experience can facilitate parental involvement and enhance children’s spiritual learning.
  • Partnering with adult ministries to address common stressors in homes, such as financial strain or marital conflicts, can help create a more stable environment for children.
  • A holistic approach supports not only children but also strengthens entire families within the church community.
Full answer

“Right, that’s the thing that all of us are always wrestling with in children’s ministry because at the end of the day and all research points to this as well, Mum and Dad will be the primary influence in a child’s life, as they should be.

And so I think one of the things we’re studying and learning about parents is that actually, recent research is showing us parents don’t realise how much influence they have.

In fact, studies will show that parents are selling themselves short.

They think that friends or they think that media, they think these other things and actually.

So I think there’s a there’s a huge opportunity.

Low hanging fruit for us would be something that I think every church can grab is how are we celebrating Mum and Dad and what I mean by that is like in our social media, in our story telling in our encouragement in the hallways, like when we paint Mum and Dad as the hero, not us, right?

How are we celebrating parents and how are we encouraging them?

With even just the simple interactions we have on Sunday because they’re way more influential than they realise.

You know, I think about just the power of Sunday interactions and encouraging Mum and Dad.

I just can’t even tell you what it does when you’re bringing your child.

I noticed you come every week.

You know, I just want you to know, like, you are literally such an inspiration as a Mum.

I know how hard it is to get three kids ready for church and I just want you to know…

I think the more we just do those individual shout outs because what gets celebrated gets replicated.

And I think parents are doing influential things for the Kingdom of God all the time for their children but they don’t have language.

And perhaps we haven’t told them.

I think a lot of times we think it’s a paper devotional that we send home.

Really it’s more about helping a Mum and Dad see that the rhythms and routines they make, you know, a simple morning prayer, a simple prayer in the car, you know? Tools that are helpful.

You know the Bible app for kids, the kids Bible experience on new version.

We have seen great success with even highlighting just those two programmes that parents can use digitally.

Huge testimonies of like twice a year as a year as a kids ministry.

We highlight both of those platforms in a significant way. We do a three-week challenge where kids, if they engage in the kids Bible experience, they earn prizes and Mum and Dad are signing off on that.

So then we get all these testimonies of parents like, hey, thank you so much for making me aware that this tool exist.

Like this is allowing me in an easy way to engage in scripture with my child.

That doesn’t feel like performance like I’m just getting to watch this with them and have conversations.

We had a testimony 2 months ago about the kids Bible experience on you version.

Where because of that campaign, we do in August and January, a mother wrote into the church and said I just want you to know I was sitting in the Big Lots parking lot.

It’s kind of like a Walmart, but smaller version here in America.

I was sitting in Big Lots parking lot with my child. Her eight-year old son.

And they were watching the kids Bible experience together again, takes 5 minutes in the car.

And she said that her son wanted the reflection question.

It was, who do you need to pray for and do you need to pray for your Mum and Dad?

And he said I need to pray. I need you to pray for me.

The person that needs to change, the person that needs to turn to God is me, he said to his mother.

So here it is that she’s watching this video experience.

She’s reflecting about what the Bible says to her child and then she gets to pray with him and lead him to salvation like that is just incredible you know that and that’s that’s all because a parent was resource with a simple tool that we don’t even, you know, create like we contribute to it right.

But it’s just those little things.

So I think how are we celebrating them?

How are we resourcing with them with things that they can actually use?

And then the the third thing is the pain points of the parents life.

So I think partnering with adult ministries when it comes to things like what are the stresses in a home, the stresses in the home or marital conflict, the stresses in the home are financial conflicts, right?

If couples or single parents are getting the support when financial stress is lifting or conflict in a marriage is lifting then that is going to create an ecosystem right where a child thrives.

And so I do think it’s a partnership with adult ministries as well of saying as a church as a whole, how are we supporting families and so much of it is if Mum and Dad are OK, that child has a much better chance, right of having a better picture of who God is, right?”

Creating fun and engaging Kids Ministry environments

Question 2: What is key in a kids ministry – no matter the size, what are some non-negotiable things that need to happen to point the children towards Jesus and make it fun?

Summary answer:

  • Excellence in kids’ ministry is about intentionality, not expense.
  • Create environments where children have consistent experiences whether the setup is portable or permanent.
  • Emphasise relational investment over flashy or expensive materials.
  • Use simple, durable activities like Uno, Foursquare, art tables with construction paper, and physical play like hula hoops to foster interaction and build relational equity.
  • The primary goal is for children to connect relationally through play, which is a natural setting for children to open up and communicate.
  • Activities should be scalable and economically sensible, ensuring that all children have a similar enriching experience regardless of the ministry location.
Full answer

“What I would say is excellence is not necessarily expensive it is intentional and what I mean by that is we really work hard on intentional environments so for us when our kids come into an environment whether it’s portable or permanent they’re actually experiencing the same thing.

