by Joshua Mason

You either love geese or you hate them. But one thing’s true about geese: there’s no escaping them in some locations. Where I live, they’re everywhere in the warmer months. Sometimes my family imagines the geese are “having church,” because one goose will be facing a hundred or so as if addressing the congregation.

Don’t ask me what is going through the minds of geese. But it’s fascinating to me that all it takes is one goose to create a stir. It will start flapping its wings on the pond and take off, water spraying everywhere; and before long the whole flock takes off in a blur of wings.

In the ministry world, sometimes a boost is needed to help things “take off”—to spark a renewal, draw people to Christ, and get them excited about serving Him.

Anyone who serves in ministry knows that the number of practicing Christians has been steadily declining in the U.S. for many years. According to Barna data, almost half the adults in the U.S. claimed to be practicing Christians in 2000, but that number had been cut nearly in half to 25 percent by 2020. That’s a disturbing trend. How can we mobilize churches, energize church members, and effectively work in the mission fields of our communities?

This article is a reminder that ministry to children has great potential for renewing a church’s focus and passion. It isn’t the only way that can happen, but it’s powerful and worth considering. And while it isn’t the only tool in the toolbox, you might want to keep it on the upper tray.

Kids Have Helped Ministry Take Off Before

One summer I directed VBS in a church in Michigan. The season was a challenging one for the church. It would have been easy to put off VBS for a better year, or even to shelve it indefinitely (and some folks were suggesting as much).

But our volunteers faithfully put one foot in front of the other. Somehow we got ready for VBS. And from the very first night, the entire church and its atmosphere were transformed. Kids flocked to VBS that week, all-in on the excitement. The place was filled with an infectious joy and a presence of the Spirit of God. Connections were made with families. Church members were enjoying it, serving together, and having fun. The effects continued long after VBS as God worked to revitalize the church. VBS wasn’t the only factor He used, but it was an important and timely one.

Another time, we launched a kids’ midweek program. Resources were tight, and most of us didn’t know how we would manage an ongoing children’s program with few workers and resources. Some of us wondered if that was the right year for it.

Then child after child began accepting Jesus as Savior. These kids weren’t just following the crowd; many were individually coming up to workers and saying they wanted to know how to be saved. Children even started leading their own friends to Christ. They became some of the most passionate about sharing the gospel.

The fervor affected the whole church. Many adults caught a passion for evangelism from the kids in a way they hadn’t experienced for a long time. People were almost begging to get involved by serving, not only in the midweek service, but in other ministries as well.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s something about children’s ministries that can open doors in ways that few other approaches can. Children’s excitement can spread not only to their families but also the church.

Maximizing the Takeoff Potential

Don’t get me wrong. Children’s ministry isn’t a magic cure-all for every ill in the church world. I have also served in Vacation Bible Schools and other children’s programs where the results weren’t as spectacular. And why aren’t communities all over the U.S. filled with adults who have rock-solid character because they grew up in children’s ministries?

I think many factors are involved, but I’ll highlight only one for the sake of space: many kinds of children’s ministry events are only a start for that ministry to take flight and to stay airborne for the long term.

VBS, for example, is a front gate. It can’t be the only thing. If we simply go back to life as usual after a children’s event, the connections that started to develop will fizzle out. For the new growth that began during VBS to thrive, there needs to be intentional, heartfelt follow-up with both children and their families. Connections must be made to other ministries (e.g., Sunday School), or those sprouts will wither and die.

It’s important to look at the process in an all-around way. Ministry should continue as a child grows into a teenager, then a young adult, and then a mature adult. The impact will then have a much greater probability of sticking.

Effective children’s ministry can make a huge difference. And an integrated vision for children’s ministry can change the trajectory for a child, but the connections to other ministries have a wonderful side benefit—they affect the spiritual growth of other church members as children grow in the Lord and bring their natural exuberance, life, and energy.

The Divine Power to Get off the Ground

Children matter to God! Doesn’t His Word say, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength” (Ps. 8:2)? Samuel was the receptive one in the tabernacle, hearing God’s voice calling to him in the night (1 Sam. 3:1–18). And young Rhoda was the faith-filled one in Acts 12:13–17, more than the adults in that early prayer group. Young Timothy learned the Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15). It was important to Jesus to welcome children to Himself (Matt. 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17). So it would stand to reason that when God wants to do an amazing work in a church today, He might start with a children’s ministry.

In today’s world of fractured families, where godly relatives who teach young Timothies are in short supply, children’s ministry is a vital conduit of God’s grace. It could be the missing factor many children and their families need. As the late youth ministry specialist Mel Walker stated about Generation Z—an observation that can also be applied to Generation Alpha—“Perhaps more than ever, churches will need to be a family to reach out and minister to this new generation who are probably the products of nontraditional households” (January/February 2020 Baptist Bulletin).

Above all, children’s ministry honors God. It’s a way of drawing nearer to His heart (just see Jesus’ response when children were brought to Him). And studies like those described by the Barna Group, Ministry-to-Children, and others have shown that the most effective time for ministering to people in a way that will bring long-term results, when their hearts are most tender and receptive to spiritual truths, is when they are children.

Could Kids Give Your Ministry a Boost?

We can unequivocally say that children’s ministry is vital— and it may very well be an important part of the answer for a church that needs a spark. When done correctly and tied into a fully orbed plan for a church’s mission, children’s ministries like VBS and a midweek kids’ program have wonderful potential for renewing the focus of a church. They can reenergize all areas of ministry because they impact not only the children but also the volunteers, the families, and the whole church.

Now, let me get back to picking on our nearby geese. Before winter they might fly away from our neighborhood pond, but they come back when winter is over. For many churches, the pandemic has been a long winter of sorts. If VBS or other children’s ministries have been shelved out of necessity, please let me encourage you to make that only temporary and to get them on track as soon as possible. Children’s ministries like VBS, Sunday School, and midweek programs do take investment in time and resources, but they could be key elements of the future for a church. They have certainly helped reenergize ministries in the past.

In the words of a familiar kids’ song, “Jesus loves the little children.” Sharing God’s love with our hurting world and seeing His blessings for your church may start with ministries to children! Joshua Mason is Regular Baptist Press’s creative manager of Vacation Bible School.

Joshua Mason is Regular Baptist Press’s creative manager of Vacation Bible School.