Our culture has an obsession with effectiveness and efficiency. If you can do something well and do it quickly, you’re considered successful. While these metrics might work well for a car wash or fast-food restaurant, they aren’t the best gauge for spiritual health.
I want you to stop and ask yourself, “How do I measure success in my children’s ministry?” Now, let’s refine the question and focus on the children in your ministry. Ask yourself, “How do I determine if a child in my ministry is thriving spiritually?” Whether you’re running the children’s ministry at your church or the children’s ministry in your home, this is a question we must ask ourselves in order to rightly gauge our expectations and prioritize what matters most.
By putting the focus on a child’s spiritual health, it removes other factors from the equation of success, such as high attendance, nice facilities, and cultural relevance. There’s nothing wrong with keeping track of attendance, investing in engaging environments, or employing modern methods, but if these factors become the primary means by which a ministry gauges fruitfulness, it isn’t measuring spiritual health but organizational effectiveness.
If we want to use our time wisely and make every effort count in our ministries, we need to ensure that our systems and processes are working towards the right goal.
The Right Goal
So, what should we desire to produce in our kids? The short answer is Christ-likeness (2 Cor. 3:18). If this isn’t the driving force in everything we do, then we’ll be off course before we even get started.
With Christ-likeness as the goal, the next question we need to ask ourselves is, “How do we know we’re hitting the mark?” According to Scripture, the only way to know if someone is rooted and growing in Christ is to examine the fruit of their lives (Luke 6:43-45).
What do the fruits of a Spirit-filled Christ follower look like? Scripture points to specific characteristics like the ones seen in Galatians 5:22-23 or the love demonstrated among disciples in John 13:34-35. If we want to ensure our labor isn’t done in vain, we must strive to form our children in the likeness of Christ and measure their formation according to the fruit laid out in Scripture.
With this in mind, we can ask ourselves the all-important question: “How do we form kids in Christ who display the fruits of discipleship in their lives?” Much could be said here, but I want to focus on one aspect of discipleship that’s often neglected in kids’ ministry, which is spiritual ownership.
Spiritual ownership means that the kids in our ministries have the tools and skills needed to grow as Christians on their own. They’re equipped to be self-feeders that can mature spiritually outside of our ministry contexts. Unfortunately, it’s easy to create environments that limit a child’s spiritual growth to the content and experiences shared within our ministry spaces. This can unintentionally communicate to our children that they’re only able to learn about Christ and grow in His ways when they’re at church. Of course, the local church is vital to a child’s spiritual development, but it’s not limited to it.
If we want our kids to thrive, then we need to change our mindsets. Our goal isn’t to merely educate and entertain them but to equip and commission them. We’re called to equip children with the right knowledge and skills in the faith so they can feed themselves spiritually while fulfilling the Great Commission in their homes and community (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Declaration and Discipline
To do this well, children’s ministry leaders need to preach the gospel and push spiritual practices consistently. Both are necessary for avoiding unwanted outcomes. For example, if a discipleship pathway pushes disciplines without an ever-present reminder of the gospel, it can result in legalism. Reversely, if a discipleship pathway preaches the gospel without a call to action, it can result in liberalism. A rhythm of gospel declaration and Godward discipline is essential to spiritual vitality. But what does this rhythm look like?
While I can’t prescribe an exhaustive list, I can suggest a few important steps.
- Connect every Bible lesson to the gospel. The gospel isn’t just the starting point of the Christian life; it’s the very life of the Christian. Everything is to be seen and experienced in light of its truth. The gospel not only saves; it sanctifies, meaning that the same good news that brings us into a relationship with Christ is the same good news that helps us grow in our love and likeness of him (Col. 2:6-7). This episode of the Cross Formed Kidmin Podcast gives practical tips for teaching the Bible to kids in a gospel-centered way.
- Equip Kids to Practice What You Preach. Don’t just tell kids to pray, read their Bibles, and share their faith. Provide them with helpful tools and models to do so. Kids won’t pray in private if they aren’t given demonstrations of prayer in public. They won’t read the Bible if they aren’t given principles on how to read it for themselves, and they won’t share their faith if we aren’t giving them opportunities to practice it sharing amongst themselves. Every call to action we issue to our kids should be paired with tools and principles that help them successfully implement those practices in their everyday lives.
- Inspect What You Expect. If you’re encouraging your kids to grow in their faith through spiritual practices, you should follow up on that encouragement. Whether it be through small group discussions or one-on-one interactions, you should be asking your kids how they’re doing in their disciplines and offer to help in any way that you can. If what’s expected is not inspected, it will inevitably be rejected. Kids won’t prioritize spiritual practices if we don’t prioritize them ourselves.
As you seek to build a fruitful Children’s ministry, I pray these steps help you develop spiritual ownership and Christ-likeness in the kids you disciple.
Hunter is a missionary with Awana and co-host of the Cross Formed Kidmin Podcast. He has served in various ministry roles, including as pastor, youth pastor, and chaplain. As a child discipleship advocate, Hunter seeks to elevate the quality of discipleship children receive in the church and the home. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a B.A. in Biblical and Theological studies and is currently working on his MDiv through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves connecting with people, trying new things, reading, and going on adventures with his family.
- Video: Sam Luce – Child Discipleship Forum (2022)
- Book: Resilient Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church by Matt Markins
- Article: Developing & Sustaining Spiritual Disciplines in Children’s Ministry
- Podcast: Cross Formed Kidmin Podcast – Episode 008: How to Teach the Bible to Kids