In fact I don’t buy assets or games or toys in a permanent environment that I can’t have portable, so everything for us is the same and what we’re hanging our hat on is relational investment.

So I would rather see in a bump out situation and even in a permanent situation I would rather see a leader on the floor with an Uno deck.

I would rather see leader on the floor or playing Foursquare with the ball.

I would rather see an art table with literal construction paper and markers like that is what we do like. There is nothing wow about it.

Our kids come in and they have stations they can choose from.

There’s an art table, there’s a Foursquare area.

We buy these jumbo stacking cups where they build towers and knock them down.

There’s hula hoops, there’s, you know, there’s usually some type of card activity.

But the point is all of it is very cheap. All of it is very durable.

We say it’s excellent because it’s intentional, because the whole point of that is for kids to build relationships with each other and even more important in that beginning of the service where they have that extra time to play, to build relationships with leaders.

You know so much relational equity with children is built over play.

Kids are more likely to talk to you as they’re doing something. So we really love, like, I call it, old school play that is honestly very cheap, very scalable.

And that is what we choose to do. 

We are blessed, we have the resources that we could do other things.

That is what we choose to do and we choose to do it in our nicest building and we choose to do it at a high school where we bump in and bump out. It’s the same.

It’s all around filtering of like the highest value for me is that these kids connect relationally.

What toys do that? Legos do that, right? Blocks do that. A ball does that, you know.

And it allows us to be very economical.

But very intentional and scalable to every location where a child doesn’t feel like they’re experiencing a lesser experience at a bump in bump out location then they would be at a permanent facility 30 minutes down the road.”

Inspiring and equipping volunteer leaders in Kids Ministry

Question 3: You’ve got 10,000 kids coming in, you must have a lot of volunteers. What are some things that you and your team do to equip leaders and inspire them and to keep them having that servant heart towards the kids and ministry? 

Summary answer:

  • Constantly building and maintaining a strong team is crucial in managing a large number of volunteers.
  • Emphasise the importance of storytelling to highlight the successes and impactful Muments within the ministry.
  • Encourage leaders to recognise and celebrate “wins,” which could be as simple as a child overcoming separation anxiety.
  • Regularly remind leaders of their purpose and the broader impact of their work to maintain their motivation and commitment.
  • Ensure that each team member feels valued and essential, addressing the human need to be needed and known.
  • Focus on personal connections and understanding the individual needs and strengths of each volunteer, helping them feel more connected and engaged.
  • Develop a community among the team that supports each other, which can be crucial for maintaining enthusiasm and dedication even on challenging days.
Full answer

“It’s right that is always the constant building of team and the constant remembering of why and so couple of things.

And you know, we want to always be looking for the power of testimony.

A story is huge. Story is huge in especially in our world.

And I think in kids you have to train your high level leaders to be looking for stories all the time.

Like I’ve probably I’ve probably shared four stories with you all just off the top of my head. Right?

Well the reason I can share those stories is because I’m being told them or I’m experiencing them myself.

And so there’s a little bit I found years ago that we didn’t always have the best filter for stories, because things that were huge wins, they weren’t celebrating as wins like a win is a child who’s been crying with separation anxiety for six months.

And that parent finally got to leave their child. And they had a happy day at church. Like, that is a win, and it deserves to be celebrated.

And so I think training your high level leaders and training our staff to be helping people see wins and celebrating wins.

The power of testimony is huge. I think strategic times where we are always being reminded of our why I think that’s that’s the leader’s job is to like, constantly cast vision.

But the the biggest thing I’ve found besides those is that remember the the reason people serve on a team, kids, greeters, wherever they are, is everyone wants to be needed and everyone wants to be known.

Those are the two highest values for anyone joining a team. I want to be needed and I want to be known and so what can happen in kids ministry is sometimes it can be very task focused.

And intentionally because honestly, the kids demand, right our attention and there’s frankly just a lot to do.

And so when when you really want to take your team to the next level is how do we, you know, take care of the children well, but also understand that, you know, Sally’s Mum just got cancer and I need to remember that right?

And I need her to know that I know that and I’m standing in the gap with her or I need you not just to be in a 2 year old room.

I need you actually, because I’ve noticed you have a gift of intercession on your life.

And I want to call you to a higher place. And I want you to help me now.

Start managing these prayer requests that are coming in.

It’s the whole like seeing the whole person because the people who’s serving kids like they have a diverse, they have so much to offer, right?

And so like, how do I see beyond just what you do in the classroom?

But I see you and you know I know you.

And there’s so much more that you can contribute to this ministry beyond just checking kids in or whatever that is.

So I always think of how are we doing with them, feeling needed and known and what type of community are we creating?

Are we creating? Because, you know, I’ve found this at the end of the day, there are weeks they may not like the kids, right?

Like, I get tired, but I show up because I like my friend. Right? I show up because of the family that’s been built on this team.

And then I remember I do like the kids, right? And so I think it’s that constant vision, casting, storytelling, but also always working on anything we can do as a team that helps people feel needed and known.”