Pretend you’re planting a church.
Or perhaps you’re taking over for a previous pastor.
What is your first point of focus?
You could do hundreds of things, but what should you do? What will help you best engage your community? What will make your church attractive to both church people and those not in a church?
The answer may feel like a silver bullet.
While nothing is foolproof or guaranteed, there is one element of the church that may offer you the secret to ongoing success.
By The Numbers
I prefer data-informed decisions over gut feelings when possible.
Check out this Barna study:
You’d expect practicing Christian parents to be concerned about the spiritual development of their children (84% Very or Somewhat concerned). But take a look at the non-Christian metric. According to Barna, 58% of non-Christian parents are concerned with the spiritual development of their children.
This data is critical for understanding how to build a dynamic church.
It’s Not What Most Pastors Guess
I don’t have any research on this, but anecdotally, when I meet with pastors and church leaders, the majority never mention family ministry as a priority. I get plenty of questions about preaching, music, community involvement, strategy, discipleship, and the guest experience, but pastors rarely ask me to evaluate their family ministry environments.
It makes sense that pastors are primarily focused on the adult service. After all, the lead pastor spends all their time in the adult service. The adults fund the church and volunteer to keep the church going. Each of these pastors would say that children’s and student ministries are essential, but these ministries rarely get the lead pastor’s attention outside of the weekly “How were the numbers?”
According to the data, that’s a major miss.
My experience volunteering and working in student ministry would substantiate this data. I can’t even count how many times a parent asked me to “clean off” their kid on Sunday. They didn’t use this term, but this was the ask. Students behave poorly during the week, get dirty, and then come to church for a Jesus bath on Sunday.
This ongoing parental concern alerted me to two realities:
- Parents do want to raise kids with some amount of spiritual foundation, and
- Parents have no idea how to do this on their own.
Enter your church.
A Family Ministry Focus
If you want to reach your community, family ministry is the place to begin. Here are a few tips:
- BUDGET: Ministry is costly. This is true for children and students, too. What percentage of your operating budget is allocated for family ministry? If it’s less than 30 – 40%, I suggest you reevaluate how important family ministry is to your church.
- STAFFING: Same as above. If family ministry is essential to your church, you should hire extraordinary leaders to create church experiences for kids and students. You should definitely incorporate volunteer leadership, as well, but if your staff team is nearly all dedicated to adults, your focus may be off.
- AGE-APPROPRIATE MINISTRY: Kids and students need unique experiences designed for their age and stage. The more you divide these groups, the more you can target programming. At a minimum, churches should offer something for preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and 6th – 12th graders. It would be even better to divide your students into middle and high school.
- SPECIAL EVENTS: Offering age-appropriate experiences for kids and students on Sunday is the irrefutable minimal. You can step it up by offering unique preschool and elementary events each quarter. For middle school and high school students, create (or find partnerships) for weekend retreats and camps.
- MARKETING AND PROMOTION: How much time do you spend promoting children or student events to your adults and the broader community? If over 50% of unchurched adults care about the spiritual foundation of their children, they are looking for support.
- COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS: Most communities offer family events, parades, or gathering spaces. How could your church partner with your local government or civic organizations to better connect with families?
The Next Generation Matters
I know you know this. But it’s too important to forget.
Parents need help raising their children, and the church is the most logical place for them to turn.
If you want to reach the unreached in your community, incorporate a robust family ministry experience, not just for the children and students but for the parents who love them and need help growing them.