Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Do You Know How History, Community & Culture Impact Your Children's Ministry?

Too often we tend to think Children's Ministry is just comprised of churches and children,  which, technically, it is; 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 which are essential for every Children’s Ministry to be effective, 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 which 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? A church in my community celebrated their 150th  anniversary a few years ago. Over those many years, decisions had to be made to remain effective in its ministry. Some decisions enabled it to be more effective, while others did not. Currently they are a church of around 250, 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. This 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. It can also create an atmosphere of "church politics" where these same families think they are the only ones who should say what happens at "their" church; these types of church "politics" can, of course, destroy it's effectiveness.
My husband, children and I lived in Northern California for a number of years.  I was the children's director at a church which 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's 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?  The first church I mentioned has been serving in its community for a long time, but while it has a long history with its community, that community has definitely changed significantly; even in the last forty years. When I was a child I lived in a house across the street from this 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. This town is 13 miles from the second largest city in Michigan and single parents from the city have moved here to find inexpensive housing and get out of the city. The community is not the same. The 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 this church and town. Both churches were utilizing the same mid-week children’s club, but this church had a culture and community entirely different than the one in the community where I grew up. 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 the other did so 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 the parents wanted to save their kids' journals. 
The other church was different.  As I've mentioned, this 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 this 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, did not work for the other. If the church from my community had continued to try to make their 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 even though they used the same curriculum. If the church from my community wants to effectively reach this changing culture of single parent, lower economic families, they can not expect to do things as they 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 they bring 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.
Read more about this and how to build a strong Children's Ministry which reflects your church's unique community and culture in my book - "No Cookie-Cutter Children's Ministries" which you are able to get at this link.

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