It’s a request I see posted fairly often. It goes something like this: “Looking for a user-friendly curriculum. Video-based preferred. Something easy for volunteers, low-prep and easy-to-follow. We don’t have a huge budget so free or low-cost a must.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this request, but the request itself reveals some underlying concerns about how we approach children’s and youth ministry on Sunday morning or during mid-week.
- Restriction of Budget: This concern has two fronts; first, that larger churches don’t often give these ministries enough of a budget to adequately meet the needs of the ministry and second, most high-quality, resource-rich curriculum is priced too high for small churches on a shoestring budget.
- Reliance on Volunteers: Most children and youth ministries are primarily run by volunteers and those are not generally easy to come by. Need for volunteers always ranks high in lists of stressors for children’s, youth, and family ministers. As a result, one of the “selling points” that is often used is “Don’t worry. It’s really easy to use the curriculum. Everything will be prepped for you. You don’t really need to do much, just make sure the kids are occupied. There’s even a video for the lesson so you don’t need to worry about teaching.”
- Significance of Ministry: While almost every church with a children’s or youth ministry will inevitably state on their website that these ministries are of high importance to the church, the actual weight of the spiritual formation of children and youth within the church tends to fall on a few volunteers and one or two staff members and, due to the previously stated limitations, there’s a willingness to emphasize convenience to ensure that the ministry stays viable. In other words, to do literally anything to get volunteers and make sure that there is a kids’ ministry or youth group of some sort.
I think it is worth our time to take a second and consider this situation and ask some hard questions. To pause from the push to keep Sunday school going or youth group looking like youth group “should” look. To take a deep breath and consider if begging and pleading for volunteers and seeking out the easiest, most user-friendly curriculum is doing anyone, but most especially, our kids and youth, any favors?
Is there an alternative to the now-traditional approach to Sunday mornings and mid-week that would utilize the budget (whatever it is) in an impactful way, reduce the reliance on reluctant volunteers, and increase the significance of the ministry within the congregation?
I’m not a “one shoe fits all” kind of a person, but I do think in this case, there is an answer that could be not only transformative for the kids and youth but for the entire congregation.
Bring the congregation together. Bring the family together. Bring the generations together.
How would bringing the congregation together impact the concerns above?
Restriction of Budget
In his book, Youth Ministry That Last a Lifetime, Dr. Richard Ross advises approaching the youth ministry budget with a “Ministry in Thirds” mindset. One-third of the budget focused on parents and at-home discipleship, one-third of the budget focused on the whole congregation and establishing relationships between the youth and the church, and one-third of the budget on age-specific youth “Bible-drenched” activities. Why? Because these are three areas that young people who remained in church pointed to as integral to their discipleship. But how does spreading out an already minuscule budget help?
- Perhaps on Sunday morning, the kids and youth remain in the service, maybe helping to run the sound board or serve on the worship team or lead prayers or run the coffee bar, and the money that was once used on a budget-conscious, user-friendly curriculum is used on Sermon Notes for kids, a Kids Worship Team, Activity Packets, gift cards for coffee meet-ups with mentors, or tables and bulletin boards for coloring and displaying artwork. And the individuals who were once volunteers become mentors and Pew Pals and prayer partners.
- Or during mid-week, instead of splitting all the kids up into different ages and grades, the whole family stays together for a time of Family Faith Formation led by the children’s and youth pastor(s) where a meal is shared together and then the family worships around a table through shared discussion, learning, and prayer?
- Or maybe youth group meets bi-weekly instead of weekly and on the off week, engages in a service project or meets with mentors in small groups or joins a church small group or Bible study with other ages?
Reliance on Volunteers
Let’s be honest—it can be a scary thing to be asked to go into a classroom and teach a bunch of kids or hang out with a group of teens. It’s uncomfortable especially in today’s age-segregated culture and it can lead churches choosing to sacrifice quality teaching, tools, and theology in order to just get someone in the room. That devalues everyone involved but can actually be quite harmful for our kids and youth. But what if we offered less scary scenarios for our kids and youth to connect with the church and more opportunities like the ones listed above that don’t rely on a volunteer base?
- For instance, the Pray for Me campaign connects kids and youth up with prayer partners in the church, three for each child/youth, in order to help relationships based on praying for each other to form. There’s no pressure to teach or perform, simply pray. But the benefits of intercessory prayer on a community are innumerable (Source).
- What if your mid-week gathering was one where an older person came and shared a favorite hobby or activity with the group? Where the focus was simply learning from one another and being together, forming relationships that can lead to intentional discipleship?