Monday, December 6, 2010

So What Do History, Community and Culture Have to do With Children's Ministry?

Hello! We are going to spend this week looking at the steps to take to find the best curriculum to "fit" your unique ministry. Last week we talked a little about how there are no cookie-cutter children’s ministries, but today we will look at this a bit more.  Too often we tend to think children's ministry is just comprised of churches and children, but our churches . . . and our children . . . are not identical.  Our communities are different.  Our people are different.  Our histories are different.  Our cultures are different.What works in one church, may or may not work in another.  And, while there are components that are essential for every children’s ministry to be effective - and we will look at those essential components later this week - there is no “secret recipe” where if you are certain to include each ingredient, you will be guaranteed an effective children’s ministry.  
So, what do you do to help your church’s children’s ministry be as effective as possible?  Well, while we can’t all follow the exact, same recipe, use the exact same cookie-cutter and expect our ministries to all be successful we can discover our own unique "recipe" tailored to "fit" our unique community and people and then set about to implement our own, uniquely effective ministry that impacts the children and families in our own church and community!
Before you can begin to design your unique recipe for children’s ministry, you need to understand your own church’s history, community and culture.  What is your church’s history?  My church recently celebrated their 150th anniversary.  Over those many years, decisions had to be made to remain effective in its ministry.  Some decisions have enabled it to be more effective, while others have not.  Currently we are a church of around 300, many of whom were children in this church and are now raising their children in the same church.  I attended this church as a child; in fact, the first place I ever served in children’s ministry was at this church.  My church’s history can be a positive thing as it contributes to a strong sense of ownership and desire to serve, but it can also make it challenging as the people do not always understand how the things they did as children do not necessarily still work for kids today. 
My husband, children and I lived in Northern California for a number of years.  I was the children's director at a church that was just a few years old and had over 1600 people in it.  This church had more of a challenge getting people to take a sense of ownership and service, but it was much more willing to try new ways of doing things.  What is your church history? How does your unique history benefit and bring challenges to your ministry? It is important to understand your history and how it effects your ministry.
Along with knowing your church history, what is your community and culture?  My church has been serving in its community for a long time, but while it has a long history with our community, that community has definitely changed significantly; even in the last forty years.  When I was a child I lived in a house literally across the street from my church.  The families on my street owned their own homes and most of the moms stayed home with the kids.  Now the majority of those same homes are rentals and many are single parent families.  Even in families with both parents living in the home, most have moms who work out of the home.  My community used to be a quiet little farming community with a Norman Rockwell Main Street.  It no longer looks the same.  Many of the stores on main street aren’t even in business now.  We live 13 miles from the second largest city in Michigan and single parents from the city have moved to our town to find inexpensive housing and get out of the city.  The community is not the same. Our culture is different, too.  
Let me share with you an example of what I'm talking about. A number of years ago I led a training for a church about sixty miles from my own home church.  Both churches were utilizing the same mid-week children’s club, but this church had a culture and community entirely different than my own.  They were mostly from an upper-middle-class community.  Most of the children attended private school and were very academically inclined.  This church had a much larger budget than my own did and they were able to purchase journals and awards for each of the children in their club program.  Their kids loved writing in the journals and their parents wanted to save their kids' journals. 
My church was different.  As I've mentioned, my church’s community is made up largely of single-parent homes.  The children attend public school and while children from single-parent homes who attend public school can be motivated to learn and excel, in our case many of these children struggled to read and write.  Some of the 5th graders didn't even know how to spell their own last names or know their own addresses.  The parents were not involved and really did not care if their kids wrote in a journal or not. The kids definitely did not want to write in a journal - it was too much like school for them.  Two communities.  Two churches.  Both churches had a love and passion for their children’s ministry and truly wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children in their church and community.  But, what worked for one church, didn't work for the other.  If my church had continued to try to make our mid-week club work as the other church’s club worked, it would have resulted in frustration for the volunteers and kids.  The recipe for mid-week club was not the same for these churches.  If my church wants to effectively reach this changing culture of single parent, lower economic families, we can not expect to do things as we did in the past. What is your community and culture like?
Take some time today to think about the unique history, community and culture of your church and the strengths as well as the challenges it brings to your children's  ministry. Before you can be genuinely effective in your ministry, you need to understand these three things and how they impact your ministry. Tomorrow we will look at how to develop a vision and purpose for your children's ministry because once you understand your church's history, community and culture and have a written vision and purpose you will be ready to find your best curriculum "fit"!
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